Jack Harper with his constant companion, Pincher, a 10-year-old kelpie. PHOTO: HELEN HAWKES
Jack Harper with his constant companion, Pincher, a 10-year-old kelpie. PHOTO: HELEN HAWKES Helen Hawkes

Healthy eating that won't break the budget

IF YOU like to eat plenty of fresh, chemical-free veggies, for taste and for health, it can be expensive.

Growing your own is a great idea - thumbs up to everyone who has a veggie garden, or even some herbs pots. But finding someone like Jack Harper, whose hobby is based around cultivating a wide range of delicious, spray-free veggies, is also a bit of luck.

Jack and his wife, Yvonne, bought their 100 acre farm in Piccadilly Hill Rd at the back of Bangalow in 1992. At the time Jack was still working at Byron Bay High School, where he was the first principal, and held the position from 1987-2000.

But the growing bug had already bitten him - he's a person who relishes the opportunity to dig in the rich earth and harvest the fruits of his labour - and he started on a little patch of what is now a five-acre garden, digging it by hand. At the same time, he owner-built the family home on the property and forgot about returning to the Hunter Valley, where he grew up.

"We had a backyard veggie patch, in Tea Gardens, when I was a kid,” says Jack. "I used to go out at 6am to collect cow manure in a billycart before anyone else got to it. I guess that laid the foundation for growing things. In this climate (the Northern Rivers), you can pretty much grow anything although cucumbers don't go too well in winter.”

Lettuce, kale, parsley, asparagus, beans, spinach, silverbeet, tomatoes, spring onions, broccoli, coriander and more - that's how Jack's garden grows. Buy the crunchy, dark greens from the stall tucked next to the house - but make sure you come with gold coins or notes for the honesty box - and you're in for a treat, packed with vitamins, minerals and old-fashioned flavour.

Rows of vitamin-rich kale growing in Jack's garden. PHOTO: HELEN HAWKES
Rows of vitamin-rich kale growing in Jack's garden. PHOTO: HELEN HAWKES Helen Hawkes

Jack plants all the seeds by hand, although he has a tractor now for the digging, and there's 30 happy chooks who provide some of the manure.

"I grow organically but I am not certified,” he says. "I use eco oils and fungicides.” He also has to control rabbits and rats or not too much of the produce would make it to his stall. "I've used wasps to control insects before too. You buy them as eggs and nail them onto a post. When it gets to 22 degrees Celsius they hatch.”

To keep everything green and growing - his chard and silverbeet are like gigantic versions of the versions you see in the supermarket - Jack has two kinds of irrigation, mobile and permanent. He pumps water 85m up to a holding tank from a dam using solar pumps then gravity feeds it to the farm. He also plants sunflowers to encourage bees, as well as a couple of hives on loan, so everything gets pollinated.

Jack says he loves growing and selling the veggies, that are very reasonably priced, to drop ins and lots of regulars and sees it as a bit of a community service. He's also regenerating the native bush - last year he planted 400 trees, mostly red cedar.

"My son, Leigh, who is an accountant in Tokyo, says I work for about $3 an hour,” he laughs. Jack's other son, Ben, is co-owner of McTavish Surfboards in Byron Bay, and the couple have two working kelpies Pincher and Emma. "They bring in the cattle - I have 50 breeders.”

Oh, there's an orchard too - lemons, mandarins, oranges, mangoes, tangelos and finger limes and, if you're lucky, you'll grab a bag of those too at the stall.

You get the feeling that Jack isn't someone who goes too much on tooting his own horn. But I reckon his veggies are the reason plenty of people who want to avoid chemicals eat so well without breaking their budget.



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