Last week I was lucky enough to arrange time for a phone interview with Carla from Holy Goat, located in Sutton Grange, Victoria. Carla and her partner Ann-Marie established their goat farm gradually after several years learning the nuances of goat herding on other’s farms, both at home and abroad.
As well as farming, Carla spent 7 years in Bendigo managing a domestic violence centre and developed a program focusing on supporting children, called ‘Solving the Jigsaw.’
Why have you agreed to participate in this project?
I like that you’re focusing on women in this field and it turns out one of the incredible strengths of our farm is that we’re a really attractive destination for young women who want to learn. About a third of our staff are women who have travelled from Europe and the US to learn alongside us.
Why are you passionate about being involved in these collectives?
Women in agriculture is so important. A lot of our staff express to us that when they come to this farm as women they get to learn everything as there is no division of labour between men and women. You’ve got to be really careful when you have men come to the farm that it doesn't destabilise what we experience here as women.
How did you become involved in this field?
Ann-Marie and I both had a lot of contact with goats while doing farming degrees in Warnambul (Victoria) and always liked the idea of having a goat herd. We have always had an interest in food and liked the see the transformation of a product.
Around that time in 1993 we took a year off our teaching jobs and went traveling. We spent 6 months in Spain, then on to France, Holland and Ireland where we learned from lots of people. After learning a little bit of cheesemaking in Ireland, we decided to establish the first Australian organic goat from. Did 2 years of working on others farms, decided to do it ourselves.
If any, can you run us through some trials or tribulations you’ve faced based on your gender?
When we’ve employed men in the past some haven't been able to manage themselves in the team, as they haven't been allowed to have their normal largess and they can find it hard to adjust to that. Men sometimes feel limited because we won’t give them a larger share of what are traditionally masculine activities. It’s been really interesting to develop a farm that’s incredibly feminine, this is a very tidy and beautiful farm. Theres a lot of room for beauty on our farm.
How do you think we can challenge these attitudes in future?
For us its a process of nurturing whoever comes to work here and that they really grow in their abilities, capacities and therefore they have the skills to prove themselves. One of our workers has been here for 7 years and is starting her own dairy soon, and we think that’s wonderful. The biggest thing is for us as women to provide a really great work environment to allow for women to excel and become whatever they want to become. If they want to establish their own businesses they need to understand their own capacity and not to be limited. The structure that we’ve created really provides those opportunities and we hope that some of the people that worked here continue and have a lot of self confidence and belief. They learn to solve problems, fix machines, become professional people. One of the most important things I learned from that is to never be afraid of extending yourself as it makes you a more employable person.
Are there any women in your industry that inspire you?
When working in Ireland we worked with Mary, who was 67 years old. She was the most amazing woman, a force, and had a reputation as being very innovative. She had a great intuition for animals and their needs and wants. She was a wonderful teacher, she taught us so much about being farmers. She taught me to never put myself into misery. She also taught me to sense the animals and see them not with intention but to trust them.
This led on to an awareness of my surroundings. For instance the last farm we worked on in Western Australia. What some might see as flat and desolate, I learned to see as gently rolling hills and beautiful light and colour that made me personally feel connected to the continent I lived on. It taught me the shape and beauty of the land. I’ve found these experiences incredibly formative in how to find yourself in the landscape and fall in love with it and to never war with it, even when it’s harsh.
What are you most proud of?
I think I'm most proud of having found the most amazing partner in Ann-Marie and that was something really special. I’m proud of making the most of the opportunity of who we were and not wasting the largeness of what we could achieve and do because we were together. The worst thing we could have done was to stay in teaching jobs and not be much more adventurous what with we do in the world.
What are your projections for the future?
We have beautiful native grasses on the farm and we want to develop it as a tree plantation. We want to try to create a dense tree plantation with trees that have purposes and want to make something incredible with all the native species from this area. Making something dense, rich and the most incredible food source for birds. Watching birds and trees and health that comes with the blossoming of trees is unbelievable.