Fresh ideas set to sprout

The Sprout Producer Program is a one-year program that includes a series of educational units including both on-farm and off-farm topics, farm field days and mentoring sessions to support and develop any producer to achieve their goals.

The program is for any small producer, growing food to sell fresh or value-add, or farming stock of any kind, and they can be at any stage in their journey.

Sprout have producers in the program who are at the very beginning of their journey from idea to realisation, and others who ‘have many wins on the board’ but are looking for guidance in the next phase of their journey.

Goodbye city, hello Port Huon

THREE years ago, Christie and Alex Lewis were in a tiny apartment in a big city, working jobs that had too many hours – today, they are building their unique farm in the south of Tasmania.

They’re part of the 2022 course of producers getting guidance through the Sprout Producer program, alongside five other small start-up producers.

Christie and Alex began their farming adventure from their property in Port Huon. Starting with an empty paddock, they built their market garden and began selling vegetables at a local pop-up shop though, admittedly, their timing hampered their learning process early on.

“We moved here in December 2019, so it was a funny time to be starting up here. We spent our first summer building the garden, practising and seeing if we could grow vegetables, because we’ve never done this before,” Christie said.
“Because we started growing and selling during Covid, we were a little bit alone, so Sprout has been a really good way of connecting with other growers, getting that knowledge of growing in Tasmania, getting that local perspective and advice.”

Old Orchard farm currently sells its produce as veggie boxes, mixing in a flavour-of-the-day assortment of veggies, through Arte-zans in Geeveston, who have supported them since they first started on the farm.

On-farm, they stick firmly to their organic principals, drawing on permaculture and no-dig practices, even keeping flowering fennel in row ends, the flowers attracting ladybugs, their natural aphid hunters.

Thriving in the rows of lush green are a spread of plant families, lettuces, spring onions, tomatoes, beetroot, pak choy, turnips and even kohlrabi, soon to be fully bordered by hedges of herbs, flowers and fruit trees.

“Biodiversity is the idea, where we’ve got different plants, different insects in this area.
“Next season, we’re hoping we can expand our operations, we have a waiting list already, so we’re just hoping we will be able to fill that for now, then we can build it from there.”

Early Bird with eyes on the tourist market

SET out across a charming few hectares at the gateway to Cygnet, Early Bird Farm is a blossoming market garden and another taking part in the Sprout producer program.

Run by Jenna Sturtridge and Zeb Walker, the farm produces around 40 varieties of vegetables, which make the short trip into the heart of Cygnet to be sold in veggie boxes to their loyal customers.

“We started growing in 2018 when it was just garlic, but over time we’ve scaled back the garlic and introduced more veggies to the gardens and to the boxes,” said Jenna.

Before taking to the farm life, Zeb was a labourer, having moved to Cygnet eight years ago, while Jenna, originally from NSW, has been in Cygnet for four years, and works in hospitality.

This year, they are focusing on the infrastructure of the farm, building a shed and “properly setting up” the garden, for potential expansion down the years.

“This year, we’re just looking to be able to do what we do, really well,” Zeb said. “We’re looking forward to it, once we’ve got that under control, it’ll all begin to run smoothly.

“In taking a step back from the garden, we began looking for different perspectives, ways and places in which we could upskill,” Jenna said.
“At the moment, we just want to stay small and get our structure and systems set up, so it’s easy on us, so we know what to do.
“We are looking to go into more tourism down the track, garden tours, workshops to help people with skills they’d want to learn from their own home garden. “That’s our goal, but we want to be skilled before we head into that, and that’s what this year is about, following the Sprout programs and getting ourselves set up.”