Organic Market Garden Mentoring Project

Many young people have an interest in organic market gardening and would like a career path as farmers yet lack the family background and support structures needed to develop this pathway.  Underpinning this is a desire to produce food in a more natural and sustainable way and, for many, to operate their own businesses.

The NSW Farmers Central Coast Horticulture Branch has been actively supporting the local farming community toward sustainable farming objectives through running a Sustainable Farming Program.  One of their objectives is to support youth to enter farming professions and they were successful in obtaining a Community Landcare Grant through Greater Sydney Local Land Services to set up a mentoring program. 

Eden Fanelli from Eden’s Edibles offered half a hectare of land on his commercial organic farm and NSW Farmers engaged Josh Pearson, from Champion Mountain Organics to mentor a small group of participants through the process of producing several commercial organic crops.

Being a pilot project, there were many challenges and much was learnt.  Students encountered soil fertility and pest problems, the challenges of a dry autumn, and the need to take a commercial approach and grow the products that would sell, all of which presented excellent learning opportunities.

Some of the skills learnt included:

  • Organic production of a core group of vegetables (lettuce, rocket, pak choy, baby-leaf spinach, snow peas)
  • Managing soil with low fertility and moving it toward healthy, productive soil suitable for organic market gardening
  • Soil sampling & interpretation of test results
  • Compost making
  • Cover cropping
  • Propagation of seedlings
  • Bed formation and management
  • Weed & pest management
  • Irrigation
  • Planning bed layout and crop rotation
  • Harvesting and post-harvest management

Our follow-up interviews 6-months after the program had ended found that mentorees had implemented their learnings, with one already starting his own organic market gardening business.  These interviews confirmed achievement of our central objectives of supporting young people to pursue farming careers, giving them the opportunity to learn practical skills, to participate in a commercial operation, and to gain valuable contacts within the farming community.

Success was also reflected in the turn around that was seen at the Organic Market Garden Demonstration Site.  Despite the early challenges of poor soil fertility, pests and low water availability, several months into the project, fertility issues had significantly improved and quality produce was being harvested. Sales to two organic cooperatives were well established, significant quantities of bulk compost were in the making, cover crops had been established and much fertility had been added to the land.  Furthermore, students were having success in producing their own seedlings.  Feedback from the students reflected the satisfaction of learning to manage production difficulties and seeing a turnaround.