RIVER OF DREAMS
WITH GOOD HEALTH AND SUSTAINABILITY IN MIND, ANDREW AND THERESE HEARNE ARE BRINGING REAL FOOD TO PEOPLE AROUND NSW.
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.