Fraser Pogue was happily farming with three generations of his family at Ardmona in northern Victoria until one day, the kids wanted to go fishing — and they couldn’t find any worms on their farm, writes CARLY MARRIOTT.

No worms on a farm? How could that be?

Fraser realised that the conventional farming techniques he’d learnt at ag college and seen around the district were not lending themselves to healthy soils. And worms love healthy soils.

Fraser didn’t know it at the time, but a lack of worms on that fateful day sent him down a rabbit hole of learning in which he experimented with a range of farming approaches.

“We were growing cereal crops and lucerne hay in a fairly conventional way,” he said.

“We looked at biological, then regenerative and sustainable, and eventually landed on certified organic. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.”

Growing nutrient-rich foods from healthy soils became the Pogues’ priority.

“It occurred to us that how we farmed and how we grew our vegie garden were very different,” Fraser said.

“The question was, why? Why weren’t we focusing on soil carbon in the paddocks, but we were in the vegie garden?”

Fraser’s curiosity was coupled with his frustration at paying big bucks for synthetic inputs and not always getting the results.

“We started out using chook manure and compost. Then our rotations started to include cover crops and legumes.

“We decided to minimise cultivation, retain stubbles and minimise fungicides.”

It has been eight years since Fraser couldn’t bait his hook and the Pogue family is now certified organic.

The worm count is up, but the chance to go fishing has diminished since the family moved into growing popcorn and selling it direct to market.

Pass the popcorn

“We started off growing commercial popcorn which mostly goes to the cinema industry,” Fraser said.

“One year, when we weren’t growing commercial popcorn, I had half a bag of seed leftover. I didn’t want to waste it, so I threw it in amongst my feed corn thinking I’d share it with friends and family.

“I hadn’t thought about how much popcorn comes from half a bag of seed. I grew a lot of extra popcorn!”

Before someone could say pass me the popcorn, the Pogues had begun direct sales of popcorn on the cob to health-conscious consumers.

Fraser’s wife Leanne, who runs her own human resources consulting firm, has now moved into the health food sector and is eating up the challenge.

“There’s a bit of magic in the popcorn popping straight from the cob. We dry it down in the paddock in the sun, pick it and post it,” Leanne said.

“People don’t realise that popcorn comes from a grain that grows on a plant, so we’re educating consumers about the origin story and providing a healthy snack at the same time.”

The Pogues’ side hustle, aptly named ‘Good Dirt’, is organically growing into the organic market, available online and through health stores and provedores in regional Victoria and Melbourne.

“We love that we’ve taken food production back to basics, the way our grandparents grew food,” Leanne said.