Farmer Story – Beatrice & Peter from Wattlebank Farm

WATTLE BANK-451

On the Collective, we knew if we were patient, then they would come. We’d waited and waited for a real, bona fide, mushroom grower; a grower of interesting mushrooms, a cultivator of fungi-awesomeness. Surely a mushroom grower would come our way.

We would have to wait until 2020, when Beatrice and Peter made the move to South Gippsland and established Wattle Bank Farm. They are worth the wait.

There’s something very special about being a part of a farmer’s early journey into the marketplace. Being a witness to Beatrice and Peter’s growing supply, seeing the evolution of their offerings, delighting in their value-adding of citrus from their orchard; their vision of Eat, Grow, Play, Stay, Heal, is unfolding and very exciting.

Tell me about how you got into farming. How long have you been farming?

Peter’s farming experience goes way back on his family farms when they farmed beef and sheep in Macedon, Noosa and King island. He is also a shearer and wool classer.

For me, it has always been a passion for growing and cooking great food. I grew up in Mauritius where the family unit revolves around food. Everything is made from scratch and you use everything in your kitchen.

I have a corporate background. My first career was in hospitality in 5-star hotels in London and Australia. This has always been a passion for me. My second corporate career was in sales and marketing in property development and real estate. Like Peter, my other passion is writing and storytelling. I am an author and writer and run writing workshops.

About 6 years ago, Peter and I decided to change our diets to a plant-based diet and this changed our lives overnight. We began growing our vegetables in a tiny back yard in Brighton, got a couple of chooks and some bees. Our family thought we had gone mad! Soon we realised that we both wanted to get back on the land as our kids were completing schools and bought a patch of dirt in Wattle Bank in late-2019.

Our 10 acres came with a beautiful established citrus orchard and we quickly began to grow seasonal vegetables as we delved into permaculture. What we knew from the get-go is that we wished to create a micro-farm where everything was grown sustainably and without pesticides. As the pandemic took hold in 2020, we decided to focus in the area of fungi and settled on Oyster mushrooms – rich in nutrients, fantastic for both our health but also for the planet.

And so we began our love story with the mushrooms that we now grow. We began selling to the public in late-2020. It has been a steep learning curve.

When was your a-ha moment, for wanting to farm?

When we met, we both realised that we loved creating experiences for people in the outdoors and I loved food – cooking it, growing it, sharing it. It’s our way to commune and we both realised that we could express the better part of ourselves on a farm.

What makes your product different, from say, a supermarket product?

Well we can tell you every step of the way, when we planted each grain spawn, in which bucket, when it incubated and went into the Fruiting Room. We pick our mushrooms morning and night and the next day it is in a store, restaurant or on your dinner plate. What you receive from us is ever so fresh, has no preservatives, has not flown from Asia or interstate (where the supermarket oyster mushrooms often come from), not been sprayed, and every mushroom has been delicately handled by just us along the way. As a result, they last far beyond the usual shelf life. We always offer a seasonal medley allowing people to try and taste all the various strains which are available. Some of the strains we have grown are Phoenix, Pink Djamor, Winter White, Ulmarius, Queensland, Monster Blue, Yellow, Grey to name a few.

Regarding our dehydrated ranges, all citrus is unwaxed and have no pesticides and are all home-grown. We grow lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges as well as our bay leaves. The dehydrating method extends its life span to 6 months or more. Once again, no preservatives are used.

Farming influences? Who’s your farming hero?

We are passionate about being kind to the planet, the soil, the environment, our bodies and the waste. David Attenborough is an inspiration for us. For the rest we turn to experts but also our neighbours and local farming community as well. We can learn from anyone.

Farming hero would have to be my stepdad. For Peter, it was his grandfather Colonel Dickson Robinson of Surama who loved to grow asparagus. This memory has not left him.

For people wanting to get into farming, what’s your key advice?

Do your research. Ask all the hard questions. Then just do it. Over-analysis can lead to paralysis. Have a go, log what you do and reflect back. Automate. Automate. Automate as much as you can so you do not become a slave of your farming business. However if there was only one thing I could say, I would say – put yourself in the shoes of your customer, what is it that they want? Be open to feedback.

How did you hear about the Prom Coast Food Collective? Has it helped?

Local friends who knew we were growing mushrooms suggested we made contact. Has it helped? YES. As soon as I spoke to Amelia that Saturday morning, it was a OMG moment, people who think like us and can support our vision. I love the packing community; busy farmers helping each other out. It feels more like collaboration rather than competition and this has been always one of my mottos.

If you could impart one piece of knowledge to your customer base, about cooking with your product, what would it be?

Oyster mushrooms – roast them simply as you would potatoes, whole and individual on an oven tray with lashings of olive oil, salt, pepper and if you have some, rosemary. Add to anything, for me, it is a truffle potato puree.

What’s one thing that we might not know about you, outside of farming?

Beatrice’s first language is French.

Peter is a well-known Australian adventurer; he was the first Aussie to walk to the North and the South Magnetic Poles and is a passionate horseman.

Favourite farming book?

Charles Massey’s Call of the Reed Warbler, anything by Milkwood Permaculture and Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running

Favourite non-farming book?

Anything by Agatha Christie and the Count Of Monte Christo

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