An opportunity to go organic during pandemic

An opportunity to go organic during pandemic

Coronavirus
 Owners of the Organic Fine Food Company in Bridgetown, the Van De Griend family. From left to right: Ishmael, Caleb, Elliana, Levi with parents Jocelyn and Mike and Seth patting the family's dog, Bella.

Owners of the Organic Fine Food Company in Bridgetown, the Van De Griend family. From left to right: Ishmael, Caleb, Elliana, Levi with parents Jocelyn and Mike and Seth patting the family's dog, Bella.

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"We just thought to ourselves - no time like the present."

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MIKE and Jocelyn Van De Griend decided to put their foot on the pedal for their online organic store, when demand for their farm's produce and delivery services surged due to COVID-19 last month.

They own a farming property just outside of Bridgetown and had been prepping the online store for their business, The Organic Fine Food Company in the months prior, but took the opportunity to ramp up their services when the pandemic hit and demand for online delivery services spiked.

"We just thought to ourselves - no time like the present," Mr Van De Griend said.

"We knew where we sold our produce each weekend, the Joondalup Growers Market, was scheduled to permanently close in mid-March, so we were heading in that direction anyway, but COVID just made it happen that much quicker."

The family's property, Drovers Rest, has been sustainably managed and certified organic since 2001, when it started as Drover's Rest Organic Berry Farm under the direction of Errol and Irma Seymour.

Mr Van De Griend, who hails from Iowa, and wife, who grew up in Perth, first met in California's Central Valley, an agricultural region in the United States, where they started their family.

Their five children, aged from 10 to 19 years of age, have been home schooled.

The Organic Fine Food Company offers a range of organic and seasonal produce including pantry and fermented products which can be ordered online.

The Organic Fine Food Company offers a range of organic and seasonal produce including pantry and fermented products which can be ordered online.

Having grown up on a farm, Mr Van De Griend wanted to get back to his agricultural roots, so after visiting Jocelyn's family in WA's South West in 2013, they decided to make the move to Bridgetown.

After working as a dairy veterinarian in the US, Mr Van De Griend said living on a farm afforded their children with experiences that were priceless.

"The culture of agricultural communities is rich, and people really care for one another, so it's been great to be able to bring up our kids in that sort of environment," Mr Van De Griend said.

The farm, which employs regenerative agriculture practices, offers certified organic pastured chicken eggs, pastured forested pork, seasonal produce and a range of pantry and fermented products, with a processing facility and commercial kitchen on-site.

Stocked at less than 1500 hens per hectare, they are fed supplemental organic feed and are free to roam forested areas to forage for live insects.

Specially-built mobile chicken arks house the hens at night, with the doors opening and closing at sunrise and sunset for the hens' protection, while a mobile fencing system enables the farm's pigs to move around the farm to forage.

Fed supplemental certified organic fermented grains to aid their growth, the pigs have 24/7 access to shade, water and shelter.

Mr Van De Griend said the pig's natural urge to root around and turn up soils was an important part of the farm's soil rebuilding processes.

"By raising our animals in a stress-free environment and using regenerative and organic farming practices and inputs,it enables us to provide superior products," he said.

"It's not just being certified organic, chemical or pesticide free that is so beautiful, but it's related to the diversity of the microbial species."

The farm's pigs are fed supplemental certified organic fermented grains and have 24/7 access to shade, water and shelter.

The farm's pigs are fed supplemental certified organic fermented grains and have 24/7 access to shade, water and shelter.

Mr Van De Griend said he was a passionate advocate of getting food to be thought of as medicine.

"As a dairy veterinarian, feeding cattle and setting up animal rations in the US helped me to understand that people are not that much different," he said.

"If we can get back to wholefood diets that are contaminant free and have high nutrient density, we can change the health of our human populations and have less disease.

"I think the science is coming that we are going to be able to measure nutrient density of our fruit and vegetables, where you can basically scan an item and it will give you a nutrient density analysis of that vegetable or fruit, so if it costs a dollar or so more, you know why."

Going forward, the Van De Griend's goal is to integrate with other organic farmers for their online store, to create co-ordinated packages.

"It would be great to work with other organic farmers who might be able to supply some lamb, for example, so that we can offer our customers a wider variety of products and they can do their full shop with us," Mr Van De Griend said.

With drop points already set up in Joondalup, Bassendean and Bunbury, and demand for the farm's products continuing to grow, the couple plans to offer a wider and more consistent delivery service to their customers.

"The bonus of the drop points is there's no delivery charge - we just meet you at a predetermined spot at a set time," Mr Van De Griend said.

 Bella is the Organic Fine Food Company's maremma livestock guardian dog, protecting the farm's chooks from predators.

Bella is the Organic Fine Food Company's maremma livestock guardian dog, protecting the farm's chooks from predators.

"We will set up more drop points, but need about 20-30 consumers who live in the same area and purchase enough product to make it worth the effort.

"At the moment we're also offering home deliveries for a delivery charge because, through this COVID experience, we feel we need to offer to-the-garage services for people who are too vulnerable or scared to come out."

The Organic Fine Food Company also welcomes customers who live in the Bridgetown area to collect their orders from the farm.

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