Sophie, you and your husband have a business called The Naked Farmers based at Tom’s Creek and you are also the current coordinator for the Wauchope Farmers’ Market. What was your career background before moving to the Mid North Coast and embarking upon these business initiatives?
I have been in Advertising, Marketing, PR and Events for 30 years – working in London, Hong Kong and Sydney. I still have a Marketing Company, The Zen Pen, helping small/medium enterprises take their bold vision into the marketplace and then to the next level. I am passionate about branding, communication and Marketing 101 for small businesses.
What was it that inspired you to move here and venture into these roles?
I decided to buy a farm for peace and quiet to write and ride my horses, but life had other plans! After many months of looking, I realised I was not going to find my dream property south of Sydney. The first time I looked northwards, my eyes rested on the images of a tiny off-the-grid cottage on the banks of the Ellenborough River, and I fell instantly in love. I was 40 and had reconciled myself to a life alone. Local electrician, builder and solar expert, Ged McCarthy, came to quote and commence work firstly on upgrading the solar, then take over the building works. He lit up my life in more ways than one! Soon we were engaged, and with a baby on the way!
Can you tell us a little about The Naked Farmers, where the name came from and what you are producing?
There was a great photo of little Ben and I naked at the end of a hot day, leaning on the timber rails of the house paddock fence, and it inspired the name and the logo which Sydney Morning Herald’s John Shakespeare drew for us. But Naked is less about no clothes (which is very impractical when farming!) and more about no frills, nothing added, back to basics, simple food and products, farmed as nature intended. We have free range pastured pork, free range beef, garlic, basil, lemon verbena, honey from our wonderful bees and amazing tomatoes. We sell some of these direct to the customer, and others we make into fantastic foods which tantalise the taste buds and remind people that food should taste good, be real and nurturing for body and soul, and use fresh and organic and chemical free ingredients.
You seem to exude a great passion for what you do; what is it that you love most about running your business and coordinating the Wauchope Farmers’ Market?
I am passionate about reconnecting people to the land, farmers and real food. I see the disconnect is so prevalent in our lives, with most people shopping in the duopoly and having no idea where their food comes from, how it is prepared or treated. Just recently an 18 year old told me that he had no idea that bacon came from pigs! For our health and the sustainability of the planet, we must all reconnect to nature. Farmers’ Markets are at the cutting edge of the slow, real, food movement and reconnecting consumers to local food, farms and farmers. We mustn’t let farms be mined or fracked and forsake our food security into the future.
As a local producer, what are some of the biggest challenges you face day to day?
Lack of time or money! There is always so much to do, and it can get very debilitating when wherever you look there are endless jobs to be completed. It helps to focus on one thing at a time, have long lists and cross things off when they finally get done. Like all small business operators, investment in infrastructure is always a challenge, even though it is obvious that will advance the business. Farms and animals eat money, so cash flow is always an issue.
It sounds like you’ve got some great plans in store for the Wauchope Farmers’ Market. Can you tell us a little bit about what may be in the pipeline?
We have just launched our Battle of the Buskers! We are inviting Buskers to every market to strut their stuff, sing and play their hearts out, demonstrating their talent and our panel of judges will decide who goes to our grand Busk Off in December. It’s a great initiative to get local youth involved with the Farmers’ Market and engaged with real food.
The “foodie” spotlight seems to be shining a little brighter on the Hastings region recently, which helps shift the tourist perception from us just being a beach holiday destination. We have fabulous food and beverage festivals such as Tastings on Hastings and Slice of Haven and more recently the Blues and BBQ and the Beer and Cider festival.
How does this positive shift affect producers such as yourselves?
It is great to be able to connect directly with consumers at events and markets, giving people the chance to taste real food, which often reminds them of their childhoods. Every single one of us needs to eat three times a day. We need to thank a farmer, know a farmer, buy from a farmer and know where our food comes from. This is for our own health and the health of the planet.
What advice would you offer to other people looking to venture into farming?
Follow your heart and hold onto your dream. The rest will follow.
And finally, if you could invite any three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?
Richard Branson, whom I have enormous respect for – I love his fearless flair and vision.
Andrew Penn, CEO of Telstra, so we can have a frank discussion about rural telephony and internet, offshore call centres and the importance of fantastic customer service!
Brendon Burchard, inspirational life and marketing coach and mentor.
Thanks for your time, Sophie!