THE Pigerator is the latest experiment being conducted by Joyce Wilkie and Michael Plane at their Gundaroo property, Allsun Farm, on NSW's Southern Tablelands.
|Joyce Wilkie, Allsun Farm, Gundaroo.
Far from being a new, complicated piece of machinery, however, the Pigaerator is exactly what the name suggests - pigs.
Based on the production of American farmer Joel Salatin, from Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, Ms Wilkie said their three Berkshire pigs have been working to make one of the most important products of their farm - the compost.
"Our Pigaerator is on a much smaller scale than Joel's - he keeps all his cattle in a barn over winter because of snow, and once spring rolls around again the pigs are put in the barn to turn the bedding from the hay-fed cows into lovely, black, aerated compost," she said, adding that they have adopted this method of compost production in an effort to reduce the amount of machinery or human labour involved in the process.
For their own production, she said, they have an agreement with some of Canberra's cafes, collecting the green waste from the cafes on the campus of the Australian National University (ANU).
"Once we have enough compostable material there, a minimum of 10 cubic metres, we inoculate the weeds with corn - when we first started to do so the cockatoos managed to find the corn, but now we put that in at the last moment," she said.
"Compost is such an important part of our production but we never seem to have enough, so though it is still an experiment at the moment, we're hoping our pigs will be great compost makers."
Mr Plane and Ms Wilkie have lived and worked on the farm for about 40 and 30 years respectively, growing both fruit and vegetables, some varieties all year round, as well as keeping chickens for eggs and previously meat goats on their 40 hectare property, about 75 per cent of which is still native bush land, relatively untouched.
Ms Wilkie said they decided to sell their goats in order to focus on the more intensive production of the Pigaerator.
"We've found that there are very few weeds outside of the parts of the property which we farm, with a large proportion of native grasses," she said.
"Grazing goats does really hammer the land and so we thought that we would stop grazing to give the native pastures a chance to recover."
In addition to their orchard of 40 trees, which Ms Wilkie said were covered year round and bear a substantial amount of fruit in consequence, Allsun Farm also produces a range of mixed, seasonal vegetables - at least 10 different varieties at once.
"We used to grow enough to supply local families as well as restaurants in Canberra, but because Michael and I are getting older we only target the restaurants these days, and we'll sell any excess produce off the back of the truck if we need to," Ms Wilkie said.
"Maribeth Cole at The Gods Cafe on the ANU campus is wonderful - she buys all our eggs and will take anything we offer her, within reason, for the cafe."
As they slowly wound down the size of their production, Ms Wilkie said they began to focus on the education side of the small acreage production industry.
In the winter of 2010, when their production was most dormant, Mr Plane and Ms Wilkie travelled to the US and to Europe, visiting friends and family as well as sustainable and organic farmers, gleaning ideas and learning new methods of production to take back home to Australia.
Joined by their friend and food photographer Fred Harden, they decided to create a resource for the education of people wanting to get involved in the industry.
Titled "Growing the Growers", the project will feature events filmed by Mr Harden during their overseas travels, with everything from interviews with farmers and the interns on their properties, to footage of farmer's markets, school gardens and cafes.
"In the US we found there were a lot of university students who graduated from their course only to find that the career path they were searching for was either not there or that they had changed their minds about what they wanted to do, so a lot of them were doing spells as interns on farms to learn firsthand about the production," Ms Wilkie said.
"It has been a little difficult to get the production of the documentary rolling - at certain times of the year, from about August to March, Michael and I have long days working outside with no spare time, and the process is quite expensive - we are planning on applying for some grants to help with that aspect of the production."
Allsun Farm has already hosted one intern, Canberra's Helen Mitchell, with two more working on the property throughout January.
While they host a three-day course each year at the farm for anybody who is interested, Ms Wilkie said she and Mr Plane both believe that internships were the best way to learn about the industry, if you were serious about it.
"Michael and I are both tertiary-educated and because of this we are passionate about teaching," she said.
"We've talked to plenty of other farmers who share our belief that attending a course is not how you learn to be a farmer - you learn by doing it every day for a long period of time."
Because of the long nature of their process of absorption, Ms Wilkie said they liked their interns to be able to stay for three to six months at a time, so that they can see the end results of their work.
"Working on a farm is an annual story, with patterns that happen each year - if you can stay long enough to see those patterns and that story, it's very rewarding."
An article from the March edition of Farming Small Areas.