Valley Fresh Farm is a small holding located in the Huon Valley on the outskirts of Huonville. The farm is being developed by Rob Mather to produce a range of organic vegetables in a large old glasshouse and surrounding open fields.
The glasshouse was established in the 1980s for hydroponic tomato production. In those days hydroponic glasshouse growing was in its infancy and the farm successfully produced tomatoes for the supermarket chains for many years. It closed when more modern and larger glasshouses outcompeted the older-style facility. The glasshouse had not been operated for at least five years prior to the establishment of Valley Fresh Farm.
Whilst not competitive in the high-volume world of supermarket chains, Rob found a clear value for such a structure in market garden-style of food production. Providing better quality produce, yields and season length, glasshouses are also very water and nutrient efficient.
In April 2019, Rob left is job as manager of Hobart City’s bushland reserves unit to begin restoring the disused glasshouse. This involved converting the previous hydroponic above ground system to in-ground growing. A large project involving the removal of a plastic floor membrane from the 1800m2 facility and restoring the soil through the addition of large quantities of compost and mineral amendments. Infrastructure upgrades have included new irrigation, ventilation system, refit of the nursery benches and floors as well as repairs to and replacement of (many) glass panes.
The farm is being developed along organic principles and aims to be organically certified.
Despite the soil being covered by plastic for over three decades, first crops of leafy greens (baby spinach, rocket, kale and lettuce) as well as radishes and sugar snap peas were successfully harvested in September/October 2019. Following this, heat lovers such as zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and basil have been established. Once the glasshouse is in full swing, Rob plans to expand to outdoor growing for crops such as garlic and broccoli. The farm also has a dedicated plant nursery. This is being used to grow seedling transplants for the production glasshouse and also for sale to the public.
Rob and his small team at Valley Fresh have been warmly welcomed by their neighbours along the small Huon Valley road where they are located, who are all pleased to see the glasshouse back in operation. One neighbour is so delighted, he regularly volunteers, giving countless hours to the task of restoring and operating the old glasshouse.
Whilst still in a “proof of concept” phase, and with the challenges of starting a small business, there are plenty of encouraging signs with strong demand for the produce from restaurants, retailers and vegie-box schemes as well developing a growing reputation at Hobart’s Farm Gate Market.
Rob Mather has over 25 years experience in parks and natural area management working in both Sydney and Hobart. In April 2019 he exchanged his management role at the City of Hobart for the challenge of establishing a chemical free market garden in the beautiful Huon Valley south of Hobart. Years of being progressively more desk-bound were taking its toll, so instead of adopting a stand-up desk, Rob opted out of the desk entirely for a farming life!
Over the winter of 2019, Rob, with a small team of helpers converted a former hydroponic tomato glasshouse to an in-ground mixed vegetable facility and Valley Fresh Farm was born. It was a big project, which has quickly shown results with early leafy green crops giving way to the more typical hothouse enterprises of tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and melons.
Rob’s four children aged nine to seventeen have also assisted in the project both on the farm, helping at the farmers market and with IT support! Additional support has come from interstate with Rob’s sister and nephew flying down for regular stints of work and encouragement.
Alongside Rob’s family, the farm has a small team of workers and volunteers committed to the goal of establishing the business as a sustainable and chemical free enterprise.
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