PLUNGING her hands into the soil, Simone Boyd excitedly retrieves a small white radish.
“This is what vegetables used to look like,” she said.
“If you cut this open, it will be watermelon pink.”
Squatting on her haunches, Simone gestures to the rows of plants around her; carrots, lettuce, beetroot, kale and broccoli.
“There is nothing like growing your own vegetables,” she said.
“We’ve lost our veggie diversity, and that’s a shame.
“With heirloom varieties, the colour you can find on your plate is fascinating.”
Simone runs Heirloom Naturally, an organic vegetable business in Mansfield just three seasons old.
A grief and loss counsellor by trade, Simone found gardening a way to clear her head.
But when she moved to Mansfield in 2016, she was faced with a bare block of mudstone and unforgiving winds.
“I always enjoyed growing my own food, but setting this up was certainly a challenge,” she said.
“I wanted to have my hands in the soil, so I just plunged right in.”
Using pigs to clear weeds and fertilise, Simone started off by bringing in truckloads of organic compost before she could begin planting.
“The soil here is pretty dead,” she said.
“I wanted to farm on a small scale, and needed to encourage the soil to be really alive with worms and microorganisms – which meant we needed a lot of compost and mulch.
“Growing vegetables like I do is about encouraging the root systems to travel down, thereby maximising growing space, whereas a more conventional farmer has the roots spreading out and needs space for machinery.”
When she talks about vegetables, Simone’s face lights up with enthusiasm.
Picking her way along each garden bed, she stops to gesture at a small leafy top.
“The original carrot is purple, not orange,” she says, pulling one from the ground.
“But the supermarket carrots were developed because they all look the same, and all crop at the same time.”
Snapping open the carrot – which has a yellow centre – Simone hands it across.
“This will taste better than anything you can buy; nuttier with a bit of spice,” she said.
Simone grows heirloom vegetables – food that has a history.
Old-time varieties, heirloom produce is open-pollinated and seed is saved from the best tasting varieties and handed down through generations.
“I love the idea that the lettuce I have here is from the same seeds that came over on the First Fleet,” Simone said.
“Or that the tomatoes came from our first Italian migrants.
“It’s more than just food, it’s a story.”
Simone has three garden plots currently planted; the first put in three years ago, the second last year and the most recent one this year.