Keen for a change, Ryko Kalinko has joined thousands of Australians on a city exodus.
The former lawyer-turned-massage-therapist made a beeline to High Valley Dawn, an off-grid permaculture farm on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast.
“I was staying with my partner in the Gold Coast and we just felt like it was time to get out of the big smoke and find somewhere where it was a small town, somewhere more rural,” he said. “We wanted to find an eco-village or an organic farm where we could work the land and eat organic food and work for our own plate.”
Mr Kalinko has had many stints working on farms under the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program, a movement that links volunteers with farms.
He has enjoyed every second. “I’ve always been interested in working with my hands, learning more about agriculture, farming, producing food, and also very interested in organic and regenerative agriculture,” he said. “[We do] the weeding, planting, bed shaping, making the beds that the seeds will go in; it’s just amazing to see the seeds grow. “[The garden] is filled with so many different varieties of vegetables and fruits, some I’d never ever heard of before. “For four months, Mr Kalinko has joined fellow volunteers tending to a market garden, food forest, and free-range animals in exchange for meals and accommodation.
He said the pandemic highlighted the importance of nature and going back to basics. “It’s also the personal learning … I’m not just pulling weeds; I’m creating a food source for myself and my community,” he said. Alongside farm work, Mr Kalinko has an online job coordinating workplace wellbeing programs. “I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but I’m just really grateful for the skills that I’m learning now that certainly will come into use in the future in some capacity,” he said.
Local and seasonal produce
Farm owner Ross O’Reilly also owns a nearby restaurant and wellness centre.
“Permaculture is all about allowing Mother Nature to have her way and working with her beautiful natural systems to produce chemical-free, seasonal, local produce,” he said.
The farm’s harvest feeds volunteers and supplies the restaurant — any surplus is sold at local markets. “There’s a lot of plants in here, probably over 1,000 different plants,” he said.
“The chefs change up the menu to suit what we have available at that point in time.” Schools, childcare centres, community groups, and universities often tour the property, which Mr O’Reilly purchased in 2016.
Its workforce consists mainly of volunteers and, more recently, interns.
“We’ve had over 240 WWOOFers [volunteers] come and live and learn here,” Mr O’Reilly said. “That’s slowed up with the pandemic and fewer WWOOFers coming into the country.
“We’re now offering internships where they volunteer for six months, learn all the different aspects of the garden; the food forest, the animal systems … even get experience in the restaurant.”
Mr O’Reilly intends to offer traineeship and business opportunities to those wanting to stay on. “What we are doing is teaching people how to be self-sufficient, which is so important in our world today,” he said. “Food is an industry and a very basic human need and having our own farms, providing our own community with its local produce, we think, is really important.”
Good for the soul
Volunteer Naomi Turnley said her experience at the farm had given her a new perspective.
“We shovel manure, dig garden beds, pull weeds, make compost piles. Every day it’s something different,” she said.
“The gratitude that comes from that when you’re actually eating a meal that you’ve prepared, that you’ve pulled from the garden yourself and you’ve been involved in the process of that seed going and helping nurture — it’s a holistic thing.
“Just getting back to basics, slowing down, breathing, and remembering that if we don’t ground ourselves in nature, and heal our body, the rest is not going to heal.”