I’m so excited to share Halo Farm’s Back Story with you. Not only are they growing some of my absolute favourite foods, their foundation is a true testament to the community spirit that I love so much about our local agricultural businesses. More than that even, is their passion for innovation, and willingness to think outside the box.
Chip and Jo Saint bought their 20-acre plot back in 2004, with a future goal to move to the farm when their eldest son started high school. The farm would become not just their home, but their retirement plan—something to do to keep them sane and keep them fed.
Saints of Food and Environment
After moving to the farm in 2017, Chip and Jo quickly realised the land was perfect for high altitude cropping and surrounded by a burgeoning café and food scene. With the last name Saint, and a goal of High Altitude, Local Origin production, the name Halo Farm just makes sense. But they kinda outdid the angelic theme when they dedicated 10 acres of their current land to carbon sink.
That’s right, quite literally half of their productive land is currently just giving back to nature by eating all the carbon dioxide we’re producing, so that we can have cleaner, better air to breath! I mean…if the farm didn’t already have a halo…
But what about the rest of the land? The Saints had vague plans to plant viable crops, but were really open to whatever came their way.
From Rescue Rhubarb to Business Bounty
Jo soon found their first investment opportunity…although with surprisingly little initial investment required. After collaborating with their neighbours to replace shared fences, Jo discovered Daryl Boardman from Sunnyspot Packhouse was planning to turn his adjoining block into an avocado orchard. Not one to miss an opportunity, Jo took a chance on salvaging the current crop of rhubarb before Daryl ploughed them under.
“So, I walked over there with my trusty wheelbarrow and a shovel and we dug up 400 rhubarb crowns, brought them back, and planted them in the veggie patch, because that was the only space that I had, and nurtured them, and that was the beginning of Halo Farm rhubarb.”
Such a humble beginning for the produce that launched a solid local brand, and a great example of how a simple tilt shift can change everything.
Now, in saying that, if you hear Chip talk about their rhubarb, you’d be forgiven for thinking he really doesn’t care for it much. At their recent Hampton Festival Growers on the Green spotlight, Chip was quite happy to share that their rhubarb thrives on neglect. In fact, they just divided only 15 crowns to transplant 120 new rhubarb plants. Not bad for a rescue crop!
Best Friends For-Avo
Clearly the Saints are not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, because they have Daryl to thank for their secondary crop as well. As Jo tells it:
“He was sitting there, having a beer, and he said ‘have you thought about growing avocados?’”
They hadn’t, but they didn’t see any reason not to. Because why wouldn’t you when to have an avocado expert next door? Daryl was also keen to support industry growth, and they soon built a plan that saw them outsourcing a great deal of the weed control and plant care to Daryl. With Daryl’s expertise they also developed quality frost protection, creating mounded rows and planting the avocado trees on top of these little ridges.
As Jo explains, “the frost will roll like water into the valley…and down away into the next paddock.”
A simple innovation, but a brilliantly easy solution to save the fruit from the harsh cold mornings, particularly important when you are the proud parents of 460 avocado trees. With such an abundance, the logistics of harvesting and packing would have been a headache for most new producers. Not for Chip and Jo! This year will be only their second crop but, once picked, it’s straight next door to Daryl’s Sunnyspot Packhouse for processing.
It’s not all been smooth sailing for the Saints though. As with all farmers, water is a precious resource on Halo Farm. It’s one that is made the most of, especially knowing the thirsty nature of avocado trees. While they await the outcome of the region’s future water availability through current Hampton Irrigators/Toowoomba Regional Council agreement, Chip and Jo have ensured no water goes to waste at Halo Farm.
The farmhouse runs solely on rainwater, sourced from their 130,000 litres. This is then run through the innovative Taylex water treatment system, allowing it to be cleanly recycled, so it can be reused on the lawn and house garden. Just another small way the Saints are ensuring innovation plays a role in better farming practices at Halo Farm, but certainly not the only ways they’re reducing the dependence on water.
Knowing their avocado crop would be greedy with such a precious resource, Chip and Jo were careful to ensure their next crop would require much less water. This led them to the Australian native finger lime.
For those unfamiliar with the finger lime, their fruit is longer and thinner than the traditional variety, with smaller, rounder vesicles which appear almost like jeweled caviar. The different varieties each have their own flavour, but all bear that sweet tart spritz that a good citrus has, with a little more bite as you ‘pop’ the bubbles of flavoured caviar in your mouth. They are divine on desserts, but also make fish and other seafood a heavenly experience and go darn well with avo toast or in a fancy cocktail.
Now, with 88 different varieties of finger limes and a colour range from green and yellow to pinks and reds, you’d think growing this native citrus would be pretty simple, right? Not so, say the Saints.
As a fledgling industry, finger lime growers are still very keen to hold onto their proprietary information. This meant, unlike the great support and willingness to share that they received with their rhubarb and avocado operations, the Saints found the finger lime industry harder to crack. While they’ve been around for thousands of years, commercially, finger limes are new, and vastly different to a standard lime. Yet another hurdle for Halo Farm, as most agronomists have minimal understanding of the plant from a commercial standpoint.
After plenty of their own research, Chip and Jo decided the risk was worth it for the beautiful reward. Keeping frost in mind once again, the Saints decided to steer away from the standard Trifoliata citrus graft, instead opting for the more frost-resistant Troyer rootstock. Taking their own path once again, meant they were able to get their plants a year earlier, and in September 2019 Halo Farm became the home of 180 finger lime trees—80 red Byron Sunrise and 80 green D’Emerald.
Planting Seeds, Growing Community
Earlier this year Chip and Jo harvested their first crop of finger limes, with local businesses and producers hungry to experiment and play with this gorgeous fruit. In fact, one of the first locals to snap up the Halo Farm finger limes was Ben Pechey, from Pechey Distilling Co., who used the limes as a botanical in the Toowoomba Dry gin, launched at Hampton Festival.
And it’s not just Halo Farm Finger Limes with a keen following. Jo’s rescue rhubarb has quite the following in local cafes, including Lily’s Restaurant at Highfields Motel and Crows Nests’ Curly Carrot. Amanda Hinds, of Emeraude fame, is also fond of Halo Farm’s produce, using their goodies back when the regions best kept secret was still a secret.
But it’s not all about the chefs and the cafes, Halo Farm loves that they have enough produce to allow regular folk a chance taste of heaven. In fact, last year she was approached by Henryka Wodzynska from Farmers Fresh Choice, who was looking for a new rhubarb supplier. With a weekly stall at Cobb & Co’s Toowoomba Farmer’s Market, Henryka now sells Halo Farm Rhubarb, as well as avocados.
The Saints love the fact that all of these customers have come from the local area, and many through simple conversations. They’re also clearly great friends with their neighbours, who they work with to keep their industries growing and thriving in the region. Even their dog, Max is community minded, needing a tracker so they can find him when he goes visiting the neighbours.
What a great local success story, right? And proof that an open mind and a willingness to take on board new ideas can create great things. As part of such an innovative and genuinely pioneering region, I love being able to share stories like Chip and Jo’s —it’s one of my favourite parts of being part of the Food and Agri Network (FAN).
With such a supportive and innovative community surrounding us, our future small and micro businesses like the Halo Farm have exciting growth ahead of them, and more great stories I can’t wait to share with you.