Belinda Williams and Michelle O'Regan have been farming together for over 14 years, but for them, it's not all about the profits.
The couple are part of an all-female management team running Stackelroth Farms, near Bowen. The farm is 120 acres, which in years gone by, focused on capsicums. Their main crop now is pumpkins and heavy produce. However they also produce squash, zucchinis, cherry tomatoes and other table vegetables on a smaller scale as an addition to their main crops.
"What we are trying to focus on now is to bridge the gap between consumers and where their produce comes from and what goes into producing nice healthy food," Ms O'Regan said. "We do local supply because we had noticed that some of the products on the shelves were brought in from down south, which is good, but by the time it got up here it could have been fresher. That's why we decided to grow the additional smaller crops so consumers could have access to really good quality fresh local produce."
While Belinda is a born and bred third generation Bowen farmer, with her knowledge and work ethic being passed down from her Grandfather and her Mother, Pam; Michelle is a Sergeant of Police who manages the local Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC). Michelle grew up in a foster home in Bowen and believes it is the support of the local community that set her on this journey and instilled in her a need to give back to community.The girls have been running various community programs on the farm since 2008.
Both Belinda and Michelle are heavily involved in the community and they strongly believe in educating young and old about how their food is grown and what it takes to get from the field to their plate. They do this not only to highlight the importance of eating healthy food, but to inspire young people to become educated about the possibilities of career opportunities within the horticultural industry.
"We really believe in trying to educate and highlight the importance of farming to kids from a young age. They are keen and interested and they come out to the farm with their parents or we go to schools or hold holiday workshops,” Ms Williams said. "We also have groups from the disability sector, aged care homes and general public interested in learning what goes into growing their food."
Bowen is the largest winter growing region in Australia with the industry worth over $450 million per year. The produce grown in this region is sent to markets across Australia and internationally, with vegetable production from April/May to November and then onto Mango production until January. Over 3,500 people are employed in the region during the harvest season.
Ms O’Regan says it is not just the younger children that are benefiting at the farm, with employment programs such as PCYC Bowen’s "WORKfit" program which is run in partnership with the PCYC and Prospect Agriculture, which is a crop consultancy business that is based at Stackelroth Farms, and Director and Managers Chris and Gaye Monsour assist with the program by hosting workshops with participants.
"Young people come out to the farm, we teach them the basics of farming and also connect them to industry professionals, such as Chris and his staff, as well as other farming entities and supporting businesses such as seedling, transport, retail and local farming operations, which gives an insight into the broader business of farming and horticulture," Ms O’Regan said. "The WORKfit program has delivered great results so far; out of 32 participants last year 97 per cent of young people either entered into the workforce, further studies or returned to school. We see programs such as this are very important to our industry as our generation of farmers are getting older and older and we need young people to come through to become the next generation of farmers, researchers and agronomists, to do the groundwork to keep farming in Australia sustainable.
Another offshoot to the main farming work is a veggie patch, most afternoons and weekends.
"This comprises of two to three acres that we grow about 10 different varieties or produce that we stock a little roadside fruit stall. We sell this at an affordable price from the farm gate," Ms O’Regan said. "That actually started when my daughter was in grade two, and struggling at mathematics. So we decided to put out some butternut pumpkins and cabbages, teaching her about the importance of working and earning pocket money. It has grown from there over the last 10+ years."
The girls from Stackeroth Farms have also been producing Halloween Pumpkins for the past 16 years. With Belinda not only growing this crop but also managing the national Halloween program in partnership with Agent Todd Moraitis from MorCo. Belinda produces and sends over 500 tonnes of the speciality pumpkins to major retailers nationally in partnership with 2 other farming entities in the Burdekin and Western Australia.
It is now the end of the growing season for 2017 in the Bowen region and both Belinda and Michelle are winding down for a few months before they start planning for 2018.
For more information & to keep up to date with the programs on the farm:
Belinda Williams & Michelle O'Regan