About Us

Welcome to Our Farm

If we haven't met before–Hi! We're Hugh and Katie Finlay.

We came home to the farm in 1998. Since then we've seen some pretty wild conditions, from drought to flood and everything in between, plus in 2008 we converted the farm to certified organic. Along the way we learned HEAPS about growing fruit in a wide variety of conditions, and came to understand how to create a thriving, balanced, organic ecosystem. We've put it all into our Grow Great Fruit Home-Study Program. Here's the first blog post we ever wrote:

 

Nestled at the foot of Mt Alexander in Harcourt, our farm is planted like an old fashioned “garden” (the early name for an orchard) with small plantings of more than 140 varieties, providing an extended season of fresh fruit off the tree for almost 6 months.

Through a combination of clever planning, growing healthy fruit and trees, picking and storing fruit properly, and old-fashioned fruit preserving techniques...


"our farm is a working demonstration of how to keep your family supplied with home grown organic fruit all year round."


These days the orchard is called Tellurian Fruit Gardens and managed by Ant Wilson, but he still uses the same organic growing methods. In fact we're so committed to organic growing that we've set up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op on the farm—and all our members are certified organic!

Our Coaching Program

One of the reasons we set up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op is so we can focus more on sharing our years of experience to help people get the skills to grow their own organic food.

We think everyone deserves to eat an excellent organic diet—and what better way than learning how to grow it yourself?

Growing organically is better for your health, but it's also better for the plant, and because we're aware of how fast the climate is changing, we want to be part of the solution, one backyard at a time. 

How Did We Get Here?

Hugh’s farming experience started on a cattle station in Western Australia (which he ended up managing), followed by a stint as a supervisor on a broadacre wheat farm in Saudi Arabia. Travelling around the world for fun turned into 16 years as a writer and editor for Lonely Planet, an exotic lifestyle he eventually gave up to return to his farming roots and settle down in Harcourt.

Since coming back to the land, Hugh's done lots of training in organic management and building healthy soil:

  • “Monitor and manage soils” and “Pest, disease and weed management” units of the Diploma of Agriculture in Organic Farming, Organic Agriculture Association/Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE.
  • Sustainable and Biological Farming Course  with Dr Arden Anderson PhD DO FS
  • "True Fertility Compost Tea Course” and “Microscope Course”, with Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web Institute
  • "Compost & Compost Tea Workshop", with Paul Taylor, Woodend 
  • "Irrigation Management Course”, Department of Natural Resources and Sunraysia TAFE
  • "Cherry Short Course”, Department of Primary Industries, Shepparton
  • "Soil and Agronomy Workshop”, Dr Arden Andersen PhD DO FS
  • "Environmental Best Management Practice on Farms”, Department of Primary Industries, Castlemaine

Hugh’s a self-confessed soil and microbe nerd, and spends a fair bit of time looking down a microscope! The main areas of expertise that he brings to his teaching practise include:

  • Nutrition—making compost tea brews, looking after worms (his babies), soil testing, leaf testing, fertigation and foliar sprays
  • Irrigation—keeping pumps and irrigation systems in top condition, monitoring soil moisture, deciding when and how much to water trees
  • Pest and disease control—predicting the weather and putting on preventive organic sprays at exactly the right time!
  • Weed control
  • Machinery fix-it guy
  • IT and website fix-it guy

Katie’s a 3rd generation orchardist and grew up on the farm, but bolted to the city after school and mis-spent a good deal of her youth getting a Bachelor of Science at Monash Uni (which as it turns out gave her a solid grounding in botany and genetics that came in very handy when she came home to the farm 15 years later).

Since coming home Katie also did a fair bit of training—in slightly different areas to Hugh—that has shaped what she brings to her teaching practise:

  • "Permaculture Design Certificate” with Cydonia Permaculture
  • "Permaculture Certificate 3” with Cydonia Permaculture and Eltham College
  • “Soil and Agronomy Workshop” with Dr Arden Anderson PhD DO FS
  • “Footprints to Sustainability” course taught by Jane Knight
  • “Biodynamic Field Day”, Daylesford
  • "Environmental Best Management Practice on Farms”, Department of Primary Industries, Castlemaine
  • “Holistic Management” with Kirk Gadzia, Woodend
  • “Soil Microbes for Healthy Soil & Improved Vineyard Quality, Department of Primary Industries, Knoxfield
  • Carbon Farming 101”, Carbon Farmers of Australia
  • “Carbon Farmers of Australia conference”, Dubbo

 Katie’s expertise and experience includes:

  • Pruning—pruning thousands of trees every year means not much surprises her!
  • Fruit picking—choosing the right time to pick each variety and making sure the fruit stays in perfect condition
  • Packing and marketing—grading and packing fruit to suit different purposes
  • Thinning to manage crop load and quality
  • Orchard hygiene—an important defence against disease
  • Pest and disease control—preventive tape, netting, pheromones etc.
  • Orchard planning—keeping tabs on what new varieties are needed, grafting and pollinisers

Organic Certification & Natural Fertility

We've been certified organic with NASAA since 2008. We're audited once a year by a NASAA officer, who has the right to look at EVERYTHING we do, including bookwork and procedures—but we reckon that's a good thing!

NASAA have granted the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op group certification. That means all our members are certified under the same cert number (#3683), saving our members money and time. We're very proud that this is an Australian first, and delighted that NASAA agreed to work with us to make it possible. 

We wholeheartedly support organic certification, and love that it's a thorough process, because that gives you—the consumer—confidence that all our Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op members actually are doing everything the right way, and not just saying so. It's too easy for people to say they're organic when what they mean is spray-free, or almost spray-free. When you're buying food, if someone is claiming to be organic - ask them who they're certified with, and if they're not, ask them why not!

 

Being certified organic also means that no artificial fertilisers are used on the farm. We rely instead on natural fertility (you know, the sort that fed the entire human race before about 1920 when superphospate was invented, and our soils were ruined!). Natural fertility relies on using compost, compost tea and other forms or organic matter to create healthy soil, full of microbes that provide the trees with nutrients.

We've also set aside 4.5 hectares of the farm as a revegetation zone, creating a wildlife corridor from the Mt Alexander Regional Park (which borders the farm on the eastern side) through to remnant vegetation on the western side. The zone has been planted with local species, and is slowly being restored to its original condition.

In many ways, the farm still looks as it would have 100 years ago. The property was owned by W.L. Williams and sons, who began planting orchard in the 1880s. By 1909 they had an orchard or 'garden' (hence the farm name) of 60 acres, making them Harcourt's largest fruit growers. They successfully grew apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears and cherries - as Ant still does today!

Sustainability Plan

Sustainability and resilience come from diversity, and this principle is applied constantly to all parts of our business. So, rather than growing a monoculture of just one type of fruit (which is very vulnerable to environmental conditions), we grow 7 types of fruit, and more than 90 varieties, with more added every year. (The house garden has another 20 or so varieties including nuts and citrus, but these are just to add to the diversity of their own food supply rather than for commercial sale). Growing lots of varieties spreads the risk, reduces disease pressure, improves food security by providing fresh fruit off the tree for almost half the year, spreads the workload and costs, and makes sure the fruit is picked, sold and eaten while it's fresh.

The diversity principle is also applied to everything else, including for example:

  • markets - pick-your-own, wholesale, online and Farmers Markets
  • water sources - irrigation (Coliban Water), on-farm storage and increasing the amount of organic matter to store more water in the soil
  • income - on-farm (fruit, trees), online (Grow Great Fruit training products) and off-farm (Hugh's alternative income)
  • sources of organic matter - compost, manure, worm food, humates, seaweed and other soil additives come from multiple sources to ensure adequate nutrients are returned to the soil
  • biodiversity - we encourage as many different types of birds, insects, arthropods and microbes as possible by having as many different types of plants as possible

We've documented every aspect of the business, including our carbon-neutral status, in a Sustainability Plan which includes:

* the principles that guide the business
* strategy and goals
* challenges to sustainable practice
* summary of carbon emissions & sequestration
* key performance indicators including production, profit and satisfaction
* marketing and transport analysis
* pest, disease and environmental conditions review
* water and soil management

You're welcome to read the whole plan - click on this link to download it for free.

(Of course as soon as you produce any sort of business document it needs updating, so we aim to update the Sustainability Plan every two years, but being human, and busy, it can take a bit longer than that...)

Community Stuff

We are both involved with the local scene in all sorts of ways—because it’s so much more fun and interesting than going it alone! Plus it adds to the resilience of our business, as well as helping to build an active community.

Crowd at the Applefest enjoying the ferret races

Some of the things we’re doing at the moment include Hugh’s membership of Coliban Water’s Harcourt Water Services Committee, and both of us are members of the Harcourt and District Fruit Growers Association (of which Katie was Secretary for 10 years, and is now the Community Liaison Officer). Katie’s also passionate about the Growing Abundance project—a food relocalisation project based in Castlemaine (and not only because it involves lots of cake!) Katie's also involved each year in the local Harcourt Applefest, a celebration of our district's long association with the mighty apple.

Media and Speaking Stuff

MAFG has been featured many times in the media, and Hugh and Katie have spoken at various events over the years...here’s some of the recent highlights:

  • Katie was on the panel at a community forum called Get the Dirt on Food Security at Wesley Anne in Northcote in 2011
  • Hugh and Katie were featured speakers at the Organic Agriculture Association Future Farming conference in Bairnsdale in 2010
  • In 2009 MAFG was one of 4 orchards chosen for orchard walks for delegates to the 2009 Australian Fresh Fruit Company (AFFCO) Training Workshop, as part of their Annual Conference in Melbourne
  • In 2011 MAFG was featured in articles in both Australian Horticulture magazine and Good Fruit and Vegetables magazine
  • In 2012 MAFG was used as a case study in the report “Many Publics. Participation Inventiveness and Change” by Kate Auty, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability in Victoria (you can read the report at: www.ces.vic.gov.au)
  • In 2012 Katie was a speaker in the Keynote session at the Growers and Eaters Conference in Bendigo
  • In 2010 MAFG was part of the FarmVIEW video series featuring our response to the challenges of farming in a changing environment: http://new.dpi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/climate/videos (ep 2.1 ‘Climate and Planning’)
  • Katie's story of returning to the family farm was told as "Love for the Land Runs Deep", in the Finding Neverland series of articles, Bendigo Magazine, Issue 33, Summer 2013/14.
  • In 2014 we were included in a short video about waste in the food system called Waste Deep, made by the passionate people at Sustainable Table - watch the video here.
  • In August 2014 we were featured in the Midland Express, both online and in the paper, in an article about our involvement in the local sustainable food system. Here's the link.
  • In October 2014 leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Milne, visited the farm and toured the property.  Christine said "Katie and Hugh are a great example of breathing new life into a traditional property. They made a decision to go organic - it's taken them three years and they've worked really hard at it, but they've also realised they need to diversify." Here's the link to an article about the visit in the Midland Express.


The film crew in the shed making the Waste Deep doco

Awards ’n stuff

  • In both 2010 and 2011 we were Medallists in the 'From the Earth' category, delicious (ABC) magazine Produce Awards
  • We were runners-up in 3 categories of the Carbon Farmers of Australia Carbon Cocky Awards in 2011: Outstanding Best Practice, Outstanding Innovation or Invention and Encouragement Award.

About Us

We – Hugh and Katie Finlay – draw on over 15 years' experience as orchardists at our farm, Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, to bring you the Grow Great Fruit Program, the farm-proven system for home fruit growers.

To read the full story of our farming journey, click here 

MAFG Blog

Our blog gives a snapshot on various aspects of life on the farm, with regular guest posts by Mel and Sas from the Gung Hoe Growers, and new farmer Ant.

Visit the blog 

Grow Great Fruit Program

We grow organically, and teach organic growing principles and methods. We’re aware of the changing climate, so the farming methods we use help to create solutions, not add to the problem. We've poured years of experience into our farm-tested Grow Great Fruit program after talking to hundreds of home growers, and figuring out what you need most...information, security, and someone you can trust to help you solve your problems.

 

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Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens © 2018