Being a small-scale, organic farmer in Dural, Borja Valls gives us insight into the way he produces and delivers quality food to Sydney – from harvesting juicy organic strawberries to packing and distributing weekly veggie boxes – all to connect people to how food is grown.
Common2Us is also introducing community supported agriculture into their operations in order to build upon their direct relationship with consumers. Operating successfully in the US and Europe for many years, CSAs connect local farmers with local consumers to create a truly local food economy. This model of agriculture is fairly new to Sydney (and even Australia), but as you will see, it has many benefits to both consumers and producers.
Ever been curious to find out what a typical day in the life of an organic farmer looks like? We had the chance to ask Borja a few questions about Common2us, CSAs and the challenges of running an organic farm.
What’s special about Common2us?
Common2Us is a small scale, organic market garden located in Dural, approximately 45 minutes from the city CBD. We are a small team of young farmers from Spain and Australia and we are passionate and driven to provide fresh, local sustainably produced produce to our Sydney community.
What do you produce on your farm?
Currently farming on 5 acres, we produce a wide variety of chemical free vegetables and fruits such as salad greens, Asian greens, kale, silverbeet varieties, beetroot, tomatoes, eggplant, chilli, cabbages, leeks, fennel, shallots and our famous strawberries (just to name a few). We also grow a variety of traditional and heirloom varieties. As our produce is distributed locally, we are able to grow different and delicious varieties of vegetables since they don’t have long distances to travel to the mouths of our community!
Who accesses/ uses your produce?
Our farm’s success lays in the direct relationships we have with our consumers; feeding in excess of 120 families each week via vegie box schemes, farm gate sales and food and community cooperatives. We are currently in the process, however, of transitioning to a ‘Community Supported Agriculture’ model (which directly engages the consumer in the farm and its operations). Our goal is to establish more CSA farms across Sydney and beyond that will also incorporate both animal production and other diversified crops.
How does a CSA work?
Well, essentially consumers help finance farming operations by signing up as members and paying in advance of the growing season. This in turn, alleviates a lot of the stress surrounding finances and risk experienced by many farmers and allows us to focus on growing quality, healthy produce for our members. In return, members get to enjoy affordable, seasonal, organic, local and delicious produce all year round and have the peace of mind knowing exactly where their food has come from, who’s grown it and under what conditions. In fact, you can even come and get your hands dirty too if you want! It allows you to get as involved in your food as you wish.
What is in season at the moment?
As summer and all its abundance begins to arrive, we are very excited about all of the delicious produce already starting to come out of the ground for our hungry community. In fact, as we have direct relationships with our customers, we were able to survey our community to find out what produce they want to eat this summer.
Right now our strawberries are just coming to an end, but we have been harvesting close to 50 kg a week! They are so soft, sweet and juicy because they are picked when ripe, as they don’t need to be transported very far to the mouths of our customers.
We also have an abundance of salad greens; such as butter and cos lettuces and rocket, herbs, broad beans, various kale varieties, red and green cabbages, fresh garlic. We have six varieties of tomatoes in the ground, which will be ready over the next few weeks.
How long has Common2Us been operating for?
Common2us was established approximately 1.5 years ago and we have now been harvesting and selling our produce for just over a year.
How did you get involved in organic farming?
Since University (where I studied Agricultural Engineering), I have been interested in organic farming. What really interests me about it is looking at producing food holistically, in a natural way. I consider farming in an organic way to be a vehicle of supporting a natural existence. I also consider the model that we are developing. I give special importance to the fact that this model could give farmers a better life and share risks with the consumer. It is a model that not only brings healthy and quality food to the consumer at a good price but enhances social relations and a better understanding of the nature of growing food. It is also a way to create wealth and food sovereignty in our own country, protect the environment, etc. I could give you hundreds of reasons why this model makes so much sense for humans and for the country.
What have been the biggest challenges running an organic farm?
I think one of the biggest challenges I face is getting people to better understand the benefits of local food and having a direct relationship with your farmer. Getting people interested in organic food is not difficult; people understand the health and taste benefits. But we want to be able to share the true value of supporting your local farmer; the benefits of having them around you and producing your food in better more sustainable ways. We don’t need things like packaging, labelling and organic certification, because anyone can come out to the farm and see how things are grown for themselves. We have all the transparency many of us are looking for in the food we buy now, and we would love to see more farms, just like ours around Sydney feeding our local community with healthy, local delicious produce.
What does a usual day look like?
My days are very different. I am rarely able to spend the whole day farming. This model involves farming and dealing directly with the consumer. We supply to many co-ops in the city and I am the person who brings the produce to them. They want to see their farmer and its a good opportunity for me to explain what is happening on the farm. This means that I spend lots of time in the van and at the computer.
What has been your favourite moment on the farm? What do you love about your job?
Again, having that direct relationship with the consumer offers us farmers the ability to see the consumer’s reaction to the produce we are growing for them. I suppose the combination of farming and the development of social relationships is what I really love about my job. The best moments of my job are when a customer expresses how happy he is with the quality of our produce, when they ask about our farming methods, when they ask about us, when they bring their kids, etc. It is a beautiful thing to grow food for people and prioritising health and quality rather than money and quantity.
Image credits: Julia Gove