Byron Bay is famous for the alternative lifestyle it offers; health food cafes and organic produce stores are readily available and in high demand. Catering for the hordes of organic enthusiasts is Farmer J's Organic Farm, offering locals and tourists the opportunity to experience organic produce at its freshest and learn how to grow it themselves.
Yoga teachers, palm readers, pavement philosophers, health coaches and organic produce sellers: Byron Bay's got them all. Whether you're craving a healthy mind, body or soul, there will be someone offering a service, however obscure, to help you get there. One thing's for sure: if you're looking for a positive lifestyle change, Byron is your place.
In the spirit of the town, Farmer J's Organic Farm offers a helping hand towards a healthy lifestyle in the purest way. They believe that in order to really look after yourself and the planet you inhabit, you should know exactly what you're consuming, and the best way to do that, is to produce it yourself.
I was invited out to Farmer J's for a 'Pick to Plate' lunch, and was told that it would involve me coming out, learning a bit about organic farming and then harvesting the veg that he'd use to prepare my lunch. Sounded perfect!
Many visitors and locals, including myself, won't have made it past the brewery on Skinners Shoot Road and for the first time I ventured further along the paperbark lined lane to Farmer J's, which turns out wasn't very far at all. Even though it's tucked right by the centre, the quiet of Skinners Shoot feels far away from the buzzing of our tourist town.
Farmer J greeted me at the gate and I caught my first glimpse of the place, the lake, bordered by banana trees, glistened in the sun and the free range chickens clucked busily behind it. We started by ambling along the pathways between the veggie beds as Farmer J explained his vision for the place and why he started it.
"I set Farmer J's up because I wanted a place in town, for tourists but also for the community, where I could help people learn to grow organic veg at home. I worry about the disconnect we have from the food we eat and I want to do everything I can to bring people closer to what they put on their plate and the environment they live in,"
It's a real, sustainable, small-scale organic farm with around an acre of vegetable beds, free-range chickens, compost heaps and bee hives. Wandering around the veggie gardens you get a feel for the nature of organic farming, and start to envisage what you could do in your own garden. The farm itself, along with the animated encouragement from Farmer J really started to make me think Yeah, I could grow some of this at home.
"Organic farming is so rewarding, and the only real way it can be viable is small-scale, community based projects like this. If I can ease the reliance people have on supermarkets and help even a few people become more self-sufficient then it's all worth it.”
He started to tell me about the organic workshops he runs for kids and adults, the school groups they’ve had out and how it's a great family activity before eventually cutting himself off when he remembered that we still had to harvest the veg for our lunch! His enthusiasm had really excited me and I couldn't wait to get harvesting.
We picked a multitude of salads for the mix: corals, broad leaf rocket, baby kale and radicchio before grabbing some herbs. A quick run to the chicken house to grab some eggs and then we sat down for more organic chat as he prepared our lunch. Suddenly, Farmer J became Chef J. I was mesmerised by a whirlwind of chopping, frying, sprinkling and plating up.
"It's such an amazing experience for me to be able to cook for people on my farm, I was a trained chef for many years and have always had a love of fine food, and to be able to pull such beautiful produce out the ground and cook it straight away is every chef's dream,"
He served me a veggie frittata, topped with salad and a feta-stuffed fig wrapped in prosciutto, then finished with a honey-balsamic drizzle. It tasted a-maz-ing and eating it in such beautiful, rustic surroundings added to the whole experience. I felt such a connection to the food having just harvested it myself and it struck me as being the most natural thing in the world.
Farmer J has definitely succeeded in his aim of educating and inspiring. I plan to start growing some herbs on my windowsill at the very least. As I gushed over his farm and meal Farmer J, held me to my promise of ‘going organic’ and he bounded off towards the shade house, coming back with thyme, oregano, parsley and sage seedlings along with a few pots.
Starting to grow is so exciting and learning to do it organically is great. Organics aren’t just a hippie thing anymore, the research is all there to show the dangers of pesticides, the World Health Organisation have even categorised Glyphosates as carcinogenic, so I think awareness is growing and now it's just up to us to get back in touch with what we're consuming.
Farmer J gave me such an amazing lunch experience and I can’t wait to go back and learn more from him. The pots of tiny herbs sit patiently on my kitchen windowsill as I'm writing, anticipating tomorrow morning's sunshine. I have taken the first step towards an organic lifestyle and yet again I'm amazed and inspired by my wonderful little hometown.
* For booking enquiries fill out the contact form on the website: www.farmerj.com.au