• Kate Stark

Seed Freaks


FREAKS FOR SEED: Garden manager Maurice 'Momo' Henault and new Seed Freaks owners Kate Tier and Florian Bonenfant check out their leaf varieties at Wobblestone Regenerative Farm near Hobart. IMAGE: Supplied

 

AS the rising cost of fresh food continues to place pressure on household budgets, it's more important than ever to instill a sense of food security in your own backyard.

Operating from Wobblestone Regenerative Farm, near Hobart, new owners of much-loved seed saving business Seed Freaks, Katharine Tier and Florian (Flo) Bonenfant, along with their seed production manager Maurice (Momo) Henault, are creating space for conversation around seed sovereignty and the future of food.

The 1.5 hectare property offers more than enough space for the trio to focus on producing high quality, organic seed for Australian customers.

Having already established Wobblestone, Kate and Flo were well-prepared to tackle the opportunity to purchase Seed Freaks from original owners Linda Cockburn and partner Trev Wittmer.

"As the owners of a market garden ourselves, we struggled to find quality locally grown seeds and the varieties we wanted to grow.

"Australian soils are uniquely challenging and it is a challenge best met by seeds which are grown in Australian soils for Australian soils," Kate said.

"We leapt at the chance to integrate Seed Freaks into our existing work as regenerative farmers, dedicated to providing quality, nutrient dense produce and doing what we can to aid in food security for Australians.

"It was also the perfect opportunity to work with our dear friend and Seed Freak extraordinaire Momo, who's passion for seed saving has been going strong since childhood."

In the middle of their first season as owners of Seed Freaks, Kate and Flo are developing new strategies to deal with the challenges of growing heirloom varieties, organically.

"We are in a different micro-climate than the original owners of Seed Freaks. We have less rain where we are and minimal frost.

"Thus far, we have been able to support the plants to grow in their new home."

The regenerative, organic farmers are also working on a process to create a new layer of topsoil and are currently choosing to grow via the 'no-dig' method in an attempt to encourage healthy soils.

"This ensures the seeds are grown in the healthiest soil possible."

A vivid tapestry filled with colour, the farm and business run like a well-oiled machine as Kate engages with customers and packs seed orders, Momo takes on the management of the nursery and field and Flo focuses on germination testing, seed calibrating and sourcing new varieties to grow.

"Remaining organic is our main goal. We use companion planting as a means of avoiding pests, we also accept that, being organic, we will have losses due to pests.

"We try to plant enough to mitigate the losses and we select the most resistant plants to plant in future seasons."

With hundreds of varieties of plants growing at any one time, the team tries to alternate root, leaf and fruit vegetables to ensure the soil is retaining moisture and nutrients throughout the seasons.

"Momo fits what he can, where he can, according to season [and] we are constantly introducing new varieties," Kate said.

"We aim to maintain, collect and preserve as many heritage varieties as is humanly possible. We are diligent about ensuring every variety we sell remains true to type."


Harvest

A time consuming task, all harvesting is done by hand with the team processing all seeds on-site.

"The seed does not leave the property until they are packaged and mailed to the recipient," Kate said.

This closed-loop approach ensures the highest quality of seed is available for customers while also reducing travel miles.

With more growing capacity than the previous owners, the team at Wobblestone are hopeful of introducing some new vegetable varieties to the Seed Freaks shop over the coming seasons.

"Seed Freaks is famous for tomatoes and beans, but we are very excited to introduce some new veg in the near future.

"Our production aim is to meet the demand and standards of the gardeners whose values are in alignment with our own. Our aim is quality over quantity."

Tackling a new business in the midst of a global pandemic is not for the faint-hearted however Kate said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"We have been genuinely flawed by how kind and supportive people have been since we took over the company," she said.

"We have found so much support and such a spirit of collaboration from like-minded growers. It feels more like a community of passionate people than it does a competitive work environment.

"We are all working towards the same common goal," she said, adding the team is excited to start work on their newest project to benefit their customers - a 'drought garden'.

"This is an area of the farm we will establish in an attempt to develop drought resistant lines of our heirloom seeds.

"This is something we feel will be invaluable for Australian growers. It is a long and initially unprofitable process, but we are committed to providing Australians with severe water shortages with seeds that can thrive in those conditions."

With seeds available online, through a reseller in Western Australia and in small batches via Pocket City Farms in Sydney, the team plan to attend a number of festivals and events throughout the year, including Agfest, to spread the word on food security.

"We love being able to see the results of our work [and] we love hearing how happy our customers are with their seeds."

 

*First published April 2022 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.