The sus­tain­able food idea be­hind An­drew and Therese Hearne’s NSW farm.

THE SYNOPSIS OF THE 1970S tele­vi­sion sit­com The Good Life goes some­thing like this. A mile­stone birth­day con­vinces Tom to make a change. He talks his wife, Bar­bara, into giv­ing up the so-called rat race and join­ing him in a life of sim­plic­ity and self-suf­fi­ciency. They con­vert their sub­ur­ban home into a farm, plant­ing crops in the back gar­den and bring­ing in pigs and chick­ens. An­drew and Therese Hearne weren’t that silly. Their Syd­ney home had a bus stop out­side the front door and a Hills Hoist out­side the back door. So, af­ter talk­ing each other into a life of sim­plic­ity and self-suf­fi­ciency, they bought Near River — eight hectares of a for­mer dairy­ing prop­erty near Port Mac­quarie — and be­gan plant­ing crops front and back and bring­ing in pigs and chick­ens, just like Tom and Bar­bara did. They’ve not so much ploughed their own fur­row as dug their own beds — dozens of them — so, af­ter eight years, has it been a sit­com ex­pe­ri­ence? “Not much sit­ting,” says An­drew, “and not all that much com­edy either. But we wouldn’t be any­where else.” Af­ter a pause, he con­tin­ues, “Let me make a small amend­ment to that. We wouldn’t be any­where else other than an hour closer to our main mar­ket.” Un­til this year, every Fri­day, An­drew loaded his pro­duce into a mo­bile cool­room, hitched it to his wagon, and drove the 400 kilo­me­tres to Syd­ney to sat­isfy a grate­ful clien­tele at the Or­ange Grove Farm­ers Mar­ket at Le­ich­hardt. This year, a blind­ing ray of en­light­en­ment sug­gested to him that he should fo­cus on Port Mac­quarie’s Tuesday mar­kets 40 kilo­me­tres away, and freight his ‘Real Food’ boxes to loyal Syd­ney cus­tomers. Real food is just that — food that nour­ishes pro­duc­ers, con­sumers, com­mu­ni­ties and the soil. It is a food sys­tem, from seed to plate, that fun­da­men­tally re­spects hu­man dig­nity and health, an­i­mal wel­fare, so­cial jus­tice and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. The real food move­ment has cal­cu­lated that about 70 per cent of the food on your su­per­mar­ket shelf isn’t so much food as syn­thetic food­stuffs. It is re­fined, pro­cessed, man­u­fac­tured, en­gi­neered. Real food, by con­trast, is ‘be­yond or­ganic’ and, at Near River, em­braces el­e­ments of bio­dy­nam­ics and per­ma­cul­ture. Real food, of course, com­mands a real price. For the real food farmer, the economies of scale — not to men­tion the scale of economies — is vastly dif­fer­ent from broad-acre main­stream farm­ing. An­drew’s favourite slo­gan for ex­plain­ing the pre­mium you pay for eth­i­cal food is: “Pay the farmer now… or the doc­tor later.” So, where did the Hearnes de­velop their ide­ol­ogy and com­mit­ment? Are they nat­u­rally al­ter­na­tive? “Not al­ter­na­tive,” says An­drew. “But def­i­nitely in a mi­nor­ity.” He came to the world of real food from land­scap­ing and be­fore that from the mu­sic in­dus­try. So it was Canned Heat’s Go­ing Up The Coun­try I heard as I pulled up. Therese is a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions en­gi­neer, which has meant spend­ing time away from the farm. It’s also coloured her views about the frus­tra­tions of ru­ral liv­ing. “I get so an­gry about the city/coun­try di­vide when it comes to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vices,” she says. “The cost of in­ter­net plans, the poor qual­ity of ser­vice, the lack of com­pe­ti­tion…”

“Pay the farmer now… or the doc­tor later.”

There are no com­plaints, though, about the changes to their lives. The Near River prop­erty lies in the peace­ful Pap­pin­barra Val­ley, lit­er­ally a land of milk and honey that hums with bees, bio­di­ver­sity and con­tent­ment. It’s a com­mu­nity of like-minded, eth­i­cal farm­ers on life­style prop­er­ties, bug­gered but blissed out by the hard work that goes into tread­ing lightly on their land. Therese and An­drew sel­dom need re­mind­ing about the felic­ity of their life­style though, be­cause their Sun­day at Near River events at­tract hordes of en­vi­ous sus­tain­able farmer wannabes de­lighted to help with the live­stock and in the gar­den, and then sit down to a lunch of fresh har­vest pro­duce. “It takes time to ad­just to the life­style,” says Therese. “And things rarely go the way you plan them, but that just makes us more flex­i­ble and ac­cept­ing and grate­ful. And there’s an in­cred­i­ble sense of re­ward when peo­ple rave about the food we grow.” It’s pork, chicken, duck and eggs at the mo­ment — not just pas­ture-raised but ‘chem­i­cal-free pas­ture-raised’ — plus sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and ex­otic or­chard items, such as fin­ger limes. Word of mouth has cre­ated an en­thu­si­as­tic clien­tele for their ‘Far­macy’ on­line out­let, where you can or­der real food sta­ples plus a range of small-batch gourmet lines. Max, their Bel­gian shep­herd/border col­lie cross who thinks he’s in heaven, adds to the joy­ful­ness of their ex­is­tence, and An­drew is buoyed by French mar­ket gar­dener Jean-martin Fortier’s as­ser­tion that a well-or­gan­ised sus­tain­able pro­ducer should be able to achieve a six-fig­ure turnover on just over half a hectare. “The catchcry is Grow Bet­ter Not Big­ger,” says An­drew. “I find that en­cour­ag­ing and heart­en­ing.”

The Pap­pin­barra River forms the north­ern boundary of An­drew and Therese Hearne’s prop­erty, Near River, in north­ern NSW. FAC­ING PAGE The cou­ple with Max, their Bel­gian shep­herd/border col­lie cross.

An­drew, Therese and Max out for a walk. FAC­ING PAGE The Near River pigs are raised on chem­i­cal-free pas­tures with no growth hor­mones.

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