Darren Smith is the founder and chief farmer at New Life Farm, a local farm that produces 100% organically grown, chemical and spray free produce, eggs and compost (among other things). He tells us all about the family run property, what drives them to farm the way they do and their goals for the future.
Hi Darren. Tell us a little about your relationship with the Coffs Coast?
I was born and raised on the Coffs Coast.
After my electrical apprenticeship, I set up an electrical contracting business in Coffs.
In my late 20s, I moved away, travelling and working on some of Australia’s largest infrastructure and mining projects. The more time I spent away, the stronger my desire grew to return to the area, back to my family and sense of a local community – Coffs has a very friendly, laid back feel that’s very appealing.
How did New Life Farm come about, and how long has it been running?
Diet related health issues in my early 20s led me down a path of learning more about good health and disease prevention through diet.
At the time I was living on the Gold Coast, and farmers’ markets and farm visits quickly became a firm fixture in my weekly routine to get my fresh food fix!
Visiting Coffs and having trouble accessing good, clean food, I realised there was a huge opportunity for a small scale, diverse produce farm. That’s when the idea of New Life Farm was born.
I’m fortunate to have access to a 22-acre property between Sapphire and Moonee that’s been in the family for five generations.
The land had been used for timber and small-scale production since the 1900s, but for the last 35 years sat idle other than a few cattle and a small veggie patch.
Planning of the farm started two years before I returned home to build the farm full time in 2015.
We started selling produce in June 2015, growing slowly as the market garden developed and I learnt how to be a farmer! (Laughs.)
Tell us about the way you farm?
We are super passionate about regenerative farming and giving back more than we take from the land.
Our focus is on building the fertility and biodiversity of the soil and increasing the property’s resilience (to drought, flood and climate change). This is at the core of our regenerative farming practices – to regenerate the land to strengthen the health of the overall community.
The farm’s design follows permaculture principles, which I studied under Geoff Lawton’s PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) and the property is managed using holistic management principles that I learnt from Allan Savory’s Holistic Management course.
We make all our own biological fertilisers and compost teas, and we create compost using on-farm organic materials and manure and off-farm organic waste.
I have a sensitivity to chemicals, so conventional farming methods have never been used and we never have (and never will) use sprays or pesticides, as we seek balance in our ecosystem.
How many people does it take to run the farm? Is it just you and your family, or do you employ other helping hands?
Currently I’m the only full-timer on the farm, but I don’t do it all alone.
My beautiful partner, Al, is the creative mastermind behind our social media and web presence, that she does outside of working in her family business at Axis IQ. Every chance she has though, she loves to get her hands dirty helping in all aspects of the farm: animal management, in the market garden harvesting, not to mention sweating up a storm on the broad fork!
Then there’s Dad, aka the farm’s engineer. Dad is my go-to when I have a crazy idea or invention and need it built! He’s creative and handy!
Mum is our chief chicken raiser and is a bit of a chicken whisperer too! It’s Mum’s annual duty in early spring to hand raise our new laying chickens. In true Mum form, she also makes sure we never go hungry!
At certain times of the year we have volunteers on the farm too.
Everyone involved has an undying belief in what we’re striving to create on the farm.
What sort of fruit and veg do you grow?
We grow with the seasons. We don’t grow a lot of any one crop, but we do grow a wide variety focusing on quality over quantity.
We also like experimenting, growing new and unusual crops. It’s rewarding to find different crops that grow well here and introducing these weird and wonderful tastes to our customers.
As well as the market garden, we have an ever-expanding orchard, where we grow a range of seasonal fruit. We had our first season of mangoes recently, which was awesome!
We also sell our chicken’s eggs.
Organically grown produce has had quite a lot of attention in recent years and is the go-to for many consumers these days. How important is it to produce 100% organically grown fruit and veg?
Whilst we are not a certified organic farm, managing our farm beyond organic i.e.100% chemical free, is of the utmost importance to us.
We considered certification, but our customer base is purely local, and we have a direct relationship with them. They know we have an “open farm” policy, where they can check out our growing methods and farm management practices, so we don’t feel a need for certification at present.
Regarding the importance of eating organic food, with all the literature available it’s evident that we are, in fact, what we eat. Our exposure to chemicals is being attributed to a range of diseases and allergies that were not as prevalent in the past, and a lot of people’s chemical exposure comes in the food they eat.
We know that a diet filled with as much fresh, clean, chemical free food as possible can only contribute to improved health and disease prevention.
What else do you consider to be important factors to consider when buying produce?
Freshness. We supply our food as quickly as possible after harvest with minimal cold storage time, to ensure the highest nutritional content possible.
Locality. We’re big advocates for minimising food miles and supporting local producers.
Taste and colour. Produce should be full-flavoured and vibrant in colour. The richer the colour, generally the better it is for you – and the better it tastes too!
Seasonality. We enjoy eating with the seasons. It’s also far easier to grow produce in the appropriate season – the health and vitality of seasonally grown produce is maximised, thus minimising pest and disease pressure too.
Eating with the seasons also allows you to get excited about the produce when it next comes around, rather than just having access to it all year.
You make your own compost on the farm; can you tell us about this process?
We utilise our chicken manure, on-farm organic material and off-farm organic waste to make our compost.
We use a Static Pile Inoculated Covered compost process, or “SPIC”.
We’re always seeking efficiencies in our systems, and SPIC is a much lower energy input solution that involves inoculating a pile of organic matter with a specifically blended inoculant (that we make on the farm), covering it with a tarp and leaving to “cook” for up to 12 weeks. This does require a little forward planning.
We’ve recently started collecting off-farm organic “waste” from our café customers. Depending on the contents, we process this invaluable resource through our chicken system or mix directly into our compost piles before composting. Our café customers have all been excited to be part of this process.
You also offer training and consultancy on the farm; what does this involve?
We consult on small and hobby farm projects focusing on permaculture design and holistic management. We’ll also be launching a series of workshops in coming months covering a range of topics taught by us, as well as bringing in other specialists within the industry.
Being a passionate foodie yourself, what are some of your favourite fresh ingredients you like to use in your cooking?
It depends on the season. For example, coming into autumn we look forward to the different radishes, turnips and brassicas – we’re hooked on pickling and fermenting and make large batches of kimchi and sauerkraut to last us through the year (excellent for gut health!)
We are massive advocates of the benefits of green smoothies and enjoy one – at least one! – daily. During the cooler months, our selection of greens is amazing.
We love our staples of ginger, turmeric, galangal, chilli and garlic for making pastes and rubs.
Al and I love to experiment in the kitchen, so every season brings different taste sensations and recipes to add to our repertoire!
Where can people find your produce or contact you for more information?
Our website www.newlifefarm.com.au and our Facebook and Instagram pages.
We currently run a veggie box system where customers can register for our online store and place orders for collection from the farm Tuesday to Thursday.
We are a working farm, so we’re currently closed to the public; however, we’ll be running open days and farm tours soon – register for our newsletter at our website to stay up to date.