Despite an exploding population and an expanding industrial sector, rural Maitland with its rusted corrugated metal barns, grazing livestock and alluvial flats still exists, and it’s easy to find.
Call it quaint, rustic or charming, the roadside stalls that you will find are a quintessential part of the country drive experience. With farms spread across Maitland’s farthest reaches it’s easy to fill the vegetable crisper, as long as you get in early.
Phoenix Park farmer, John Wright can be seen most days tending his crops on land directly adjacent to the Morpeth Bridge – the place he has spent all 73 years of his life.
There haven’t been many changes to what has been farmed over the years and John doesn’t use any fertilisers and only sells what he grows, or in the case of his honey, what his bees produce. Lucerne hay, spinach and corn are amongst what John grows, but there are two main things that people come for – beetroot and handmade millet brooms.
‘My family only grew the millet for the broom factories, but I make them. I don’t think anyone else in Australia grows and makes brooms all the way through’, John said.
As for the beetroot, the proof is in the tasting – sweet, soft and definitely better than anything from a tin. ‘You go to the supermarkets and you can’t compare it. Some days I’m here picking vegies as the people want them’, John said.
An alternative approach to traditional farming, through organic and biodynamic practices can be found at Purple Pear Farm at Anambah. Set on a sprawling 14 acre block, it’s hard to believe that the greenery and stillness of the farm is only a stone’s throw from the highway.
What owners Mark and Kate are doing extends beyond the farming of fruit and vegetables. Organised tours see participants wandering through a mandala garden, mums and bubs groups get to feed a myriad of animals, while those who want to learn how to do it themselves have that opportunity too.
‘We started teaching preserving, it went to yoghurt making, cheese making and then sourdough bread, so we started teaching, what we call, skills for living sustainably’, said Mark.
While a simple, sustainable life may sound idyllic, at the end of the day Purple Pear Farm is still a business with overheads to meet. That is where the wider Maitland community comes in.
Purple Pear’s core business lies in the production of a market garden food box, where subscribers pay a set weekly fee to receive freshly grown fruit and vegetables from the farm. The quantity and variety of the food fluctuates with the conditions of the farm and seasons, which makes subscribing to the box a surprise.
‘More often than not subscribers receive an amazing array of fresh food, but my favourite part is that it cuts down on both food waste and food miles’ said Mark.
If you’re looking for a one stop shop where you can buy supplies but also fill up on delicious, wholesome, organic food then Organic Feast in East Maitland is a must to visit.
Walking into the store, it’s hard not to be awed by its size and range. Aside from the standard range of produce, meat and dairy, a wander through the aisles will turn up things like curry ketchup, spicy falafel chips and black bean spaghetti.
Owner Brent Fairns threw in a job at a vineyard 17 years ago to take up organics. ‘I’d started shopping at this little organic shop and started talking to the owner, and the more I learned about it the more it made sense to me that if we don’t go organic, we’re stuffed’, Brent said.
It wasn’t long before he bought that shop and made it his own, with hard work and endurance seeing his business grow into its current premises with 35 employees that incorporates an inner health centre and an organic café.
Simply follow the roads that seem to wind into the horizon to discover Maitland’s rural landscape and rich organic farmland.