Whenever I approach Jumping Red Ant, I immediately want to make ratatouille, or caponata – any of those gorgeous jammy European braises of capsicum and tomatoes and zucchini and eggplant. These, however, are merely some of the beautiful things John Atkin has been growing so successfully on his property up north, in that rich red volcanic soil, for over 20 years now.
He didn’t start out farming, however. A variety of careers, including running a hotel and working in the fitness industry, led him ultimately to purchasing property, some 30 years ago, at Duranbah, 50 meters above sea-level. In 2002, he ‘seriously started to farm’, he tells me. ‘I decided to run it as a business.’
It’s been a long slow growth toward the success John now enjoys – and that was always the plan. ‘There’s so much produce!’ he says, adding that it’s a ‘good growing climate’, and at that altitude, no danger of frosts. He grows tomatoes all year round. Tropical fruits do well. To the twelve staff members he currently employs he’s about to add two more.
And now there are other ‘strings’, as he refers to them as, to his bow. His daughter Brianna is gradually taking over as John chooses to step back and concentrate on other possibilities
(like boutique farm-stays, cooking classes, developing the range of sauces they’ve started selling at the stall). ‘We want to increase production of our natives’, he tells me. ‘It’s Brianna’s vision and direction.’
If anyone is qualified to give tips to the home gardener it’s John. Without hesitation he says ‘Invest in your soil. Put carbon back, with mulch, with worms.’ Consider companion planting, he adds – growing plants together whereby they assist each other, increasing biodiversity in your garden.
His last tip is to support farmers’ markets. ‘’It’s the only way’, he says, ‘that farming will survive!’
Jumping Red Ant are at New Brighton on Tuesdays from 8 – 11am and Mullumbimby on Fridays from 7 – 11am