Imagine this – Mum, Dad and five kids (ages 6, 9, 15, 17 and 19), sell their place in Nambucca Heads on NSW’s mid north coast and arrive at their new home – 100 acres of trees and grass – with one feature, a windmill!
No electricity, no water, no house, not even a shed, but heaps of enthusiasm and the thrill of being part of a collective dream for a family farm.
The family cooked up their vision when Dad, Stephen Schofield, and Mum, Melanie – both teachers – had set off round Australia with all five kids 18 months prior.
That was in 2014. Now in 2016, having immersed themselves in the environment and learnt all they could about camping, biodiversity, farming and having fun on the land, they were ready to embark on another adventure.
And what an adventure it has been!
From little things …
Now five years on, the family live in the house the three eldest kids built under the watchful eye of a semi-retired builder.
They have two water bores piped to taps around the property. The shed also houses a stand-alone solar operated burgeoning egg and meat business. And the family have a teaching business, an Airbnb business and offers farm stays!
The remaining adults on the property, Dad, Mum and 20-year-old Bethany, as well as the two youngest girls, now 11 and 14, either earn their living or an income from the property, supplemented for mortgage purposes, by Stephen’s part time teaching in a local primary school and the special ed unit in Casino High School.
The two eldest boys, now 24 and 22, live on the Gold Coast, where they turned their house building skills into trades, securing apprenticeships and employment as boiler maker and carpenter respectively. Josh, the eldest, also gets to the farm every other weekend to lend a hand.
And other animals…
So now, on Gracemere Farmstead close to Yorklea, some 225-300 km northwest of Nambucca Heads, the Schofields, along with caring for Melanie’s 91-year-old dad, have egg laying and meat free range chickens, four rotating duck yards, geese, two horses who hang with the 25 cows, and seven goats who follow the cows to eat the weeds, five donkeys and separately kept, but also pasture-raised, pigs.
Bethany manages the pasture-raised meat side of the family business, selling the packaged duck, chicken, pork and eggs, in Lismore, Bellingen and Yamba markets, as well as home deliveries in the area.
The two youngest girls, manage the egg layers, with Chloe (14) responsible for the chickens, and Tahlia (11) the ducks. They both get the money from the eggs Bethany sells, and use a simple spreadsheet to allocate income to buy any necessary feed. Good maths skills as part of home schooling.
On a big farm bench, in a family production line, the Schofields do all their own packaging with a couple of machines and are planning to double their current output. “Although the farm is for us and our family,” says Stephen. “We always wanted to share what we were doing on a mixed animal and cropping family farm business with others.”
Today, five years on Gracemere Farmstead is a completely stand-alone solar operated business with 70 solar panels tied into one battery bank.
The panels on the shed and the house roofs generate all their electricity. Given no connection when they first moved in and the fact that to connect to the mains would have cost the same as solar, the family used their savings in a one-off cost, to install solar.
“As you can imagine we do need a lot of freezer and fridge space to house the meat when it returns from the abattoir,” Stephen said. “We’re really happy with it.
“In five years, we’ve done a lot. It’s been a really busy and enjoyable journey. Melanie loves the farm life. She is here fulltime. Bethany is very committed, and the younger girls love it. Actually, our visitors – whether that is Brian Wehlburg the agriculturalist or our Airbnb guests – are all amazed at their enthusiasm.”
The family has divided the labour and hard work between them, employing farm workers to do fencing and other specialised skills. “They are heaps quicker than I am,” Stephen explains.
As a primary school teacher from Kindy to Year 6 for 20 years, and a principal for a number of years in Canberra and Nambucca Heads – a profession that he loves – Stephen wants to boost the pre-COVID school excursions to the property that are allowed once more. And Stephen is also keen to involve high schools, both in the region and beyond.
He has developed programs that focus on ecosystems, animal care, conservation, farming and bush survival skills. Harking back to his own childhood of a Bear Grylls-type outdoors program, Stephen successfully tested the water with a group of indigenous and non-indigenous students who came every Friday for a term from Coraki Primary School.
The program combined various hands-on experiences that built confidence and know-how around working on a farm, and also helped with literacy and numeracy, enabling the teachers to link it to the curriculum.
“It was really successful,” Stephen explains. And has laid the groundwork for another plan to offer the autistic kids Stephen currently educates farm work experience. The vision is that by becoming familiar with animal care and rescue, they could possibly be readied for ranger work with Parks for instance.
Never stop learning because life never stops teaching…
A lot of Stephen and Melanie’s knowledge was gained from other farmers as well as learning from people like Brian Wehlburg. Stephen has just completed his holistic management course spread across eight face to face days, with assignments and zoom meetings over four months – (see link to ‘From fires to drought’ story). Bethany also undertook a permaculture course at TAFE.
Stephen explains, “We needed to equip ourselves with knowledge, not just rely on trial and error. We have deliberately formed networks with other farmers, who as well as sharing their skills and knowledge, have become really good friends.”
What the Schofields have discovered is that they have found networks of people who share a love of nature and are committed to ethically caring for the animals for which they have stewardship.
“I feel really supported, especially having grown up in Sydney and Canberra. And even though I loved animals as a kid, I didn’t actually start out as a farmer until I was 45. Yet I didn’t feel pushed out because I wasn’t a generational farmer. I think as a small farm running a holistic management business – you automatically have a connection.”
And just in case you thought doing their own growing, packaging, labelling, and selling and a plan to double the output – was all work and no play – Mum and Dad Schofield are off for a weekend away to celebrate their wedding anniversary!
‘Be humble, be teachable and always keep learning’
Find out more about Gracemere Farmstead firstname.lastname@example.org hosted by Stephen and Melanie Schofield:
Author: Louise Denver