The brilliantly inspired sustainable produce and restaurant concept, The Farm in Byron Bay was co-created by Emma Lane with husband Tom. The motto ‘Grow. Feed. Educate. Give Back’ could be translated to all aspects of the idyllic family life they have created in the Byron Bay hinterland with their four children...
The Farm is just that – an 80-acre working farm outside Byron Bay, a legacy project with community at heart, educating people about sustainability, and delivering real, delicious food through the ‘paddock to plate’ philosophy. What isn’t cultivated on site at the farm itself, is sourced locally. Teaming up with The Three Blue Ducks restaurant/cafe, The Farm also includes The Produce Store, Flowers At The Farm, The Bread Social freshly baked bread, farm tours, workshops, regular kids programs and more. As the then Sydney-based Lane family grew they purchased a farm in the Byron hinterland and began growing with earnest, with the desire to teach their children about real food and the love of the land. In time, both Emma and Tom let go of other work commitments – Emma from the world of advertising and Tom from the family business, Oroton. The connection to the earth and the joy and authenticity it brought their growing family prompted a move full time from Sydney to the countryside outside Byron Bay. The inspiration for The Farm soon followed. “The epiphany moment was losing Matilda on our property and finding her amongst the veggie patch with her T-shirt stretched out full of beans, she was eating them like little lollies,” recalls Emma. “That was the moment Tom and I said we could bring this idea to other children that might not get the chance to grow their own food. Education is where it all starts.” And so The Farm was born. The juggle of running a large household, a new project for The Farm nearby (we can’t wait!) and building a new family home is quite the juggle for anyone. But it seems some life lessons for Emma has her well equipped to tackle it all, (and the tools to recalibrate when the harmony slips). She credits her children to being at the heart of her wellbeing philosophy. “These children of mine were incredible teachers even before they were born. What they have taught me is slow down, take time out when needed, eat well, be present and follow my heart.” An interesting and inspiring family journey. But with any life journey there is a back story. Emma has created a dream life for her family that has taken plenty of introspection, changes of course and hard work. From fertility to holistic health, Emma has an inspirational tale to tell all mothers about creating and sustaining a healthy and harmonious family life. Life isn’t always glossy and Emma knows this all too well… “You may look at my four healthy children all close in age, and deduce the journey of pregnancy has been easy for us. It took 11 pregnancies to have 4 children.” From the pain of miscarriage to the benefits of eating authentic produce and country upbringings, Emma has a very inspiring tale to tell. Read on about Emma’s life in Byron Bay with husband Tom and children Charlie, 13, George, 10, Matilda, 8, and Lulu, 6, how they created their new life in the country, her time management tips and the importance of nurturing all relationships, including with oneself. Photography: Bridget Wood | Words: Emily Armstrong | Go to www.thefarmbyronbay.com.au
How would you describe life with four kids in four words?
Abundant, dynamic, energetic and complete.
What has motherhood taught you?
Just when you thought you had it all covered, things change again! Nothing is permanent. Have a flexible mind and go with it, enjoy the process as they grow up so quickly. Motherhood is an incredible juggling act – to be a master of running a household, in my case keeping on top of several businesses, the responsibility of managing the lives of four happy children and then also to keep your partner content as well – sometimes I’m surprised I even manage to keep it together! I think it’s important to love the process and what you do and then it’s never work.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
The most challenging part of motherhood was defintely the pain of losing seven early pregnancies. It’s hard deciding to start a family and then discovering it isn’t as easy as you thought. We had our first miscarriage when I was 30. I had heard of miscarriage being more common as you got older, but I was under the impression that I was still pretty young. After a subsequent number of miscarriages, some investigations were carried out. It appeared that my immune system was overactive and normally when the immune system backs off in early pregnancy to allow the baby to be accepted by the body, mine was saying ‘no way ho say’, this is an intruder! This was where my health journey began. I realised through the investigations that I had some food sensitivities and a high load of stress in my body probably from over a decade of working in the harsh deadline driven world of advertising. Both these elements together put my body in a permanent flight or fight scenario. As it takes many years to create bad habits in your body, it took several years to unravel these. With some dietary changes and a career shift, our first child was born two years later. Although there were more miscarriages to follow, I finally learnt just before my fourth baby was conceived how my body felt when in total harmony and balance. Between the last two children there were no miscarriages. It was how it should have been, an easy and natural journey. I look back on this part of my life and see the positive – the amazing health benefits I have learnt from this experience, and how I got to know my body better, I now know what it feels like to be in harmony and homeostasis. I’m not saying I’m in this space all the time, but I know how to get there now and what the warning signs are when I’m out of balance. So really these children of mine were incredible teachers even before they were born. What they have taught me is slow down, take time out when needed, eat well, be present and follow my heart.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing?
As mentioned while trying to have a family I discovered what it was like to feel in balance and be ‘healthy’. From this started a 10 year interest in nutrition and a healthy mind, body connection. While the children were little, I went on to study nutrition and took up yoga and meditation to combat life’s intensity and teach me how to chase away stress. I loved that feeling so much, I completed a yoga teacher training course. It was through studying nutrition and also looking after the children’s health that the idea of The Farm was born – the mission of The Farm is to create a ripple effect in increasing wellbeing from the soil up. As a society over time, we have become quite disconnected with real food. With respect to eating I try and eat local, real unprocessed food and I’m lucky enough to pick up a fresh organic produce box from The Farm every week supplied by the growers collective – four young farmers who have plots at The Farm. In terms of exercise I do two strength training sessions a week to keep strong (I’ve got four vibrant, healthy children to keep up with!). I walk in nature whenever I can – it reminds me that we are part of this big cycle of life. Byron has numerous walking tracks whether that’s one of the many beautiful beaches and or in the hinterland. I do less yoga these days due to a knee injury and have replaced this with Pilates, plus a regular meditation practice that keeps me energised, grounded and in flow. My latest love is a return to horse riding after a 30 year hiatus. The whole family has taken lessons. I’m surprised how many life lessons you can learn through horses, you really need to consider your instructions in order to get the response you want. Like our children they have so many lessons to teach us.
You've said before that you’re becoming more of an introvert as you get older…
I think I’ve reached an introspective stage in my life where I feel very content. I have a strong relationship with my husband and children, some great female role models and friends around me and most importantly I feel I’m living with purpose. Now I’m in my mid forties, I know myself. It’s a time to complete things left undone, to trust my instincts and I have no need to prove anything to anyone except myself. I don’t have the same desire to socialise that I did when I was younger, preferring to be with my family or close friends. Give me a one-on-one or an intimate dinner over a party situation any day.
How does life differ in Byron compared to Sydney? Do you ever miss Sydney?
The biggest difference to life in Byron is the connection with nature. Going back to Sydney, I realise that I have more time in nature here, walking on grass and there are definitely more trees around us, which is good for the soul. There’s research indicating the calming health benefits it brings to look out over rolling hills. I do go back to Sydney and enjoy my old friends and the buzz of the city vibe but the nature of Byron and its hinterland definitely is more aligned to this introspect stage I’m at. It also enhances my ability to be creative. The most important element is that the children are happier here, I feel this area is giving our children a more centered upbringing amongst the great outdoors.
What inspires your work and keeps you motivated? Have you always been driven?
I’ve always been driven but having a family inspires me to provide a legacy for my children. Not necessarily financially but in terms of setting a good example in terms of work ethic and creating a strong purpose. The Farm is a legacy project for us, we have created a place that allows people to question where real food comes from, teaches sustainability and provides a place for community to gather. We need to teach our children to work hard but equally we need balance, and have the ability to think of others not just ourselves, we need to consider the greater community in our motivations.
Tell us about your career path? Where were you 10 years ago?
I have always loved creativity and at school I loved art and writing. This lead me to university where I studied creative advertising and went on to work in several marketing and advertising agencies both in London and Sydney. The favourite aspect of my career have been creating and building brands – I just love brainstorming new ideas or extending existing concepts or brands. This has been a useful background now that we have created The Farm, as I’m able to think about the whole process from logo generation through to website and continued branding. After I married Tom, we agreed we both couldn’t maintain big careers, he was at the time working as General Manager in the family business Oroton. Tom asked me what I really wanted to do and at the time I said I wanted to paint. I ended up having an exhibition and when I started to have children, I transitioned to studying photography at The Australian Centre for Photography. There began my love of capturing images and snaps shot in time. This was great while having young children as you are constantly surrounded by perfect subjects. I had a portrait photography business for a while. By the time Lulu was born, my plate was pretty full. This was also at the time Instagram took off and everyone became a photographer in their own right. I love Instagram as it’s a perfect way to capture a moment and share with friends and family and those that are interested. I print my Instagram feed every year in a photo book, it becomes a record of all the adventures and moments we have as a family. My career now is CEO of the home, personal assistant to four active children and overseeing elements of The Farm. We have another venture coming, which is a sister project to The Farm based on a beach location nearby. We will be focusing on sustainability of the ocean and the coastal ecosystem as well as agricultural sustainability which we focus on at The Farm. We also have just taken ownership of a 12o acre farm in the Byron Bay hinterland to build our family home. This piece of land has taken over seven years to find, we will also regenerate the land and its rain forests so this will also take up some time – you could say our plate is quite full at this stage, but it’s all positive and rewarding projects. Tom and I love to always be creating.
And can you tell us about the moment you came up with the idea of The Farm?
After having our fourth child Lulu, we bought a small farm in the hinterland of Byron. For the next five years all holidays were spent on our farm. We worked with a local lady and ex-chef to plant our own market garden and kept animals and spent time together enjoying the great outdoors and country air. It was through this that we saw the positive impact this had on all our lives. The epiphany moment was losing Matilda on our property and finding her amongst the veggie patch with her T-shirt stretched out full of beans, she was eating them like little lollies. That was the moment Tom and I said if we could bring this idea to other children could we do that for others that might not get the chance to grow their own food. Education is where it all starts.
Talk us through your a ‘paddock to plate’ philosophy and motto ‘Grow, Feed, Educate’?
We are all about real food at The Farm. The market garden is run by four young independent farmers that form The Growers Collective at The Farm. Everything they grow is used by the on-site restaurant Three Blue Ducks or sold in the road side store equivalent called The Produce Store. We also run cattle, heritage -breed pigs and chickens. We run education workshops for school groups whereby we educate about where real food comes from and sustainable farming practises. Kids have the opportunity to see first-hand how a real working farm is run and hopefully become inspired in some way. Our mission is to encourage young people to question where their food comes from and even one day think about the possibly of becoming a farmer themselves. ‘Grow, Feed, Educate’ is our ethos and we have also added ‘Give back’. Grow is not just about growing food it’s about growing a community, feed is about feeding our bodies but also our souls. Education is our back bone that helps us to create a ripple effect around our mission of increasing well being, and giveback is about giving back to the community with social enterprises as well as giving back to our soil so that it has the potential to continue to give back to us. It really is one big cycle of life. It’s about creating a life that is real, authentic and meaningful.
How did it come to life? How do you feel when you’re at The Farm now?
The Farm came to life with a passionate team of people all focused around a dedication for real food and well being. Realising we couldn’t be a master of all, we set out to find the best community of growers, producers, restauranteurs and educators to create what the farm is today – a collection of businesses who are passionate about growing food using traditional, sustainable methods that are 100% chemical free. We will continue to focus on education offering in 2018 and hope in the future we can offer a unique Farm Stay accommodation setup so that visitors can have an extended farm life experience. We are also writing a book about The Farm and how it touches and involves a community with relation to food and sustainability. It will be a beautiful photographic book part recipes and part education due for release at the end of 2018. Tom and I both feel that The Farm as a project has given us a real purpose and direction in our lives. We are proud of what we have created for the local community and visitors who come from further afield.
Talk us through your morning routine?
I’m not naturally an early riser I’m more of a night owl but I’m in the process of retraining. I try and do a meditation first thing as this sets the day up well and I find everything else then just flows better – Tom usually does the first morning duties as he’s up early. We then swap and he has his morning ritual bath (which is his meditation). I like to do exercise at least 4/5 mornings a week. After a breakfast, I take the kids to school and then I’m usually straight onto one of our numerous projects, quite often Tom and I are together for this.
What about nightly routine...
We have a great nanny who helps us three afternoons a week. We try and be home by 4pm so that we can get involved with dinner and homework. There’s always usually some desk time after the kids have gone to bed.
What are some vivid memories of your childhood?
I grew up in the UK. I was lucky to live amongst the green rolling hills of England which definitely makes me feel at home in the rolling hills of the Byron hinterland. Countryside has always played a huge role in my life. My memories of exploring the local fields and making dens are probably some of my favourites.
What’s your approach to interiors – how would you describe your style?
Minimal and functional but warm. Aesthetics are really important to me as I love to surround myself with visual beauty as that is my preference on how I see my surroundings. I prefer soothing colours and natural materials as I find these peaceful.
What are your current favourite colours to work with?
Any colours that nature naturally supplies with a preference for soft natural tones. White is a great background for anything, I find I’m drawn to natural mid timbers and earthy linens living in Byron. My present favourite colour is ‘Tobacco’ – it’s got depth and adds another dimension to any room. As mentioned we are building a house in the hinterland and from experience any colour that is close to the natural red earth colour will reduce housekeeping time quite dramatically. My present white floors will not be repeated here.
What about interior items - what décor items do you love to add to a room to make it look fresh?
A bunch of native flowers from Flowers at the Farm, the florist nursery at The Farm. Their store is beautifully merchandised and I can’t walk by without a purchase. Matilda spends a lot of time with Roz who owns the nursery with her daughter. Elle and Matilda has ideas of working there one day when she’s old enough.
Where are your favourite places to source homewares?
I buy most of my homewares locally – rugs from Pampa and Tigmi, tables and chairs from Bisque as well as special pieces from Jai at Ahoy Trader, baskets from Flowers At The Farm and Dharma door.
How do you juggle being a mother with work?
Tom and I both work and parent together – we are completely flexible within this and some days I mother more than work and other days it’s the other way around. We are lucky to have this flexibility and the ability to work well together. Tom is not just the father or my children, he’s my best friend and business partner. We have had date nights every Thursday and have done so since our first-born Charlie was three months old. I think it can be easy as a mother to put more energy into the children and neglect your relationship but without harmony in this department the whole team can fall apart. It’s like a good management team, one that has mutual respect, values the whole team and gives good direction. The entire family then works better. Our wonderful nanny is always there on a Thursday night from school pick up until after dinner. We make this night a priority and it’s very rare that we miss it. This time is great to discuss priorities and a plan for the week ahead, and most importantly have time out for you as a couple. We have a great team of people at The Farm now after spending the first year very hands on ourselves. We are still very involved but have more time to do what we love and what we are better at which is dreaming and looking at the bigger picture rather than day to day management. With several projects on the go it’s really important to surround yourself with a great team and a good support network at home. Nurture the relationships that are important to you, like anything the time you put in is rewarded in what you get out.
What makes you laugh?
A silly sense of humour and a unwavering relationship with one’s inner child. I really enjoy the company of both adults and children alike who don’t take themselves too seriously and can laugh at themselves. This brings out the best side in me, and gives me permission to be myself.
Describe your inbox…
I’m not good at deleting, but there’s not many unread. I’ve recently set up an auto response that reads: “I only check my emails twice a week, call me if you need me urgently”. This takes the pressure off responding immediately and really can I ask what ever happened to people picking up the phone? I would much prefer a conversation with a human than a machine.
What makes you feel stressed?
When the days don’t have any down time, we all need a window of downtime every day.
How would you describe your approach to parenting?
Freedom with firm boundaries. I believe my role as a parent is to take my children to a point of secure independence whereby they feel confident to step into the world on their own. This means making sure they can take responsibility for themselves at the appropriate age, they know how to care for themselves without me spoon feeding them. This includes knowing how to make good food choices to feel as good as they can, to know how to be a loyal friend, to know when to step away from negative situations. To know how to respond to situations rather than react and all in all how to navigate a world that can be challenging at times. I hope to give my children those skill sets and knowledge. I want my children to need me in a healthy balanced way.
Do you spend a lot of time on social media?
I do enjoy Instagram as I find it to be creative but I don’t use Facebook. I’ve chosen one medium and will spend 1/2 hour to an hour with this most days. There are weeks when I choose not to open it and that’s usually when there’s a lot on and it’s the first thing to go. It’s important to know you can survive without it, and not look to it as a real representation of the world. These mediums can become quite addictive. I adopt the everything in moderation saying with this one.
What do you love about raising children in Byron Bay?
Children can be children much more easily in the country and this makes me extremely happy to think I can give our kids a chance to BE children as we live a long time as adults. Generally, I find country living less competitive for them.
What are your top home organisation tips?
We have a ‘dump’ basket upstairs and down and anything lying around is put in here and cleaned out once a week. If someone has lost something we say check the dump basket first and 9/10 times, it’s there. Lockers – we each have a cupboard downstairs where school uniform, bags, shoes, swimmers and jackets are stored. Less is more. Unless it has a purpose or it’s an absolute treasured item it does not have a place in our house. Minimalism is the way forward, we all have too much stuff. I’m not a fan of clutter.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Figure out what makes your heart sing and pursue it with passion and compassion, whether it’s a person or a job or a hobby. Have confidence to trust your gut instincts, they are normally right. Set your values in life and stick to them like glue so you’re consistent and reliable. Have a flexible mind and be willing to change direction when something is not flowing easily whether this is a situation or a with person. Don’t write people off but recognise where negative relationships are best avoided in your life. It’s often because someone has to do the work on themselves first. Sometimes that will be you. Don’t play small just to keep others happy – paddle your own canoe, and give up the need to be liked by everyone. Never going to happen! You’re better to please a few well than be an average offering to everyone.