Produce sourced from the unlikeliest of places is fuelling a thriving horticulture enterprise on the outskirts of a South Australian mining town.

The chemical-free business grows up to 60 different types of vegetables in an arid salt pan.

Jason and Amanda Hoffman adapted a model of community-supported agriculture in Whyalla nearly three years ago.

Their business, Eyre Peninsula Produce, was motivated by their daughter who was suffering from significant allergies.

“I believed it was not what was being sprayed in the field, not a pesticide or a herbicide, but the chemicals sprayed on after to clean them up and kill everything,” Mr Hoffman said.

The produce is grown in compost on salt pans on the outskirts of Whyalla.(ABC North and West: Kate Higgins)

And one of their customers, Kristy Meakim, agrees.

“All the things that they [use] to make the food ripen is what I’m allergic to,” she said.

Mr Hoffman said he soon found support from the people of Whyalla for chemical-free produce harvested and delivered in the same day.

“People who care about their health … they’re more than happy to support us,” he said. 

“And people who want to see a local grower. We’ve got a lot of support in the town.”

Customer Iain Bryers said he was suffering diverticulitis and looking for vegetables without additives and pesticides.

Iain Bryers says eating fresh chemical-free vegetables has improved his health.(ABC North and West: Arj Ganesan)

“They do everything just properly, the way things used to be done,” Mr Bryers said.

“I’m 53, their vegetables taste like they used to when I was a kid.”

Community-supported agriculture

Eyre Peninsula Produce has adapted an agriculture model which began after World War II aiming to increase food security.

“The way that started was to stave off starvation and everything else after the war,” Mr Hoffman said.

Customers would pool finances for seed which they would then entrust to the farmer.

“That way the customer had a safety net … they got their share they could split up,” Mr Hoffman said.

Since then, models of community supported agriculture have grown in countries such as Japan and the United States.

“And it’s starting up all over Australia,” Mr Hoffman said.

He said customers bought a bag of vegetables weekly and the business had the capacity to supply up to 60 customers at a time.

He said the business scaled up and down depending on demand and availability, while excess produce was sold at local markets.

Eyre Produce greenhouses are set up using recycled waste on the Whyalla salt pans.(ABC North and West: Arj Ganesan)

“Not everything is what the customer wants. But that is what we are going to have to adapt to if we want to shop local,” he said.

“But a small scale like this can be done and I don’t know why it is not happening in every community.”

“It is saving a lot of issues with transportation and ensuring there is that little bit of food security for each area.”

Supermarket alternative

Mr Hoffman said the enterprise was limited by the amount of water available but employed a range of strategies to use every drop wisely. 

“Is the water more important than the fuel? The cost of getting food to the town now is cranking up,” Mr Hoffman said.

“You can see Coles and Woolworths are struggling to [provide] the food any cheaper than they are. 

“The farmers are not keeping up to what Coles and Woolworths are demanding, they want cheap. Well, we can’t have cheap anymore.” 

The businesses recycles organic waste to grow its produce.(ABC North and West: Kate Higgins)

Integrating into the community

In addition to customer support, waste from local supermarkets, cafes and a foodbank is used in making the compost needed to grow produce while keeping it out of landfill.

“A lot of the big business have been supportive,” Mr Hoffman said.

“It only works with the support of the town.”

Ms Meakim said the model helped build community.

“Once we all support each other and we become like an engine running together … I believe that that is the way forward … it is incredibly important for the health and ongoing health of our community,” she said.

Contributing to the success are Jonathan Hardon, Tricia Gerahty, Shakira Milanese, Robert Murray, Amanda Hoffman, Jack Murray, Jason Hoffman and Clare Hoffman.(ABC North and West: Arj Ganesan)

The horticulture set-up also provides employment opportunities through linking with Community Bridging Services, a not-for-profit which assists people living with a disability.

It also employs people through return-to-work programs.

“Some of those guys have been incredible, without them, we wouldn’t have had the infrastructure, and we wouldn’t have got through the summer,” Mr Hoffman said.

“It’s backbreaking without any machinery I can tell you.”

“And we also have a lot of volunteers that make a difference, the volunteers really help out.”

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