Producer: Kim Vincent, Vincent’s Produce
Property: 40 acres, with 5000 square meters under hydroponics
Enterprise: Fresh vegetables via a combination of fiend and hydroponic produce. Kim also runs a retail store, Absolutely, Fabulously Local in Coffs Harbour, NSW.
When Kim Vincent entered the vegetable industry eight years ago, the Coffs Harbour property she shares with her husband Robin looked very different to the lush paradise that exists today. Suffering from years of environmental abuse, including excessive erosion, they spent time and energy to restore the natural beauty of the land, while simultaneously establishing a profitable farming enterprise.
Today they live and work on 40 acres of land, producing vegetables through a combination of field and hydroponic growing. At present, Kim explains, they have 5000 square metres under hydroponic production, where they grow tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, snake beans, herbs and capsicums. In the field, they also grow rhubarb, zucchini and beans.
Kim places the environment high on her list of priorities, and is a member of a number of environmental management programs, including EnviroVeg and Fresh-care, as well as being an active member of her local Landcare group.
“We’re just very aware of our environment. Not just because we want to leave it in a better condition than we got it in, but because we love living in a beautiful place, and we want to look after it,” Kim said.
As the President of the Hydroponics Association of the Mid North Coast, Kim also tries to remain abreast of issues affecting greenhouse growers in her region, and works hard to organise opportunities for producers such as herself to access current research on environmental strategies.
“As a group with a member base of around 60 people, we are able to attract people who have knowledge in this area to come up and visit us to discuss some of the local issues, and how best to tackle them in a manner which is environmentally sustainable.
Kim sees herself as a champion for environmental practices, and believes that industry-specific environmental programs, such as EnviroVeg have made a difference to the way the local hydroponic growing community tackles local environmental issues. Having completed the second-party audit as part of the EnviroVeg program, Kim has now received a gate sign which allows her to promote her involvement in the program.
“I’m very proud of it,” she said. “The EnviroVeg program has definitely made me more aware that environmental issues impact everyone, and we all have a responsibility for looking after the land.”
Re-use and recycle
A key element of Kim’s operation is a commitment to re-using and recycling as much of her materials as possible. In the greenhouse, Kim has movedaway from the conventional practice of using plastic bags, preferring to use pots that can be washed and reused again and again.
Kim finds that using pots has assisted in her management of pests and dis-eases. Contaminated media can be easily disposed of and the pots disinfected, which means a clean environment can be re-established quickly and easily after an outbreak. Kim also believes that they offer an economically sustainable option for growers to increase their profit margins.
“The pots may have cost a little bit more initially, but in the long term, I’ve saved an enormous amount of money.”
Kim also recycles all the growing media used within the greenhouses in her field operations, digging it into the soil as fertiliser.
“To be able to re-use our fertilisers and nutrients in this way means we’re able to benefit financially from our environmental practices — we don’t have to buy in chemical fertilisers for our field crops, which is fantastic,” she said.
Working with local conditions
Being in a sub-tropical area, Kim says that one of the major concerns for her crops is the pressure created by pests and diseases attracted to the local environment.
“The sub-tropical conditions means that we really don’t need to worry about heating our greenhouses. However, this does mean that we sometimes need cooling, and I do run a number of fans throughout my greenhouses,” she said.
In winter, Kim says temperatures drop as a low as 4 degrees celsius, but as this only impacts production for a few days of the year, Kim prefers to grow varieties at that time which perform well in the cooler conditions.
Unlike some other parts of the country where access to water is a major concern, Kim has access to a commercial bore for irrigation on her farm. However, the management of waste water from the greenhouses has been one of the main issues that Kim has tackled through her environmental management program. As a hydroponic producer, Kim is acutely aware of the risks associated with waste water contaminating surrounding waterways, and believes that all greenhouse producers should spend some time considering the best way to manage these risks appropriately. “My husband and I toured Holland a few years ago to investigate the options available in greenhouse production. We’ve found that the combination of hydroponic and field farming has provided the ideal balance for our operations, and we’re able to minimise waste, and reduce our costs by essentially recycling our greenhouse waste water on our field crops as fertiliser. We also use drip irrigation systems in the field, rather than overhead irrigation, to reduce water runoff.”
Although Kim is not officially accredited as an organic producer, personal values have led to her adoption of many of the principles that form the basis of organic production. Kim has her soil tested regularly, and only uses sprays certified by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA).
A strong proponent of chemical-free growing, Kim employs a range of integrated pest management strategies to keep her greenhouse crops free ofpests and disease. This includes the introduction of beneficial insects to her crops as a method of managing any pests and transmitted diseases.
“We rely a great deal on 1PM research to manage pest and disease pressures on our hydroponic operations. When I start a new crop, I start introducing the beneficial insects about three weeks after germination.
Beyond the greenhouse
For Kim, good environmental management doesn’t stop at the greenhouse door. As a field producer, as well as a hydroponìc producer, Kim appreciates the value of employing good environmental practices across the whole farm.
“When we moved to the area, we recognised that the land had been subjected to years of abuse, so we have made a concerted effort to help the land grow back to its natural beauty once more,” she said.
Some of the improvements that Kim and her husband have undertaken include replanting trees, clearing brambles and noxious weeds, and building bridges over the creeks on her property to allow access without affecting the banks of the creek. They have also ensured proper fencing around their land, including fencing off waterways, to manage the environmental impact of the livestock they run on their property.
While Kim concedes that her decision to improve the quality of their land was deeply influenced by her own personal values, she believes that many growers may find added motivation for looking after their land if they realised that property value is proportional to the aesthetic value of the land.
“We live on our property as well as farming it, so the aesthetics of the land around us was really important. In planning our operations, we have tried to maintain the landscape that we fell in love with. When we built the hydroponic greenhouses, we planned it so that it looked attractive. All the houses are facing the same way, and we’ve tried to hide more unattractive elements so as not to impact on the visual aspects of the landscape.”
In 2008, Kim also established a retail business, which sells only locally-grown produce. Her business applies a ‘food-miles’ philosophy — only sourcing produce within a 100-mile radius of the store — which is aimed at educing the carbon emissions incurred during the transport of produce from the farmgate to the consumer.
As a retailer, Kim believes that being chemical-free and environmentally aware in her growing provides leverage in terms of pricing and access to the marketplace.
“I think that consumers are starting to demand chemical-free produce. For a
long time consumers have been fed the myth that buying organic produce actually costs more money. I believe it’s really the other way around. In some respects it actually costs less money to produce.”
Kim’s business has become such a success, she is now starting to employ people to farm for her. This includes ensuring that her growers have an environmental management system in place that aligns with her own growing principles.
“I really enjoy showing people how to do things better. Basically we teach our growers how to farm better, and then we buy their produce back from them.”
“By being proactive, we’ve found that we don’t really get outbreaks. The insects tend to breed and grow as the crop grows, keeping any problems under control. It’s quite incredible, actually.”
In the field, Kim also uses chemical-less strategies, and claims that she hasn’t had to spray chemicals in over three years. She has also established native bushland around her crops, providing a natural habitat for beneficial insects, as well as maintaining biodiversity on her land.
“Lots of people assume that producing organic and chemical free vegetables must cost a lot of money. In my experience, that’s simply not true. I have found that using 1PM and biological methods in my greenhouse have really saved me money. Chemicals are now extremely expensive, as is labour, and I’ve found that by doing a bit of background research, we’re saving thousands of dollars each year.”
Part of Kim’s management approach is to conduct a field and farm walk everyday. This allows her to carefully monitor the activity on the farm, and identify pest or disease issues before they become a problem.
“We’ve found that, particularly in the greenhouses, if we monitor the problem, we can isolate it quickly, and put in place a management program before it gets out of hand.”
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