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grower profile:

Black Barn Farm

Stanley, Australia

Charlie Showers

Black Barn Farm
Charlie Showers
Tell us about your growing philosophy.

Where nature can do the work in our orchard we let it and we actively adopt practices that encourage it. We treat problems firstly by adding more life, not taking life away. Re-building a forest based ecology is core to our orchard, this will take many years and possibly many life times. We have found great solace in Permaculture as we walk this path.

Tell us about your place on Earth.

We orchard in Pallanganmiddang country, North East Victoria, Australia in the little hamlet of Stanley. Unlike most of arid Australia we farm in a cool temperate sub alpine environment, cool wet winters with the odd snowfall and hot dry summers, equivalent to Zone 8b in USDA parlance. All up a perfect orcharding climate minus the odd hailstorm and bushfire! We grow about 70 varieties of apples, pears and berries across 10 acres which open to the public for u-pick. We operate a heritage fruit tree nursery selling bare root trees online every winter and we also host numerous events and workshops.

What draws you to growing fruit?

Carving a career amongst the natural world is the closest I can come to once again living on country, like our forebears did for many thousands of years. Running a holistic orchard is to undertake daily life as one massive experiment, the wonder of insect life cycles, fungal relationships, predator/prey interactions and biological complexities which all operate far beyond the realm of human intelligence mean each day can be full of true awe and wonder for the natural world whilst immersing yourself deeply into it. Such a natural connection is at the core of being human.

What holistic innovation keeps your trees rarin' to grow?

‘Outrageous diversity’ is the key for us and the most important holistic value to which all else hinges.

How has an ecosystem approach changed your tree reality for the better?

We’re still on the journey and always will be, however when leasing a neighbouring established orchard that was farmed conventionally until we took it over, we found it was plagued with woolly aphid that had eluded even the nastiest of conventional nuro-toxins in previous seasons. By switching to the Graunlosis virus to control coddling moth and removing all broad spectrum insecticides, mixed with a little patience, we slowly saw the ants, earwigs and wasps return and by the end of the season no woolly aphid. Biodiversity is king!

Share an “aha! moment” that made you a better grower.

We get a lot of grasshoppers each summer and each summer they defoliate many young trees. This infuriated this establishing orchardist with many young trees to nurture, my anger for the grasshopper grew large and my trees grew stunted. Adopting a Bill Mollison quote, I reminded myself I don’t have a grasshopper problem I have a chicken deficiency. A problem in the orchard is a chance to listen to what is wrong, I now don’t rush for a linear quick fix, I observe, take my time and understand that a solution too may take time and that’s okay.

What might you change if you could do one thing over again in your orchard?

More irrigation water more often and more grass control in the establishing years, more green manure crops for more nitrogen in an old flogged orchard block. However, no real regrets, it is all part of the journey. Ask me this again in 10 years and I will give you even more answers I am sure!

How do you go about marketing the good fruit?

We love our customers, they are our friends and community. We invite them into the special place that is our orchard, we share our knowledge and experiences with them through workshops, school visits and u-pick. We share and tell our story honestly, openly and genuinely. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, this quote by Simon Sinek rings in our ears every day.

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