Bellinger River Organics- a story of love and toil

Bellinger River Organics, I Love Bello Shire, bellingen, Thora, Dorrigo, Kombu Wholefoods, Organic Garlic, Organic Turmeric, Organic Ginger

Young farming couple Chris Fleming and Melanie Proud owns ‘Bellinger River Organics’, nestled on the banks of the Bellinger River in Thora.  The couple are “passionate about nutrient dense Organic produce” and are “100% Australian Certified Organic.” Their enterprise produces organic garlic, ginger and turmeric, so what better fit for our ‘Season of Food’ promotion.  However, it is their background story that really intrigued us.

Their lives literally collided on a cattle station “in the middle of nowhere in Western Australia.”  Mel was a Londoner taking time-out from a career in Television Production, enjoying an extended ‘Down Under’ adventure.  Chris was called back from travels overseas to do a couple of months of cattle mustering for a farm in WA, where he had worked the year before.  And so the stage was set and only three years later, Bellinger River Organics is thriving.  We went digging for the whole story.

 

How did a London-based Television Production Manager find herself on a cattle station in WA Mel?

I had always dreamt of spending time in Australia, so when the timing worked between productions, I left London to travel here for a year or two. I planned to backpack across Australia and work along the way.
When I first arrived, I lived with my Australian friend in Perth for 4 months,  just minutes from Cottesloe beach. I cycled along the beach to and from the restaurant that I was working for – it was heaven! I had left a really stressful job in London and was enjoying a calmer pace of life. The sunshine was a dream come true.
It was a friend at the restaurant that introduced me to the Cattle Station, it was the perfect fit for the regional work that I had to undertake to extend to a second year visa.
I wanted to see the varied areas of Australia, not just the main hubs.  For me it was all a great adventure into the outback. I loved that I would be spending 3 months living remotely and cut off from the busy world. I didn’t expect to spend 6 months there.
I’m lucky that I did because Chris came back to the station to work during the second half of my 6 months there. He came to help with their cattle mustering season.  Within days of meeting ‘we’ were a done deal.

That’s where it all began for us.

It is only three years hence and Bellinger River Organics is a thriving business.  Please explain.

As soon as Chris and I met, we knew that we had to re-route whatever plans we had to be together. After leaving the cattle station we spent 3 months driving across to the East Coast in our little Honda Civic. We spent a lot of time dreaming as we drove, playing with ideas of what our life could look like.We were at a real turning point in what we would do next. Between us we had both worked in vastly different industries and were both finding ourselves in more and more management types of roles. We felt that it was time to explore working for ourselves, to put our shared experience into practice and to do something which felt purposeful. The timing of us meeting was prefect in that respect!

We were heading to Bellingen because Chris has family here.  Before long we realized that it could be the perfect place for us to get our baby business up and running.

 

Did you have any farming background at all Mel?

No not at all! I don’t even remember my mother having pot plants in the house as a child! I grew up as a real city kid and then spent 10 years working in Television Production. Unless we were filming on location, my days were spent working in the middle of the city. But I always loved to travel and explore. I think that I always knew deep down that I would end up elsewhere.

Bellinger River Organics, I Love Bello Shire, bellingen, Thora, Dorrigo, Kombu Wholefoods, Organic Garlic, Orgaic Turmeric, Organic Ginger

Mel now quite the farmer

I’m not sure that I would have imagined that I’d be farming, but as things progressed it all felt very natural and didn’t feel like a huge adjustment. I loved working with Chris on the station, so working together on the farm kind of feels like a natural progression from that. I also get to do a little production managing of the farm – so my old world has served me well!

Luckily, Chris has spent the past 23 years working in the Agricultural industry, from beef cattle to vineyards and finally to growing Ginger today.

So how do you both feel about the place now?

We love Bellingen, it’s such a beautiful part of the world. To have both mountains to explore and still be close to the beach is such a great mix lifestyle-wise.

It’s also a dream as Organic Farmers to live in a place where there is such enthusiasm for local Organic produce.

 

Has it been a rigorous process attaining your organic certification?

We’re certified with ACO and the process takes 12 months initially followed by yearly audits. We also keep detailed records of all aspects of the business. We’re glad to have pursued the certification because it gives us a reputable standard and everyone is assured that we’re completely organic.

 

You grow garlic, turmeric and ginger- obviously these products grow well here- is this the reason for your specialization?

They do, and that’s where we wanted to start. We didn’t want to just grow for the sake of growing, but rather to grow really well. We want to be producing the highest quality crops that we possibly can before moving on and exploring the next.

 

Do you supply your produce locally?

We supply Kombu Wholefoods in Bellingen weekly and there are a couple of new outlets in the pipeline.

 

You have recently launched a partnership with ‘Growth Educational Trust’ in Uganda.

We’ve always felt that in some form we wanted to pass on the opportunities that we’ve been given to others who just don’t have the same start in life. We’ve always appreciated how lucky we are to have grown up with the chance to thrive.
Chris first met Hamish Coltman when traveling in Africa in 2015. Hamish had been volunteering in Uganda for 5 months when he realised there was a need for qualified teachers along with a scholarship programme to help bridge the gap between Primary and Secondary education. His vision was to partner with lower socio-economic rural schools to help lift the academic level and see more children continue onto Secondary school and further. Hamish’s vision took effect in 2017 when he launched the ‘Growth Educational Trust’ the main vehicle to fundraise in order to help bring positive change to rural Ugandan families.
We wanted to do anything that we could to help. We were starting our farm at the very same time, so it felt natural to build a donation into our business. 10 cents from every kilo of produce sold is donated to the ‘Growth Educational trust’.

You both have jobs off the farm too- do you see the Bellinger River Organics being able to support you both full time one day?

For the past two years we’ve been reinvesting in the farm and developing our seed stock, which has meant that we’ve had to work other jobs too. It’s been quite the juggle! But we’re hitting an exciting milestone this year. We’re soon to work on the farm full time and leave the work off farm behind!

 

Any major plans going forward for growth or diversification?

No plans of diversification at the moment, we are just going to focus on growing more Garlic, Ginger and Turmeric over the next few years.


Bellinger River Organics sell on-line at www.bellingerriverorganics.com.au

Bellinger River Organics, I Love Bello Shire, bellingen, Thora, Dorrigo, Kombu Wholefoods, Organic Garlic, Orgaic Turmeric, Organic Ginger

Stunning. Another day closes at Bellinger River Organics.

Bellingen Shire is a secret Australian hamlet along the Waterfall Way on the NSW mid-north coast. This region is popular for its unique landscape where the Great Dividing Range almost touches the sea. It boasts a diverse history and proud indigenous culture, and is home to an eclectic and supportive community of farmers, alternative lifestylers, tree-changers, and families who have called this region home for generations. Interesting in so many ways and with so much to offer, it’s no wonder visitors return time & time again, while other never leave… Check out the Bellingen Accommodation directory and Where to Eat in Bellingen Shire.

One Comment

  • Charlotte Rogers says:

    Beautiful story. May I visit you one day please?

    I live in north Bellingen but would like to hear about your growing sand organic certification process. I’m os at preset but home April 15. Do send an email.

    Go well, Charlotte Rogers

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