Kirsten and David Jones: Our Story
Kirsten and David Jones began farming in the area 10 years ago. Kirsten worked in horticulture previously and decided she wanted to grow garlic and chose the southern Gippsland area to begin this experiment. David is active with the annual Garlic Festival in Meeniyan and promoting garlic processing and sorting facilities as well as encouraging the provenance of Gippsland food products.
“I started to dream about farming on the broad landscape and I did some research and decided that garlic - I’d focus on garlic - I wanted to grow something useful and I thought, if I focus on one thing I can get right, that’s one crop a year, that also has a good market - an open market that’s developing, and it has a wide appeal. I thought that could be a good idea.
The next thing actually involves climate change, because I began to think around a warming planet and drying landscape and I didn’t really want to be irrigating crop, so began researching the areas.”
Enterprise: Horticulture - Garlic
Business Name: Mirboo Farm
Catchment Management Region: West Gippsland
Landcare Network: South Gippsland
LGA: South Gippsland Shire Council
Landform: Strzelecki Ranges: rolling to steep hills
Soil Type: Grey-brown clay-loam dermosols
Annual Rainfall Average: 658.9 mm or 33.4 inches (Source Bureau of Meteorology. Farm records: 1100 mm)
“Within six weeks of starting to look in this area, we bought Mirboo Farm … it was 10 acres with a house that had been carved off a 265 acre beef farming property
Mirboo Farm. It’s a 10 acre property in the Strzelecki Ranges that we bought in October 2010. I’ve been on the farm eight and half years. So, relatively recently and a very small farm. On that farm, I run a very small herd of cattle. At the moment I have six Angus heifers who are about 18 months old and I use them for grazing down the pasture to maintain the pasture. I have a small garlic crop which varies from a 1000 square meters to 2000 square meters.”
The enterprise is part of a broader recovery of the industry, and producers learning from each other.
“I did join the Garlic Industry Association and became a board member, although I didn't know much. But the garlic industry has been decimated by Chinese garlic imports and a lot of the big and older farmers, more established famers, had given up garlic. So the whole industry almost had to reboot itself from almost nothing. So I was happy to be involved with that and through that involvement I learnt a lot.”
The property is located within a long-established dairy and beef farm area.
“I see myself surrounded by a lot of dairy and cattle farms, not many sheep farms… So I look at a lot of farms that are inhabited by one cattle per acre, they're much, much bigger farms and the challenge for me is to try and make 10 acres commercially viable and sustainable environmentally. Water security is a challenge despite the high rainfall record for the area.”
As a small property located on a hillside, water is a concern.
“There is no dam and I’ve had someone look at it and recommend that the property is too small to put a dam on and not enough runoff for a dam either.
We have tank water of about 100,000 litres and when I arrived, it was the end of the drought and they were empty which freaked me out a little. So, I put in another 60,000 litres so we have tank water of 160,000 litres.”
Our Landscape Activities
While Kirsten focuses her activity principally on garlic production, she is also runs some cattle and has taken steps to revegetate part of the properly.
“Basically, I have a 10-acre property in Mirboo and I grow garlic commercially, quite a small crop, and looking at diversifying the farm at the moment, actually. I have some cattle to run the pastures and we have revegetated about an acre and a half of our land for koala habitat, yeah, and that's about it.”
Kirsten is reviewing ways of developing a form of crop rotation.
“Because we've got so little land available that we need north, the northwest facing land, to grow garlic on. We don't have that much of it. We're seeking to understand if I do the green manure crop, or maybe two, in between each season whether I can replant back in that soil. I crop rotate, on north facing land with a gentle slope.”
Our Practices and Successes
Kirsten is learning by doing and has had success with quality of her crop, in a relatively short time.
“I focus on garlic to produce a good crop and there are - garlic's quite a fussy crop, there are a lot of things that can go wrong with it and a lot of those things have gone wrong already. So I've learnt a lot. I think for quite a while I was unsure about whether I was growing a good crop and then I entered in the Fine Food Awards that the RACV run and won a number of them. I looked at that and said oh okay, now I feel confident, more confident about what I'm doing, that I'm actually producing really good garlic, because of that benchmark.”
The Jones are experimenting with a range of garlics.
“We do grow a variety of garlics and they are planted at different times, so I started to think around later crops where we could plant much later. We can actually vary our planting from April to early September.”
Because garlic is a winter crop, Kirsten is able to utilise water availability to her advantage.
“The other beauty about garlic as a crop is that it comes out at the end of spring, at the beginning of summer. So, it’s a winter crop. So, we put it in in autumn when we’re getting the autumn rains and it grows over the winter and then into spring. I’ve only once ever had to irrigate the crop for a few weeks.”
The Jones are committed to helping others and ensuring that the garlic value chain in the region prospers.
“We have spent quite a bit of time helping other farmers catch up on what we've learnt so they can start sort of halfway along the track, not at the beginning where we were.”
One major step that Kirsten and David have undertaken has been to help initiate an Annual Garlic Festival in Meeniyan.
“We run an education program at the Garlic Festival to educate people about growing garlic. So a lot of it came from that. People came to us and said oh, we'd like to grow garlic, can we buy seed from you?”
This festival profiles the region as the home of an emerging garlic industry and vigorous local food industry.