Katrina and Geoff Dance made the move from far north Queensland to Johanna Farm with their young daughter in 2017. This is a beautiful but challenging property situated in a deep valley adjacent to the Great Ocean Walk and the famously wild Johanna Beach. This valley is so steep that you might at first mistake the farms’ resident mobs of kangaroos for mountain goats. Sensibly determining this to be no good for farming, Geoff and Katrina enlisted the help of Greenfleet and local Landcare to deliver a series of revegetation projects along the sides of the valley. With astonishing commitment and hard work, they quickly returned half the property to native vegetation.
Down on the flats of the Johanna River it’s a different story. Here the Dances are working towards a diversified farm business based on regenerative agriculture principles. Initially this will focus on Katrina’s dream of producing artisanal sheep cheeses. While Katrina proceeds with plans for the dairy, project partner Testi the ram is doing his very best to build up the required milking stock. In the longer term, it is hoped that Johanna Farm will provide both the Dances and their local community with healthy, beautifully produced food free from chemicals. Not to mention all the cheese you can eat.
Meadows Farm produces a range of berries, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Dianne and Gwyn Jones have a long term vision for restoring this property, nestled high in the temperate rainforests of the Otway Ranges. Drawing on the knowledge of the eclectic and highly skilled community of Wild Dog Road, the Jones are learning how to improve the health of their soils, plants and animals. Dianne and Gwyn are in no hurry, they recognize that this is a long term project that will ultimately be passed on to the next generation.
In the short term, they are committed to producing high quality food from a property they know intimately. Berries are picked from plants that they have tended for many years. Vegetables are grown from seed in beds enriched with compost produced on farm. No chemicals are used in the gardens, although the Jones do make extensive use of netting as a front-line defense against abundant and enthusiastic birdlife. They also run a small angus beef herd, which is moved off the property in winter to protect the health of both the animals and the soil. The property is at 1250 Wild Dog Road (2.5km from the Tanybryn Junction on the Skenes Creek to Forrest road).
It’s all about quality of life for the custodians of Woodlands Wild, Steve and Mary Howe. For them this means a complete focus on ethical farming practices and an emphasis on everything living well. Their flock of Coopworth x Perendale sheep, specially selected to suit local conditions, graze abundant pastures with panoramic views of the Great Otway National Park and Southern Ocean. The creek that carves its way down the steep slopes is gradually being cleared of weeds and revegetated. Even the soil is encouraged to thrive, driven by the Howe’s curiosity and desire to build their understanding of biological approaches to building soil fertility.
Steve and Mary are likely to be found selling their delicious salt-kissed lamb at the Apollo Bay foreshore market. While you’re stocking up, make sure to ask about their Perendale fleece products, including their bags of “Walker’s Wool” which you can tuck snuggly into your shoes to protect your feet from blisters and sore spots. Whilst enjoying living fully on Woodlands Farm in the present moment, Steve and Mary also have plans for the future. Their dreams include orchards, an edible food forest, and their grandest vision of all, a co-operative facility for processing and packing meat locally in Apollo Bay.
High up in the cloud-soaked Otway Ranges, more than two thirds of Tanybryn Park is covered in pristine cool temperate rainforest from whose deep gullies emerge the headwaters of the Skenes Creek. Helen Masters and her husband have been developing the property for 30 years, devoting as much care to the natural environment as to their cattle. Primarily a Limousin stud, the perennially green and sometimes snow-dusted pastures of Tanybryn Park also support a small commercial herd of Murray Greys, Angus and Hereford.
Tanybryn Park’s award-winning Stud Limousin are sold throughout Australia and even overseas. Their animals are bred for their big frames, softness, docile natures and good milking ability which allows them to raise healthy calves. Oh, and definitely no horns – Helen doesn’t like them! Helen occasionally offers grass-fed beef for sale in both Apollo Bay and Melbourne and a small range of flowers, preserves and vegetables are available seasonally.
Saint Aire may be the only farm in the Otways where you’ll never need gumboots. This is undeniably a great source of relief to fourth generation boutique beef producer Ros Denney. Situated on undulating dunes atop the limestone cliffs of Glenaire, Ros left a successful career in fashion design in Melbourne before returning to the family farm, making the move “from couture to cattle”. Driven by the desire to grow high quality food for people who care about provenance, she now pours all her commitment to craft and attention to detail both into her herd of stud Bazadais cattle and commercial beef herd.
Saint Aire’s cattle graze calcium rich pastures bountiful in native grasses, herbs and wildflowers. Grown out on average to two years, they are handled gently and with great care throughout all life stages. Ros also understands that the quality of her cattle depends on the quality of the environment in which they are raised. She is passionate about local plants and wildlife, collecting her own seed, and growing many of the plants that support a network of biolinks across the property, connecting it with the Great Otway National. The result of this combination of genetics and meticulous management of both animals and land is a fine textured meat with an outstanding flavour and unique terroir.
Making a sea change marked a huge transition for Tim and Karen Grant, who moved to the Great Ocean Road after corporate careers in some of the biggest cities in Asia. Their property, Tiandi, rolls out over 400 acres of both pasture and forest in Wongarra on the Great Ocean Road. No matter where you stand, you cannot escape stunning views of the Otway coast and ranges.
The change of pace has been a joy to the Grants. The property supports a herd of Hereford cattle and the couple are gradually experimenting with increasing stocking rates to find a balance that best supports soil and pasture regeneration. Tim has a developed a particular interest in soil management and erosion in high rainfall areas while Karen has devoted herself to the herd. In a surprise turn of events for a city girl, Karen has quickly gained a local reputation as a cattle whisperer and Tiandi’s Herefords are known for their uncannily docile nature, good health and beautiful calves.