Growing healthy together

LAUREN CELENZACountryman

Carnarvon psychologist Chris Armstrong knows how important nutrition is to a healthy mind and body. She says organic foods have higher mineral and nutrient value and can contribute to a person’s mental wellbeing.

For the past 23 years Chris and her husband, Kim McGowan, have lived in Carnarvon since moving there from Kalgoorlie which they called home for five years after leaving Perth.

“We wanted to be near the ocean but not near the smoggy city, ” Chris said.

Chris and Kim have been running a six-hectare organic farm for 13 years. They grow mangoes, bananas and a large variety of vegetables for Perth’s growing organic market.

“I have always been an organic advocate because I believe organic food, even when it wasn’t provable, is more nutritious, ” Chris said.

“Now it is proven and I think working in psychology and learning how important nutrition is to our health made me want to do organics even more.

“Apart from exercise, nutrition is probably the most important factor for mental and physical health.”

Chris believes the use of pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers have had an adverse effect on the general population.

“I think the chemicals that are used on foods have affected mental health, ” she said. “You only have to now look at all the research that’s coming out about what artificial preservatives and colourings are doing to children’s behaviour.

“The number of kids that have attention deficit disorders and aggressive tendencies is starting to prove all those things associated with what’s in food that perhaps shouldn’t be.”

In great demand

Chris said the demand for organic food was increasing at a rate of about 30 per cent a year, proving that people were starting to realise that what they were eating wasn’t good for them.

“Twelve years ago, it was difficult to produce organic food, but now that it is more popular producers of chemicals and fertilisers have invested in organic-friendly products, ” she said.

“It’s much easier to farm organically now.”

To overcome some disease or pest issues, Chris said there were certain types of plants that she would not grow. Trial and error over the past 13 years of growing organics has been their method of determining what works and what doesn’t.

“Eggplant gets a grub which needs chemicals to kill, so I just don’t grow it, ” she said.

“Tomatoes tend to get a lot of things (pests and diseases), so I try not to grow them.

“Once you work out what grows well on your farm without using chemicals, stick to them. That’s why I go for a lot of the things that grow in the ground, like sweet potato, carrots and beetroot.

“Celery grows really well out here — nothing seems to eat it and we get really good prices.”

Chris and Kim can’t just sit back and watch things grow, there are still practices which can help prevent pest and disease outbreaks, while keeping the produce organic.

They use integrated pest management (IPM) to control some pests and substitutes for chemicals include pyrethrum spray, the natural plant-based ingredient in fly spray.

“Also the neem tree from India produces oil that has antiseptic qualities which frighten bugs away, ” Chris said.

“If you need to you just spray out these things like a conventional farmer would spray a chemical.

“I have had some terrible infestations of caterpillars in cucumbers and on the sweet potato leaves.

“Luckily the sweet potatoes were already fully grown so we could still harvest them from under the ground.”

Chris believes organic farming is no harder or easier that conventional farming.

“It’s different and it helps if you are passionate about it, ” she said. “These days the produce generating 30 per cent more income is enough to get anyone growing organically.”

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