Sophie Fitch was always a town girl. Growing up and living in Canberra, she often dreamed about living in the country, reading books about country life and daydreaming about farming.
“I watched River Cottage and that really sparked my interest in growing things,” she told Region.
“I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do.'”
A lucky break in the market allowed Sophie and her wife, Shu Ying Lee, to buy a 40-acre property just past Tharwa on Ngarigo Country to raise their baby. But living on a farm is very different to dreaming about it, and Sophie admits she was probably a bit naive when she first started out.
Difficult vehicle access, solar power mishaps and the wet and wild weather of the last two years brought home the realities of country living.
“It’s lovely, but it’s also a lot of work! Having custody of this land involves a lot of care and occasionally doing things you don’t enjoy very much,” she says.
Sophie and Shu plan to leave most of their 40 acres as well-managed wilderness. Shu, an ecologist, has been recording the diversity of plant life found on the property on her Bean Town blog.
Bean Town Farm is now home to a micro-nursery and sustainable flower farm. Inspired by similar local businesses Reid Tiny Farm, Manyways Urban Farm and Patchwork Urban Farm, Sophie has begun selling vegetable seedlings through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription scheme and uses a sliding scale pricing system.
Customers subscribe to a year’s worth of seedlings Sophie delivers to their door for planting at a seasonally appropriate time. When people commit ahead of time, Sophie can plan her income and workload while keeping everyone’s gardens full of delicious homegrown produce year-round.
The sliding scale system means that those who earn more, pay more and, in doing so, subsidise the cost for people in lower income brackets. This allows Sophie to offer seedlings to more people in the community while continuing to pay herself a living wage.
“Even in this very affluent city, we have people on both ends of the scale – plenty of families and individuals are struggling. My intention is to grow produce, flowers and seedlings that are affordable.”
Sophie says that more people found a love of growing food during the pandemic and is hoping to provide people with high-quality seedlings that are grown sustainably and actually suited to the Canberra climate to give people the best chance of success. She sees growing your own vegetables as positive climate action and an important way to reclaim food sovereignty, in which food systems are controlled by the people they serve.
She explains on her website: “We have seen just how fragile and unsustainable our current food systems are over the last few years. We need to take our food into our own hands for the sake of our own futures.”
The flower garden isn’t blooming just yet, but Sophie is hoping to have fresh flowers to sell later in Summer. For Sophie, flowers and food are a symbol of human connection and how we relate to each other – all important in community building.
“It’s so satisfying on an individual level. Picking peas, giving one to the baby and one to me just feels so good,” she says.
“And I love how it contributes to the community … both in relationships and the economy of these micro-regions.”
Find out more about Bean Town Farm and seedling subscriptions on their website, where you can also spread some love through a donation to pay for seedlings or flowers for someone in need.