Patrice Newell: “Who’s Minding the Farm”
In the wake of her latest book, Who’s Minding the Farm? In this climate emergency, Hunter Valley biodynamic farmer, author and advocate Patrice Newell talks to Maxine Throll.
At the age of 30, after travelling all over the world as a model and enjoying a stint in broadcasting as host of The Today Show, Patrice Newell’s life took a very different turn. She and her partner, writer and radio host Phillip Adams, settled on a farm called Elmswood, in the Upper Hunter Valley. It was a path well trodden for Phillip, who had grown up on a farm, but Patrice was a newcomer, albeit a passionate one.
Her interest in agriculture began when she worked with broadcaster Kerry O’Brien: “When I left modelling for journalism, I joined the Channel Seven newsroom in Sydney,” says Patrice. “One of my first jobs was to investigate the chemicals used in our homes and in industry and agriculture to find out what we were putting into the air, earth, water and our food. It was a defining moment for me and little did I know that what I learnt would change my life. My research contributed to Kerry’s report ‘Circle of Poison’ which won the most prestigious award in journalism that year, the Gold Walkley.”
This kick-started Patrice’s aspiration to become a sustainable land manager and a writer/researcher dedicated to developing and communicating improved agricultural systems and innovations in an era of rapid climate change. Today, Elmswood Farm is 4000 hectares of prime agricultural land and, in good times, it produces biodynamic olive oil, hardneck garlic, honey, soap and beef. Swapping the city for the farm in 1987 was not the hard part. Patrice had no qualms about leaving the corporate wardrobe behind and donning her farm gear. However, it would take the help from many people and around 15 years until she felt she could say with any confidence that she knew enough about farming to run their organic property and to protect the land.
“Sustainability begins with accepting the limitations of the land. Everyone wants to believe that their land can be more productive, but the land itself must define its use. I don’t try to recruit other farmers to biodynamics. You can waste a lot of time talking to deaf ears. If anyone is really interested, they need to research new ideas themselves.”Patrice Newell
Read more in the Summer issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.