First there was the drought. Then came the bushfires, right up to the farm boundary. Next was Covid-19, putting an end to Eden and Louise Fanelli’s main business to farmers’ markets. The couple thought they’d had their fair share of bad luck, but then came the rains in March, flooding large swathes of the Central Coast.
Instead of curling up on the lounge with their baby son, Jude – which would’ve been a tempting choice – Eden and Louise pulled on their boots and headed back out onto their Mangrove Mountain farm to pick up the proverbial pieces yet again, keeping their passion alive.
‘It’s never easy to pick yourself up,’ says Eden, a fourth-generation farmer and co-owner of Fanelli Organics. ‘But we’ve brushed ourselves off and thought, “Okay, how can we make this something that’s almost bulletproof?” ’
The challenges have helped the couple to define Fanelli Organics, and how they will put their own stamp on a farm that started with Eden’s great-grandfather, who migrated to Australia from Italy in the 1920s. He purchased the plot for his daughter (Eden’s Nonna) as a wedding gift in 1945, and it’s been a big family affair since. Now, the 18-hectare farm is solely the home of Eden, Louise and Jude, and they have big plans.
To start with, the young couple are the first farmers on the property to focus solely on vegetables – oranges, lemons, pumpkins, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, cabbage and more. Eden’s dad was growing citrus and raising cattle, but eventually leaned toward his more successful excavation business. Almost a decade ago, at the age of 28, Eden bought the farm but he was still commuting to Sydney, where he worked as a garbage truck driver and personal trainer. At four o’clock one morning, he was returning to the Coast on a train, wedged between two burley labourers, when he decided to go back to the land full-time. But this time, he resolved to do things his way.
Following in the footsteps of his Nonna, with her natural farming methods, was a no-brainer. The farm had been dormant for 10 years and was therefore a ‘blank canvas’ – perfect for going organic. Along with all the certified-organic produce, the Fanellis also grow beans, legumes and oats between the citrus trees to create nitrogen for the soil. They use manure for fertiliser, plant native trees to build mini ecosystems, create windbreaks and practise companion planting. They have built a dam that catches water and sediment during storms.
‘A lot of people assume organic farming is just not using chemicals but there’s so much more to it. Soil health is the biggest one,’ says Louise, a city woman with a country heart.
To improve their soil, the pair are big on composting, and Eden works with a Bondi coffee shop to collect coffee grinds, food scraps and recyclable paper, saving tonnes from landfill. They also grow their crops from seed, instead of buying seedlings.
As for those big dreams, the Fanellis are keen to expand beyond growing and selling food to encouraging people to re-connect with the land. They’ve already started farm tours, such as the ones they held during June’s Harvest Festival, and hope to re-grow a sunflower plot that was devasted in the floods. It’s not only used as crop cover for soil regeneration but is also a great location for private photoshoots. Workshops are on the agenda, with mini farmer (for kids), composting and seasonal produce sessions planned, along with pick-your-own events.
‘From all of those hardships, we’ve actually gotten to the point where we know where we want to go and we know what we want to be showing people and educating people,’ says Louise.
‘Our heart and soul goes into this farm and why wouldn’t we want people to come here and see what we’re doing.’
To learn more, order produce or sign up to a farm tour, head to fanelliorganics.com.au.
WORDS JENNIFER ENNION