Will you be joining us at the 2024 Remote Nursing & Midwifery Conference?
23-25 October 2024, Naarm/Melbourne. We are now accepting abstract submissions. Click here to learn more or to register and access the early-bird discount.

The remote area nursing couple chasing their farming dreams

12 Dec 2023

CRANAplus Member Dr Kirsten Due MO writes in about inspiring nursing couple, Jason and Melanie. The pair met in Alice Springs and lived in remote Alaska, before returning to Australia to continue nursing/midwifery while pursuing their dream of running a sustainable farm.

I work in the remotest parts of cen­tral and north­ern Aus­tralia and have met many remark­able peo­ple in the last 15 years. While work­ing on Milingim­bi in the Croc­o­dile Isles’ recent­ly, I met Jason, a remote area nurse who comes close to being top of my list. 

He has been an inspi­ra­tion to me – high- light­ing that med­i­cine and nurs­ing can go hand-in-hand with oth­er pas­sions. Every con­ver­sa­tion he and I had in the remote com­mu­ni­ty hos­pi­tal began with Jason’s thoughts about how best to care for the Indige­nous patients he knew and cared about.

And every con­ver­sa­tion end­ed with his oth­er pas­sions – black gar­lic, his wife’s flow­ers and their grow­ing herd of angus cat­tle in Welsh­pool, Victoria.

After decades of remote area nurs­ing in Aus­tralia and over­seas, Melanie and Jason decid­ed to give farm­ing a go. Now they man­age to do both. But it’s not just any farm. They hope to be one of the only pro­duc­ers of black gar­lic in Aus­tralia and have aspi­ra­tions of sell­ing over­seas. After some heart­break­ing delays with the COVID pan­dem­ic, they’re final­ly on the road to a dream come true.

The two nurs­es first met in Alice Springs and worked in cen­tral Aus­tralia for 16 years. Chas­ing more adven­ture, but also want­i­ng to learn from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, and help bridge gaps in health care, they moved to the most north­ern part of Alas­ka called Tuk­toy­ak­tuk where their two chil­dren were born.

The kids went to the local Inu­it school and soon spoke flu­ent Inu­vialuk­tun (a rare Inu­it lan­guage) as well as French and English.

In 2015 Jason and Melanie moved back to Aus­tralia with the dream of estab­lish­ing a farm while the kids were in board­ing school. Melanie did a 12 month course in hor­ti­cul­ture and she decid­ed they’d focus on flow­ers and gar­lic. Their non-nego­tiable vision was to be chem­i­cal free, self-sus­tain­able and organic.

When staff at the remote clin­ic in the NT talk about their fam­i­lies back home, Jason talks about how many bulbs of gar­lic Melanie can plant. Between nine and 12 thou­sand a day – and all in a squat­ting posi­tion between the raised beds we built”.

When he’s not dri­ving the 4×4 dent­ed con­vert­ed troop-car­ri­er/am­bu­lance around com­mu­ni­ties, he’s dri­ving around their farm on the oppo­site end of Aus­tralia. Just around the coast from Wilsons Prom in Vic­to­ria, their prop­er­ty gets a good rainfall.

To begin with Jason built (by hand) 86 raised beds and togeth­er they filled them with organ­ic mate­r­i­al and soil.

Melanie man­ages four big worm farms and uses a worm juice/​water mix to spray on the pro­duce instead of chem­i­cals. The first year they start­ed with just 800 gar­lic plants. The crop grew from 800 to about 28,000 in the sec­ond year and despite the huge num­bers they are plant­i­ng and har­vest­ing, they do it all themselves.

The plants are grown in spe­cial raised beds that Jason built by hand. Each row is 110m long and it takes 40-tip­per loads of organ­ic soil to fill one row. When it’s time to make a new row, Jason shov­els the tons of soil into the Polaris and Melanie races up the hill to tip it out as best she can each time the tip­per buck­et is re-filled.

Now Melanie’s hun­dreds of flow­ers have tak­en over the orig­i­nal gar­lic beds which have been trans­plant­ed to anoth­er pad­dock. She’s turned what was a bland space around a fall­en down farm­house into an oasis. The local florists can’t get enough of her daisies, freesias and tulips.

And since she still loves deliv­er­ing babies at the local hos­pi­tal, a fair num­ber of her plants go to staff and patients.

Some time ago Melanie began exper­i­ment­ing with gar­lic salt and hand­ing it around to the neigh­bours. Even­tu­al­ly they were fight­ing over it, Jason says, so they began mak­ing batch­es of that too. By default, Melanie and Jason have fall­en into stock and have a grow­ing herd of robust Angus cat­tle. Soon they’ll be incor­po­rat­ing 400 chick­ens which will be in chick­en trac­tors and fol­low the cat­tle from pad­dock to paddock.

Jason has shared pho­tos with me of the two of them at work and explained how Melanie care­ful­ly plaits ten gar­lic bulbs and plants after har­vest­ing and hangs them in the shed as big as a small hos­pi­tal” that Jason designed.

Up until now they have been sell­ing their gar­lic to a cou­ple of small local shops and neigh­bours and the prod­ucts Melanie makes have been snapped up as word spreads.

Just recent­ly they enlist­ed some help to put a web­site togeth­er and final­ly, after a long wait due to COVID, they will be tran­si­tion­ing to black gar­lic – a process. He’s put in an indus­tri­al kitchen, bought all the equip­ment to fer­ment the bulbs at the right tem­per­a­ture and humid­i­ty – and pur­chased hun­dreds of jars from an Aus­tralian sup­pli­er – more expen­sive than buy­ing from over­seas, but so much more sat­is­fy­ing to know you’re sup­port­ing a local business”.

This year will be the first black gar­lic sea­son and they’re wait­ing to see if all the train­ing they’ve done and the equip­ment they’ve built will see it through. Next year, all being well, they’ll apply for a grant to get their small busi­ness off the ground and maybe export­ing overseas.

But they still plan to keep nurs­ing, Melanie will keep deliv­er­ing babies and Jason will keep shar­ing his sto­ries and how many bulbs of gar­lic she can plant in a day.

You can find out more about Jason and Melanie’s busi­ness at indigo​farmwelsh​pool​.com​.au or @indigo_farm_welshpool on Instagram.