From fashion to farming: On-farm businesses taking the world by storm

Posted October 21, 2017 06:24:40

Former fashion model Vanessa Bell is riding a new wave of potential for on-farm businesses in Australia taking value-added products direct to the world online.

She has started a company from a farm at Goulburn in New South Wales, producing hand-knitted baby blankets from super fine merino wool.

“Being online is really good, it gives us an opportunity obviously to be on a world-wide platform, so we have blankets now in London and Switzerland,” she said.

“It gives us opportunity to be able to sell beyond Australia.”

Ms Bell started marketing her range this year under the brand Sara Jane Bond, named after her late great grandmother who produced a hand knitted blanket in 1940, which had become a family heirloom.

She said the birth of her son Charlie in early 2014 to her farmer husband Philip Bell was the genesis of the business idea.

“Being a newborn baby in this climate I kept struggling to find something warm for him,” Ms Bell said.

“My mother suggested I try my great grandmother’s blanket and then also standing on the deck and looking out, Philip was driving 1,000 head of sheep up the paddock and I thought I really need to do something with sheep, it makes sense to do something in the wool business.”

A near decade-long career as a fashion model on the catwalks of London, Tokyo and Sydney helped her focus on the luxury market, she said.

“I was incredibly fortunate to work with clients such as Giorgio Armani and Comme des Garcon and Christian Dior,” she said.

“For me, it helped me actually define the gap in the market to look for something that was about quality, so being surrounded by wonderful fabrics and construction and how those fabrics came together on the runway, that absolutely gave me an insight into what I wanted to be able to create.”

Crucial to the business model has been a team of dedicated local knitters who have helped design and produce the blankets.

“It’s beyond creating a beautiful product, it’s about really talented women coming together who have a vested interest in the wool business,” Ms Bell said.

“All of us are either married to farmers or have been farmers, it’s looking at creating something and bringing women together in the bush, which is a really important thing.”

Gostwyck also joins the online marketplace

One of the oldest wool growing enterprises in Australia has also been quick to embrace the new world of online opportunities

Gostwyck farm at Uralla in NSW was established in 1832, and sells its wool to high fashion knitwear brands such as Esprit and the suppliers of top end men’s suiting labels such as Saville Row.

Now the family-run enterprise is also selling a range of baby wear online.

“It’s been great, the stuff we’ve sold in Australia and also in Europe, the reactions have been very good,” said Philip Attard, who runs the farm that has been owned by his wife Alison’s family for five generations.

The baby wear is trading on the Dangar family history and is named after the first owners of the property, Henry and Grace.

Mr Attard said it was important to have a story in the online market, but face to face contact was still required.

“You have to be prepared to jump on a plane and go to the places where you need to show your product and explain what it is you’re doing,” Mr Attard said.

“People don’t know and unless you tell them they’ll remain ignorant about the improvements we’ve made here with the Australian merino.”

‘We want to bring jobs into the region’

Mr Attard is running the business from the 2,600 hectare farm, but patchy internet connectivity was a challenge, he said.

“It’s improved a little bit since the Sky Muster, but the speed and the amount of data that you need needs to improve,” he said.

“We’re hoping the amount of data will improve again but we need to able to get through into 100mb lines here in order to do those things comfortably and efficiently, otherwise you have to have an office in town and I want to avoid that.

“The other thing is we want to stay regional, we want to bring the jobs into the region not go down to the cities because that’s where the skills are.

“Those skills are really important for any business but we need to develop them here and keep them here and show them there is a better way of life in regional Australia.”

The head of the business school at the University of New England, Alison Sheridan, said Australian farmers were uniquely placed to capitalise on a global reputation for quality and sustainability.

Food and fibre producers could target niche markets with value added products and UNE was focused on producing graduates with the skills to help develop these online opportunities.

“As the agricultural producer you don’t have to have all that knowledge you bring that specialist expertise in and I think that’s what’s exciting for the employment opportunities of our graduates too is the increasing openness by our agricultural producers to draw in the expertise when they need it,” Ms Sheridan said.

“What I value about this is it’s opening up new opportunities for our regional economy so we tap into an international market and then along the value chain we connect with so many different dimensions of the economy.”

See the story on Landline, this Sunday at noon.

Topics: rural, agricultural-crops, wool, fashion, agribusiness, goulburn-2580, nsw

Lust in the Dust: Aussie rural romance authors romp on

Posted October 14, 2017 14:00:10

It is a genre cheekily referred to as “RuRo” or “Lust in the Dust” by those in the publishing industry, and, more than 10 years after being pioneered by author Rachel Treasure, sales of rural romance books show no signs of slowing down.

Tales of love and fortunes lost and found in rural regions and the outback continue to strike a chord amongst Aussie readers, keen to escape city life for the broad landscapes and slower pace between the pages.

Freelance editor and publishing consultant Louise Thurtell was one of the first publishers in Australia to recognise the potential of RuRo and subsequently established a pitch system for Allen & Unwin, a way for writers to email through parts of their manuscript.

“Growing up on a farm just outside Orange, I knew that a lot of people in the country didn’t have access to publishers or agents, and publishing can be very intimidating, so I just wanted to find more stories by regional and rural writers,” she said.

“I knew that there was a real thirst for stories about both outback and rural Australia.”

The move unearthed several bestselling RuRo authors from our country towns.

‘I took on Fleur McDonald from Esperance in WA through Friday Pitch, and her books continue to be bestsellers, as well as Karly Lane from Macksville, and Nicole Hurley-Moore in Castlemaine,” she said.

“I think there’s always been a legend about the inland and the outback, and with most of us living on the coast in Australia, people seem to be interested in a way of life that’s completely different to theirs.”

It is an interest that also extends beyond our shores, with Germany and America publishing some of our outback tales.

“I’ve heard a rumour that in Germany they’re getting German writers to pen these outback sagas,” she said.

“I don’t know if that’s true, but I think you need to have experienced what it’s like to go through drought, to go through crop failures and so on, and most of the Australian rural romance writers have that country background.”

It’s no crime to write about farm life

The Dry by Jane Harper, a crime novel set in a farming community, has been a publishing phenomenon and is being made into a movie after selling more than 64,000 copies.

Harper’s most recent novel, Force of Nature, sold just under 9,000 copies in its first week.

From barns to backyards, regionally-based Aussie authors are also championing their hometowns and way of life in fiction.

Much-loved writer Tim Winton has almost always written books set in country towns, whilst Sarah Bailey’s mystery novel, The Dark Lake, is also based in a regional centre.

Anglesea author Mark Smith writes young-adult novels set around Victoria’s surf coast, and believes it is important that kids who live in our smaller towns can see themselves represented in books.

“You know there are kids out there doing exactly the same thing that the main character in my novels is doing … they’re riding bikes, they’re bushwalking and riding horses, and I think they deserve to be represented in fiction,” he said.

Watch Landline on Sunday at noon on ABC TV.

Topics: books-literature, arts-and-entertainment, rural, australia

Merino farmers take ‘story’ of Australian wool to spin suiting gold

Posted October 01, 2017 08:15:29

They are unlikely partners — a Tasmanian wool farmer and a fashion designer — but this odd couple are having a big impact on the world of men’s fashion.

The collaboration between Tasmanian superfine wool producer, Simon Cameron, and Matt Jensen from MJ Bale has resulted in a collection of “single origin” men’s suits, all made with wool from Mr Cameron’s farm, Kingston.

“Simon is one of the best woolgrowers in the world,” Mr Jensen said.

“It’s allowed us to create some of the best suiting in the world — but directly from an Australian farm.”

Mr Cameron sends his bales of superfine to Italian woollen mill and fabric producer Vitale Barberis, in northern Italy, where it is woven into high-end suiting fabric.

From there, the fabric goes to Japan where Mr Jensen has his Kingston Collection suits handmade.

“We’ve kept it pretty classic — we’ve got three colours, a full canvas suit, which we handmade in Japan, [a] single-breasted suit,” Mr Jensen said.

Mr Cameron added: “It’s one of those things that you would probably keep for a long time because it’s a special product.”

‘Putting money back into, literally, the grassroots’

The wool from the Kingston is from unmulesed sheep.

That means more work for the farmer — but Mr Cameron stopped the practice of mulesing, where skin is cut off the sheep’s backside to avoid flystrike, long ago.

Careful management is still producing a healthy sheep and a high-quality superfine clip.

“We take out the backs, so that just leaves the two flanks,” Mr Cameron said.

“The main fleece pieces — the two bits from the sides of the sheep — are premium wool that gets put into a separate line.

“The backs get put into another line — it’s still good wool but it is more consistent in itself if it is classed that way.”

As part of the deal, MJ Bale is paying an additional contribution to Mr Cameron, which goes towards preserving native grasses and keeping the farming operation sustainable.

“We think it’s a good thing to be doing — to be putting money back into, literally, the grassroots of the country,” Mr Jensen said.

‘It’s a story right through Australia’

Kingston is not the only Tasmanian wool operation involved in a single-origin clothing range.

The historic Tasmanian wool property, Beaufront, sends wool to the Tollegno Mill in northern Italy, where it is also made into single-origin fabric.

“Our family has been farming here for 100 years — we’re really connected to the land,” Beaufront farmer Julian von Bibra said.

“We feel very strongly about our product — it’s a story right through Australia, in many ways, in terms of farmers managing the landscape and producing a product … we’re thrilled to be able to present that story.”

Julian and Annabel von Bibra feature in the Italian company’s marketing, where their commitment to the environment, their animals, and the production of wool from unmulesed sheep is highlighted.

“Our partners, Tollegno, have visited our farm,” Mr von Bibra said.

“They now have a feeling of what goes on in Australia — if we can be selling our story we represent farming more broadly as proud Tasmanian and Australian farmers, and it’s that opportunity that’s great.”

The Italian mill’s confidence in Beaufront is paying off.

It is working on contracts with clothing companies in America and Europe, and with Country Road in Australia.

“Country Road is a client of the mill, Tollegno in Italy, that bought into the concept — they saw the opportunity to tell the story and do it locally,” wool broker and deal negotiator, Alistair Calvert, said.

For the family, it is a special reward to see garments made with their wool.

“As a farmer you produce a raw product — bales of wool — and often lose the fact of where that wool ends up,” Mr von Bibra said.

“To follow it through to garment stage, to be closer to our customer, to meet the various people in the supply chain, has been an amazing opportunity.

“It keeps us focused on what we are doing.”

Topics: wool, agricultural-crops, rural, fashion, design, tas

Wheat town hopes giant silo mural will draw tourists

The image of a girl in wheat fields at sunset adorning the silos of a regional South Australian town, and celebrating the local farming heritage, is expected to provide an economic boost.

Artist faces fear of heights to paint giant mural on WA grain silos

Kyle Hughes-Odgers has painted murals around the world, but standing in a fully extended cherry picker working on 35-metre-high grain silos in the West Australian Wheatbelt town of Merredin presented a particular challenge.

Berry farming and country music all in a day’s work for The Wolfe Brothers

Updated July 21, 2017 13:45:17

The Wolfe Brothers — Tom and Nick to their friends — do not have anything resembling a normal life, after years touring Australia and the US with their self-titled country rock band.

But the brothers, who grew up on a small berry farm outside Hobart, recently faced a very common dilemma in farming families.

Their father, Malcolm Wolfe, was diagnosed with cancer and died late last year.

His sons found themselves wondering if they could hold on to the Neika property, which has been in the family since 1899.

“I didn’t think it would happen so soon,” Nick Wolfe said.

“Tom and I have spent the last 10 or 12 years of our lives pursuing the band and we’ve been away for a lot of that time — travelling, playing.

“In my mind, I guess I thought we’d wind down one day and come back home and gradually transition … and Dad would be here, showing us the ropes.”

Tom Wolfe admitted: “The easy thing to do would be sell it, sub-divide it — but that’s not what we’re going to do.

“This is our name, this is where we’re from, and we want to keep it alive.”

Music and farming passed down through generations

While the brothers will not be putting down their guitars any time soon, their busy schedules have become far more crowded with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a farm.

Luckily they have family around to pick up the slack — their mum Leigh, and uncle Tony, who is teaching them the tricks of the berry trade.

“My brother and I, we used to do our job by day, our music by night and our farming of a weekend,” Tony Wolfe said.

“We were pretty busy. I think back now — ‘how did I do all that?'”

Music has been passed down through the generations, just like farming.

Malcolm and Tony Wolfe played in a band with their parents, called the Wolfe Family Orchestra.

Tom and Nick started The Wolfe Brothers more than a decade ago with local friends Brodie Rainbird and Casey Kostiuk.

Since then they have released three albums, toured with Lee Kernaghan and made multiple trips to the US, where country music is a huge market.

‘Our music and songs draw from this place’

Even though it will be a huge challenge to balance farm work and life as touring musicians, Tom said selling the farm would risk an essential connection to their music and their fans.

“So much of our music and songs draw from this place,” he said.

“The sense of home, the sense of where you come from, the sense of family — playing country music, that’s a huge part of it.”

Leigh Wolfe said having her sons at home more often was music to her ears.

“It’s just great to see them living their passion, living their dream,” she said.

“I love to hear what they’re doing but it’s just so good to have them home — that’s where they’re really happiest, when they’re home.”

Watch Landline on Sunday at noon on ABC TV.

Topics: music, country, rural, human-interest, neika-7054, hobart-7000, tas

First posted July 21, 2017 06:06:42

Mongolia’s nomadic lifestyle is under threat – but Australian graziers could help

Posted July 13, 2017 15:56:12

Across the vast plains of Mongolia there is a quickening population drift to the towns and cities, and it is sweeping away the traditional life of nomadic livestock raising.

“There has been a big shift in Mongolia from herder lifestyle to urbanisation,” explains photographer Jerry Galea.

“Lots of herders are leaving that lifestyle behind and moving into the city.”

In the 1950s the country was 20 per cent urban. Today it is about 70 per cent, far higher than the average in Asia.

Galea, a former press photographer, first visited Mongolia in 2001.

Instantly captivated by the beauty of the country and the richness of its culture, he took hundreds of photos.

However, when he returned in 2015, he was astounded at the rate and degree of change.

From a country that till recently had very few cameras, it now has all the technological trappings of the Western world.

“Photography was everywhere,” Galea said.

“People had smart phones and digital technology with cameras, and people were able to take photos. I was quite interested in that process and what photography means to them now.”

As part of his PhD, Galea organised a cultural exchange program for a young Mongolian photographer to visit Australia.

A fundraising exhibition held at Melbourne’s Magnet Gallery last year provided enough money for a month-long visit by emerging social documentary photographer Davaanyam Delgerjargal.

The duo set out to document the closest thing Australia has to a nomadic livestock-raising lifestyle — alpine cattle grazing in Victoria’s high country.

“Mongolia is a herder society essentially and they love their animals and they’re quite connected to their animals, their horses, their cows, their goats, and there’s a real connection, a spiritual connection actually,” Galea said.

Delgerjargal’s ancestors were nomadic herders.

“Because Mongolian people are nomadic people, every season we tend to move to a different place, then live at another place where it has better grass,” Delgerjargal said.

Through his often gritty images Delgerjargal has already done much to document the enormous social changes occurring in Mongolia, a country of 3 million people landlocked between Russia and China.

The big picture

His visit to Australia was far more than merely trying to take good photographs.

Delgerjargal visited rural communities and leading cattle growing properties to gain insights into how rural communities in Mongolia might become more sustainable.

“I really see the farming and the lifestyle, how the farmers live, along with their cattle in Australia is very fascinating,” the 28-year-old said.

“Really the main thing that I want to take back home is how fascinating I have found the farming life in Australia and through my work I’d like to express it because of the great rate of country people shifting into the city.

“There are certain possibilities how we could sustain even a better life at home without having to move to the city. And of course it is not an easy task or an issue that can be solved easily but at least I want to get people thinking about how it is possible to still live a great life in the countryside.”

In future the photographs taken by Galea and Delgerjargal will be exhibited in Melbourne and Mongolia, and there are plans for a more unconventional public art showing in Victoria’s high country.

“We might actually blow up mural sized images and put them onto old shearing sheds and so forth,” Galea said.

“So it’s a bit of taking the art back to where it comes from, as opposed to having four walls and exhibition space, so we want to take the art back to the people.”

Galea’s research is also exploring how cameras are now being used in Mongolia.

“I’ve actually given cameras, previously, to people who live nomadically as herders and now live in urban centres … I’ve given them cameras, I’ve asked them to photograph their own lives and I’m really interested in how they use cameras, what they take photos of and culturally how they use their photographs in Mongolia,” he said.

It is hoped sales of photographs and sponsorship will give another young Mongolian a similar opportunity to visit Australia next year.

“His images are quite different to mine but he’s really captured an essence of the people and the landscape,” Galea said.

Delgerjargal hopes his art can be a powerful means to slowing the rate of rural change, to “show the people that there are possibilities for us Mongolians to live in a way that the Australians are doing”.

“So maybe instead of shifting to the city excessively we could still maintain our life in the nomadic way, if not in the nomadic way, still in our countryside and amongst our beautiful wildlife,” he said.

Tim Lee’s story Mongolian Beef screens on Landline this Sunday at noon.

Topics: agribusiness, agricultural-crops, community-and-society, urban-development-and-planning, arts-and-entertainment, photography, rural, mongolia, australia, vic