Boronia Farm

Written by Hannah Mulvany 

As I passed through the first paddocks of Boronia Farm I spotted a little girl with her parents, smiling with delight as she was passed a freshly picked apple from one of the orchard’s many trees. I later found this to be the exact vision that Barry and Dale Green, the owners of the property, had for their farm – to connect people with their food, and for them to learn more about where it comes from.

Boronia Farm is a 65-hectare property housing the Green family home and a cottage available for holidaymakers, set within 40 hectares of cattle pasture and orchard and 25 hectares of bush. The property is encased completely within the Argyle Block of the State Forest. Boronia Farm is positioned within an area nicknamed ‘Western Australia’s food bowl’ and is a producer of organic apples, plums and cattle. The name was given due to the property’s boronia swamp that the couple treasure dearly; especially as such healthy examples of these habitats are increasingly rare throughout southwest WA.

 

The dam and surrounding bushland on the farm

Barry and Dale, both children of farmers, bought the farm in 1988 wanting their children to grow up enjoying the same rural childhood as their own. The farm was initially bought as a hobby and was never the ‘bread and butter’ for the family, who made their main living as Radio Technician and Teacher. This, however, did not stop the couple from pouring all of the dedication possible into making the farm what it is today. When discussing the farm’s operations with Barry, what is crystal clear is the hours of research that have gone into running the farm in the exact way that he believes it should be run, and with great success.

Barry’s main strategy with the farm is diversity. He believes that the more diversity farmland contains, the more sustainable and healthy it will be and one look around Boronia Farm seems to really confirm this theory. One of the most astounding features about the property is the Green’s own permaculture vegetable garden which filled me with absolute awe. I’d never seen so many things growing in one garden, side by side, looking so healthy. Barry attended a permaculture course many years ago and put everything he learned into practice within his own garden, creating an organic patch that fulfils most of the family’s fruit and vegetable requirements year-round, with a minimal amount of on-going effort. Barry is a firm believer that we can and should go back to the organic low-impact farming methods of yesteryear, as we were able to grow food without chemicals in the past and will have to do so in future. “This type of agriculture wasn’t used 100 years ago and won’t be able to be used in 100 years, so solutions must be devised”, Barry explained.

The Green's permaculture vegetable garden

Originally used for the timber industry, Boronia Farm’s bush once contained a small amount of worker’s housing and a temporary railway used to transport timber to the mill, of which certain features can still be seen today. When constructing one of the dams on the property, Barry and Dale found an array of old beer bottles dating back to the 1920s, when the land was originally developed. Despite most of the jarrah trees being removed around this period, there are still a few huge examples dotted around, as well as towering red gums and grass trees.

Barry standing beside an ancient grass tree

The incredible amount of research, time, energy and patience that has gone into making Boronia Farm what it is today is evident when talking to Barry about the work he does on his property, and by the lengthy list of recommended books that I was given on my departure. The couple were always extremely interested in the organic movement and began to put it into practice immediately when taking on the farm by ceasing use of all NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) fertilisers and beginning to manage the biology of their soil naturally, finding that it eventually took care of itself. After a few rough years with extremely small harvests, the orchard began producing again and after five years was absolutely packed with fruit. Unfortunately the apples weren’t quite ready during my visit so I wasn’t able to try them.

Pink lady apples are grown organically in the orchard

As the farm was initially a hobby, the couple see themselves as being lucky that they had the luxury of time to be able to trial becoming organic. When they bought the farm in 1988, there was a very small amount of information available about organic farming, but as time has progressed more information and workshops have become available and further changes were made to the way they farm their land. By using sustainable practices, Barry and Dale’s land won’t suffer and neither will the local plants and wildlife.

Remnants of very old eucalypt and grass tree groves are found throughout the farm

Birds and kangaroos posed certain challenges for the farmers initially, but the couple were adamant that any efforts to prevent damage to their crops and pastures would not be harmful to local wildlife. The birds’ appetite for the apples and plums was causing entire harvests to be lost, so Barry and Dale began netting their orchard in a wildlife-friendly manner. Since then, they have lost no fruit to avian visitors and despite not being able to feast on the delicious fruit growing within the farm, the surrounding forest seems to support an incredibly large and diverse bird population indicating ample food sources nearby.

As the pastures provide graze for the Green’s small herd of organic cattle, competition from kangaroos also posed an issue for the farm. To mitigate this Barry and Dale built a perimeter fence surrounding their pasture, which has been highly effective in minimising overgrazing. The effect of the fence is extremely visible along the fence line, where overgrazing can be seen on the outside edge of the fence with lots of growth on the inside. Barry explained his belief that producing food for people while supporting and not harming local wildlife populations is the key to the health and survival of both.

Netting protects the orchard from hungry wildlife without causing harm

The healthy pastures also prevent one of the world’s most worrying issues from happening – soil erosion. The vegetation helps the soil to remain where it is and hold onto the crucial nutrients that are the difference between good and bad soil. These measures ensure the long-term health of the soil and longevity of the farm. One of the many expressions of wisdom that Barry shared with me was that ‘technology is all well and good but we’ll be nothing without the top few inches of our soil’.

The lack of chemicals used on the property will have had a positive effect on the surrounding ecosystems and the health of the bush is clear to see. As chemicals used on agricultural land can easily leach into watercourses and travel to non-intended sites, natural habitats can be adversely affected, but Boronia Farm’s neighbouring habitats will not have this problem. The numerous bird species that have been spotted in and around the property, featured in an ever-growing list that is available to guests, are obviously reaping the benefits of this healthy and thriving habitat - nature’s prime real estate!

An ancient dead jarrah tree provides habitat for wildlife 

By moving the cattle every day and only keeping a small herd, Barry and Dale ensure that all pastures are healthy and plenty of growth can be seen all around the farm. Through mimicking the natural herds of grazing cattle that migrate through the African savannah and American plains, a method recommended by many scientists and agriculturalists, Barry has a constantly replenishing and robust food supply for his cattle. Keeping a smaller stock than a farm of this size usually would has also helped their land to thrive. This ideology is shared with a fair few local farmers who have joined forces to create the Organic and Biodynamic Meats WA Co-op. All have natural pastures that are grown without the use of any synthetic pesticides or herbicides and whose cattle are not treated with hormones, pharmaceuticals or genetically modified organisms.

I spent the night camping in the bush by the dam, which was a beautiful turquoise colour and surrounded by magnificently tall trees. At sunset, the peace of the daytime was broken by a symphony of bird song, which quickly became so loud and raucous that I had absolutely no chance of distinguishing individual species from one another. I felt very lucky, however, to be directly across from the roosting trees of a large flock of red-tailed black cockatoos whose evening calls seemed to go on long after the other birds had decided to call it a night.

The view of the dam from the camping spot

I awoke early as I had been invited to join the morning’s ‘Farmyard Theatre’ along with the guests staying in the cottage. As I hopped on board a trailer on the back of the tractor and sat down on a hay bale alongside an extremely excited young girl, I knew I was in for a treat. The children fed the chickens, cows, alpaca and goats, one after the other, as Barry drove us all around the farm, all the while answering all of the weird and wonderful questions that popped into the children’s minds. It was evident on the faces of the children that this engagement with nature was a real joy for them, and for their dad too who quickly tried to snap some photos of their beaming smiles.

The Farmyard Theatre helps guests get involved with the farm animals 

Later on, Barry explained to me how he believed that humans had become disconnected from their food and nature and his motivations for the farm stays were to offer the opportunity for that connection to be made again. With Nature Deficit Disorder becoming an issue within the world’s increasingly urban population, the Green family are extremely happy to provide their farm as a remedy.

It seems that Barry and Dale’s dream vision for the farm may already be being fulfilled, and they hope to pass the farm into the capable hands of the next generation who spent their childhood in this amazing place so it can continue.

Not only do Barry and Dale run Boronia Farm, but they are also responsible for the Tourist Radio that is broadcast from East Perth all the way through to Augusta on 87.6 FM. Barry believes it is extremely important to tell the stories of local people through the shows he produces and features in, and has also created a supplementary website for visitors to direct them towards the area’s best agricultural attractions.