Dancing with plants and farming with passion: An insight into the life of Jacki Hinchey

Dancing with plants and farming with passion: An insight into the life of Jacki Hinchey

Growing up on an isolated sheep and cattle property in South Western Queensland, Jacki Hinchey did not always have access to fresh produce, which is hard to imagine when her current garden is the size of a tennis court. Living off a diet consisting mainly of homegrown mutton, milk and eggs, Jacki became familiar with the farm-to-table process from a young age. Fresh fruit and vegetables from the Lockyer Valley arrived by train, usually picked green so they could endure the long, rough journey.

The isolation, and the fact that they were just a family of four, allowed Jacki to observe the natural cycles of seasons, animal behaviour, and plant growth. After leaving home, she was drawn to gardening and enjoying the simplicity of growing without the hassles of freight, packaging, and processing. Now the owner of Blue Dog Farm in Ocean View, Queensland, Jacki enjoys the fruits of her labour and the fresh produce surrounding every aspect of her life.

‘Being outside is still therapeutic for me. Nothing beats a day getting stuck into clearing bush, planting crops, and harvesting tiny edible flowers’.

Jacki Hinchey – Blue Dog Farm, Owner

Blue Dog Farm began in an old calf paddock that transformed into a permaculture garden and food forest that fed Jacki and her three children. As the garden thrived, it produced an abundance of fresh produce, prompting the question of what to do with the surplus. To share her bounty with the community Jacki set up a roadside table with a trailer equipped with shelves and a fridge. However, despite her best efforts, she was still struggling to cover costs. 

‘It’s incredible to see how much the garden has grown and evolved over the years, and I feel proud to be able to share it with others’.

After being inspired to try an innovative narrow-bed growing system but lacking equipment and funds, Jacki faced numerous challenges in the early years of her farming journey. She realised that certain crops were not as profitable as others and shifted her focus to fast-growing salad leaves like baby kale, leaf lettuce, and beet greens. She began growing microgreens indoors and cutting the tips off perennial plants and flowers to supplement the yield. Jacki combines all these crops to create a value-added ready-to-eat salad called ‘Really Fancy Salad’ that lasts up to two weeks in the fridge. Nowadays, restaurants and households across Moreton Bay and Brisbane consume two tonnes of this salad annually.

Jacki’s work as the owner of Blue Dog Farm led her to connect with the Food and Agribusiness Network (FAN), where she is now the coordinator of her region for three days a week. 

Jacki says, ‘Being a producer and small business owner through Blue Dog Farm gives me legitimacy and a platform to connect with the community. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement, as my involvement with FAN supports my work with Blue Dog Farm, and I can expand my connections’.

Jacki also incorporates REKO as a third aspect of her work and is currently running a ring in Dayboro through the Open Food Network platform. 

The workload seems like a lot, but Jacki says, ‘I do it for the dopamine and feel privileged to switch between the three hats. Food and people are always on my mind, but I also find solace in reading anything but food or agribusiness. Then sometimes, when no one is watching, I dance in the garden – plants grow better when you dance with them!’.

As a small-scale business owner, Jacki can relate to the challenges of managing economic ups and downs, which she knows is a common struggle for many other producers. From years of experience and losses, Jacki highlights her learnings of the importance of anticipating and reacting early to overcome these obstacles while recognising that scaling a small business can be particularly challenging.

As a farmer and advocate for local food systems, Jacki’s ultimate goal is to see a REKO ring in every town, a concept that came about organically in Dayboro in response to customer demand for simplified purchasing systems. 

Blue Dog Farms ‘Really Fancy Salad’ 

Jacki says, ‘I am passionate about building a strong local food community that connects people and promotes health. I benefited greatly from the REKO ring system. It allowed me to increase sales and build a processing room to expand my business. It’s incredible how a simple idea can have such an impact on local food systems’.

Jacki wholeheartedly encourages anyone interested in entering the industry to pursue it, provided they have the resources and ability to stick to it. She acknowledges the significant challenges that come with the job but also highlights the life-changing impact it can have.

‘You will gain a deep understanding of ecology and humanity that you didn’t know existed, and you will build resilience – and see just how many hours a day you can work! I love it, and I love the connections that I have made with my community. The people in this community fill my bucket. I love standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other REKO vendors at pickups’.

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