Phil and Lara Randle - A Diverse Family Farm

Phillip and Lara Randle along with their two children Grace and Will, have a 70 acre property @ The Channon, near Lismore in the Northern Rivers of NSW where they grow Custard Apples and Zucchinis.

Although Phil and Lara’s families new each other when they were both very young they didn’t start dating until  21 year old Lara returned to Lismore after working in Sydney. Phil is not one to be hurried, so consequently they dated for eight years before they married in 2006. Not being hurried is a trait that I noted in just about everything Phil puts his hand to, ensuring ‘the best possible result’. The Randle’s home was designed by Phil’s parents and it is where he has lived since he was five years old, and after leaving  school at 15 years of age he worked alongside his Dad Allan, until his Dad’s retirement in 2009 giving Phil the work experience and knowledge that was required to build his own ‘family farm’ with Lara. 

Over the years the property has produced a range of produce including Bananas, Zucchinis’ and Macadamias but with, approximately 50% usable land Phil is constantly thinking of how to best utilise his working land. Custard Apples came to mind as they don’t have the same level of pest and disease issues as other fruits do which was something that was attractive to Phil; less cost in pesticides and less impact on the environment with the added bonus of not being as labour intensive like other fruit crops so a small crop was planted.

After the devastating storms in 2009 that wiped out their primary Banana crops, Phil decided to upgrade his small Custard Apple and ‘Certified Organic’ Zucchini crops. This year has been the first significant custard apple yield that the Randle’s have had over the 4-5 years that they have taken to establish and because the Zucchini’s are very labour intensive the concentration will probably be to increase the Custard Apples. They plant oats in the winter and millet & cow peas in the summer as green manure crops to improve the structure of the soil; luckily the site is elevated from most frosts with reasonable wind protection and with the help of good old fashioned Dinofert organic ‘chook poo’ from Norco they look to continue producing their positive yields.    

Phil is happy to say that with the help of the Norco field staff, in particular Scott Herd and Col Barnes he is constantly kept well informed on relevant information assisting him to get the best from both his custard apple and zucchini crops “both Scott and Col have been and continue to be our best reference resource for growing our business” said Phil and Lara. “Scott also arranged to do some ‘ant bait trials’ on our property using a ‘soft pesticide’ around the custard apples with good results” said Phil.

Phil is constantly looking at ways to grow and enhance the family farm and business, which is why he installed his own cool room and storage facility, giving him the ability  to keep his crops at the optimum temperature prior to transportation; this is ‘great quality control’. As if there’s not enough to do on a daily basis Phil decided to plant a macadamia Nursery; at the moment he has approximately four thousand trees in the nursery that he as grafted and to date; they are all sold. They also have a wonderful, non commercial strawberry patch that family, friends and neighbours enjoy seasonally.

I noted Phil to be a very quiet, methodical type of person; when given a task, he gets in and does it and this was evident when Lara invited me in to have a cup of tea, Phil excels in just about anything he turns his hand to, for example: beautifully crafted furniture. When I asked: when does he get the time to make furniture? Lara said “he just does it!” I remembered earlier in the morning when I asked to take some photo’s that Phil had said; “Lara has to be in it, because I couldn’t do this without her”. Apart from the work that she does on the farm when required, Lara is a nurse at Lismore Hospital so obviously like so many young mothers she doesn’t have too many spare moments in her week. However she did say that Wednesday is her ballet day and there’s nothing that will stop her from attending; that is of course Phil, Grace or Will needing her.

It is not hard to see that the bond between Phil and Lara is a tremendously strong and enduring one and like so many country/regional families who make their living from the land, theirs is a ‘true partnership’. Their two children, six year old Grace who is already showing her Mum’s caring and nurturing softness and two and half year old Will who wants to ‘rule the world’ via any piece of machinery in Dad’s shed, especially the new blue tractor, make their world go around!

The Randle’s are grateful to have good neighbours and enjoy being active members of their community helping to ensure a safe environment for all children to grow up in. One issue which is very near to Phil’s heart is the ‘Wild Dog’ problem, both locally and in other areas. At one stage the Randle’s ran up to 60 head of sheep on their property but sadly due to ‘wild dog’ attacks, Phil decided not to pursue sheep farming; “It broke my heart to come out and see the horrific carnage left by the dogs” Phil said. “The most disturbing fact that came to light was; some of the dogs wore collars, tags and were chipped; obviously domestic dogs whose owners are completely unaware of what their pets were up to when they were away from home”, said Phil. Having listened to accounts of these tragic events it highlighteds to me, the importance of being responsible dog owners and being 100% assured that our dogs are safe and secure at home when we’re not there.

Given the amount of work that Phil and Lara have on their plate, it was good to hear that Phil makes time to take an annual trip where he is able to feed his passion for fishing. He and a mate journey to the top end to King Ash Bay on the Macarthur River in the Northern Territory fishing for Barramundi and coral trout; What better way to clear the head and come back fresh to farm the next year. Lara on the other hand would prefer something more along the lines of a ‘city break’. Her last trip was with her sister who is a flight attendant when they visited New York and who is at this moment arranging the next trip for Lara to Paris.

Given the determination and love of the land that Phil has and Lara’s gentle dedication, there is no doubt that the Randle farm will continue to thrive and prosper, and who knows with the enthusiasm of young Will beside his Dad in future years to come, it maybe in different directions as the Randle family deem fit. One thing for sure the family unit is the most important thing in Phil and Lara’s lives and they are most peaceful and content when they are all together.

Thank you Phil, Lara, Grace and Will for sharing your story!