‘Confronting’ experience sharpens regen farmer’s mission

Woman hugging a cow in a paddock.

Gina Lopez has seen her region decimated by bushfires and floods. The last few years have held many challenges for farmers – compacted and poor soil health, wet feet, lack of feed, animals food sources becoming limited and chicken flocks looking like a smorgasbord for eagles. But Gina is on a mission to be self-sufficient from her property, Chaffin Creek Farm, and she wants to educate her community about food security along the way. 

Program: Regenerative Agriculture Mentoring Program (delivered by Southern Cross University through the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Farming Together, and made possible by the NSW Government through its Environmental Trust)

Length of time on regen journey: Three years.

Industry: Cattle, chickens, syntropic agroforestry, market gardens, composting and biodynamics.

Location: Pillar Valley and Calliope, NSW.

Regional information: Pillar Valley and Calliope are in the Clarence Valley with an average annual rainfall of 1100mm and 1000mm respectively. In 2020/21, the total value of agricultural output in Clarence Valley local government area was $119m. Livestock accounted for 51.1% of the region’s total agricultural output in value terms.

Making the transition

After the floods of 2022, Gina could see her land was suffering.

“My gardens were trashed, the soil quality was terrible, the fences were wrecked. We also lost a lot chickens, and the lay rates were low for the others because of the weather,” she said.

“The land is not as forgiving as it used to be. Conventional farming doesn’t work.

“Farming generally is hard work, but I like being connected to the land. I don’t want be in a position where my access to nutrient-dense, chemical-free food is restricted.

“With an increase in climatic events and potential drought on the horizon, regenerative practices help to mitigate the risk of food security issues. I can make this work on a small scale; I can do this for myself in a holistic way and be self sufficient.”

Achievements so far

Sharing her regenerative journey with her community is important to Gina.

“People don’t understand our food and where it really comes from, so I am also working on community engagement and education,” she said. “I love getting people onto my farm and showing them what I do We have field days and workshops.”

“There are endless benefits to farming regeneratively. We really need to focus on our food and how it is produced. I have a responsibility to farm in a holistic way and with intention.”

Experience on RAMP

For Gina, RAMP has been a confronting, but necessary, experience.

“My mentor (Glen Chapman) has pushed me to make decisions that I’ve been putting off,” she said.

“We didn’t get into farming to make money; we were passionate about food security in our region.

“We wanted to make this work regardless of the commercial outcomes. Glen has made us look at our margins and helped us make the call to stop some of our enterprises to focus on others.

“We have decided to stop doing eggs and focus on the cattle and land health.”

Regenerative farming goals

Gina would love to be self-sufficient from her farm, and that is her primary goal going forward.

She is working to improve biodiversity, bush and water systems, and soil health. Budgeting is also an important part of her future planning.

“Being a landholder comes with great responsibility of stewardship,” Gina explains.

“We have been given a great opportunity to heal the land and that is what we intend to do.”

Best advice for farmers transitioning to regenerative agriculture

“Do your planning, but also understand that there is so much you can’t plan for,” Gina says.

“You have to do it for yourself. Learn your land, learn the seasons, learn the water structure. Be persistent.

“Also, don’t do it for the money. Do it for the love and I believe the money will follow. Working from a heart space with intention is as important as anything else.”

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