Return to the Source – Synchronicity Farm
Joshua Allen speaks to Cb from Synchronicity Farm where he and his wife Tomoko have embarked on a mission to transform our relationship with food.
Once upon a time we all ate locally grown food but with the advent of refrigeration and the growth of urbanisation and globalisation, our eating habits over the last century have greatly changed. Our fridges and fruit bowls are now often filled with ingredients that have travelled thousands of kilometres. Joshua Allen from Synchronicity Farm is on a mission to get us back to the source, the local food source that is.
“We want to inspire food choices that embrace the social, environmental and health benefits of eating artisan, seasonal and local food,” he says. Not only is it much more nutritional to eat freshly harvested food, but it reduces carbon footprint, keeps money in the community and directly benefits farmers.
While he may own a farm, Josh certainly isn’t your average farmer, rather a man with a huge vision and the type of energy that burns brightly enough to turn it into reality. He describes himself as, “An awakened individual who demands to know where my food comes from, who grew it, is it organic, where was it grown and when was it harvested?”. His commitment to reconnecting people to their food has been a guiding force in the evolution of Synchronicity Farm and he firmly believes that, “If you’re passionate about something and willing to put in the hard yards your passion will help you succeed.”
Ten years ago Josh and his wife Tomoko swapped city life in a Bondi apartment for the tranquility and space of a 33 acre property on Orara River. As Josh tells it, “For 17 years I had been losing my bond in Sydney because whatever rental place I was in, I would rip up the back lawn and turn it into a beautiful food-producing garden.” No matter how healthy and abundant the gardens he planted were, it never went down well with his landlords and he was continually being moved on, minus his bond.
After completing a permaculture course it had become very clear to the young couple that it was time to plant seeds for their future. The countryside called, and as synchronicity was clearly at play, it became the name of the farm. “Our life has always unfolded that way,” says Josh, “with chance meetings and amazing circumstances that continue to befall us – and being able to recognise, listen and realise that there is a meaningful coincidence between those things.”
Once on the farm – with a huge fertile canvas to work on, and no landlord looking over their shoulders – Josh and Tomoko were able to get seriously gardening. They grew what he describes as, “a surplus of beautiful food,” and were soon running a very successful stall at Harbourside Market in Coffs Harbour, happily sharing the products of their labour-of-love with the local community. “People treasure the ability to access high quality local food at a fair price,” says Josh. “It makes absolute sense to eat seasonal, locally grown food. It lasts longer, tastes better and is better for you”.
Using what Josh labels, “Disruptive strategies,” they would put out signs like, ‘You Set The Price’ and ‘Our Destiny In Your Hands,’ whereby customers would decide what they should pay for the items they chose. “There was lots of rich dialogue going on about what things were worth and who grew it and is it organic, and we ended up making more money or the same money as if we had prices on things,” he says.
Three years on it was time for the couple, who had three young children, to reassess. As well as the markets, Josh was running a stall outside Nana Glen General Store on Saturdays, and putting in five days a week at a local bank, while Tomoko was, in his words, “Working like a trojan on the farm.” Even though what they were doing was successful, it was ultimately unsustainable.
“We literally got eaten out of house and farm,” says Josh, so they stopped doing the markets and focused on growing more on the farm, where customers would turn up looking for fresh vegetables. Josh puts it poetically, “People would rock up and we would give them a basket and scissors and skip through the gardens hand in hand and harvest romantically on the spot. It was a really great experience for people who want to have a real connection with their farmer and where their food comes from.”
With Josh and Tomoko’s passion for growing organic food and their desire to create an immersive food experience, Synchronicity farm was always going to be a celebration of slow food – a world-wide movement which links the pleasures of the table with a commitment to protect the community, culture and environment. As change-makers, the couple really want to drive people to make more conscious choices in regards to their shopping and eating habits, but finding the most effective way to do it was a matter of trial and error.
Much like the gardens they planted, some projects flourished and others floundered, but they saw everything as a chance to learn. The farm expanded with innovative programs like KidFarmer – an intereactive farm experience for kids and Giving Tree Education which offers traning and workshops. It also welcomes WWOOFers and has established agritourism and agribusiness.
More recently though, Josh has shifted his focus and his boundless energy to what he calls the ‘raw food story.’ Earlier this year they joined the Open Food Network, an online platform that lets customers buy directly from farms. Applying a policy of what he calls “fearless generosity”, they started selling Seasonal Organic Food Boxes – encouraging people to “live life on the veg.”
Boxes are packed from 4am on the day of delivery with the freshest ‘living food’ available, plucked straight off the vine or dug from the earth, and in the customers hands four hours later. “We harvest the food like a midwife delivers a baby, it iscared for that carefully,” says Josh, adding, “our salad is not for the faint hearted.
It’s not going to all taste the same, it will be lemony, furry, hot, bitter, with a range of flavours and textures and colours.” He is particularly excited about this model of selling because not only is it living food, it is also naked – as in unpackaged which means zero wastage.
Taking it to the next level, their latest venture is the development of their own Farm Gate – Organic Raw Foods Store. Applying modern methods to get back to a more traditional way of eating, Josh turned to social media and launched a crowdfunding campaign, which saw 54 local supporters pledge $7,000 to help fund the initial work for the development.
“People share our vision to build a food hub where genuine connections between growers and customers can be formed,” says Josh. The store will stock the best organic farm fresh food grown at Synchronicity and from local organic growers – and in true locavore fashion, aim for everything to come from a 100km radius.
The plan is to also sell breads and cakes baked in their wood fired oven, along with all of those core items needed for cooking; salt, oils, cheese, dairy and spices. As the growing operation expands, they will offer plant seedlings to encourage food growing.
His big vision for the future, apart from eventually giving up his day job at the bank, is to share the blueprint for Synchronicity Farm and so encourage other people to do something similar. But where is he at now, what has he learned in this epic journey from Bondi to the bush? “We learned from every single failure,” says Josh.
“We aren’t independently wildly wealthy, we had to extend the timeframe out to build this mission, but that’s ok. Ten years ago we landed here like a bull at the gate thinking this thing has to happen now, bring in major investors, lets build this thing. And now, ten years later we are saying, you know what, it’s fully about the journey and there is no actual destination so we stopped worrying and started enjoying it. Its also been about reducing our needs, when we first moved here we thought we need this much money, these things in our lives, this asset, these levels of activities.”
Slowly we have asked, do we really need that, can we do it ourselves? How much do you really need?”. Which is surely a great question for all of us!
Synchronicity Farm is located at 632 Orara Way, Nana Glen. www.synchronicityfarm.com