Early each morning, Denise Latham steps into her little yellow boat and rows across the creek to work.
It’s not your conventional commute, but then again, Denise is not your conventional farmer.
For the past 25 years, Denise has made her living as an organic lettuce and herb farmer, growing her produce on a small patch of land on her property at Teven, (which just happens to be cut in half by the creek).
Since she began her farm 25 years ago, Denise has developed her own unique style of organic farming. There’s no reliance on chemical sprays or fertilisers – just home made compost, a balanced farm ecosystem and a lot of care and attention.
Denise says going organic was an easy choice: “Mum brought us up with the natural remedies and the homeopathics and all the good food and she didn’t use any nasty chemicals so it was sort of a flow on,” she said.
It was a decision reinforced by her reading of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring: “I’d sort of known there was horrible stuff out there that wasn’t good for us but I didn’t know to what extent.” she said.
Denise spent many years supplying her produce to local restaurants, but eventually switched to the local farmers markets, where she quickly found a niche with her sweet tasting lettuces and herbs.
The fact Denise grows in soil sets her lettuces apart from most. Much of what you buy in the supermarket these days is hydroponic, as this is a faster, high yielding and more controlled method of growing, but Denise says lettuces grown this way simply don’t get the same nutrients as those grown in the earth.
Keeping the moisture up to the lettuces – even in the middle of day – is also key, as is picking the lettuces first thing in the morning when they are at their crispest.
Denise says growing food is hard work, but well worth it, especially when you can see who you are selling to : “I love the markets – when I was supplying the restaurants it was good, but the market is so much better because you’re selling to the person who is using it and eating it. If I hadn’t come to the markets I probably wouldn’t still be doing it.”
• Story and photos by Kate O’Neill