Friday, 16 December 2011

INTERVIEW with Lee of Killiecrankie Farm

Originally “townies from the mainland”, Lee and her husband, Chris, moved to their 24-hectare property in northern Tasmania six years ago and started their very own Christmas tree farm! They’ve named their farm “Killiecrankie” and manage the land with their three children, Neve (eight), Aimee (six) and Tristan (three) in tow. I came into contact with Lee via Country Style Magazine & Morey Media, who pointed me to their feature of the farm in the December 2011 issue.

What does your average day look like?
Fresh coffee in-bed at about 7am from the hubbie, kids lunches, school run, then its just Tristan and I for the day if he is home. At the moment we are picking raspberries for the freezer, and tending to chooks and vegie patch, in between watering the nursery and trampoline sessions. Generally I save “work” for when the kids aren’t about, trying to keep the work/family balance as clean cut as possible. If it’s one of my kid free days, it’s work boots, long pants, old shirts and an array of machinery for either tending the Christmas Trees, or a quieter day potting up in the nursery. With two new business’ kicking off this year, quiet times are few and far between, but as we ease into it, there are more times for a bit more creativity.

In Country Style, you described yourselves as “former townies from the city”. What sparked the change of starting your own farm at Tamar Valley?
I don’t think we ever had a light bulb moment for a sea change. When my to-be husband and I met, one of our key points of similarity was that we would both like a “block”. We are outdoors people, and spent most of our youth bushwalking, diving, rock climbing and mountain biking, so it seemed natural that we had space around us. We have both worked in outdoor jobs professionally, so office work has never been an attraction. I suppose you could say our lives have been building towards farm life. Maybe its in our blood, both of our families were pioneer settlers who ran farms for generations, we are just the ones that returned to how we started!


How did you go about making this change?
Once we decided to stay in Tasmania (after moving here to work between overseas trips) it was awful, it took two years to get our farm, we were always outbid when it came to purchasing our farm. And then it was barren, a single fence around 60acres, no house, no trees. Of course it all coincided with having children, so it was building with a toddler and a pram and a big baby belly. Giving up work to have kids was an easy decision, we wanted to be about for our kids and not have them bought up by child-carers. We were lucky to have a stable single income to support that choice, but the belts have been very tight. When it came time for me to find work, the usual problem of a middle age mum getting part-time work came to the fore. No work hours were available, then there was little work for my qualifications and the only choice was to retrain or do something I wasn’t interested in. This galvanised my decision to go it for ourselves, and we haven’t looked back. Its hard work, both physically and mentally, I wish we started earlier, but then I’d never have given up cycle touring Tasmania, Europe and New Zealand to get that head start!

What are some of the biggest challenges and most lovely surprises you’ve had since starting Killiecrankie Farm?
Things haven’t always gone to plan, our original business idea was stolen by a stockist and we hadn’t a farthing to fight them for it. When it came to the Christmas Trees we kept our lips buttoned until the last minute, which made it hard for marketing but the scars ran deep and we had to protect what was our future more then hope for high sales in our first year. But now we are well and truly out there! There are huge business support options available for new ideas, which help you streamline your paths, but never any seed funding for people not on “cards” so you have to be prepared to be fully self funding. The best things have been people supporting us, family friends and the farming community. I think when people see that you are improving a neglected farm, they appreciate your effort. Once we started cutting trees the wonderful emotion that people have bought to the farm has made it all worth the blood, sweat and tears. The joy of Christmas has been lifted for us, it’s so much more then the retail hype and the tension of commercial gift buying. People are here because they love the sense and traditions of Christmas – it’s so heartfelt!


I’m aware you also grow and sell plants throughout the year and produce prime beef products, but I’m dying to know… Why Christmas trees?
Its odd, but another natural progression – a horticulturist and a forester – equals Christmas Trees. We never thought “no one else is doing this”, we did the wrong thing by not starting a business clinically, just doing what we wanted because we liked the idea of mixing a love for Christmas with something we were theoretically qualified to do! But hey its seems to be working! 

You talk on your website a commitment to a sustainable lifestyle. How has your new life on the farm changed the way you consume?
I suppose the first thing is an appreciation for good food. You would never buy lamb from a supermarket again if you tasted how “real lamb” was like, and growing your own sure makes that easy. Growing our own has curbed our shopping for the sake of it, we’d rather wait and eat by the seasons so we get good tasting food rather then “just food”. Living out of town has removed the compulsive shopping that you fall into, but having a single income will do that anyway! Having the farm has meant we can go back to the roots of life, tuning into the seasons and weather because it impacts on what we do and what we grow. It sounds very hippie, but it’s more like getting back to reality for us. The kids have a freedom and independence at the farm and understand where a meal comes from because they can hand pick it. It also means they don’t eat takeaway or bought cakes – “Its yuk !” – but when you’ve been bought up on gourmet can you blame them? In the end its so much simpler then trying to decode the side of a food carton these days – for that change alone I’m thankful we made the change.


You mentioned in Country Style that you live in a likeminded and supportive community. Tell us more about the Tamar Valley community and how it is the same/different from other communities you’ve lived in.
I suppose when we lived in town it was insular, everyone was always at work or some after school activity. The neighbourhoods had become so quiet. Here, we see each other on the school runs, go to community meetings together, be it visiting other producers or workshops on soil health, our kids ride bikes to each others farms and we are kind of all in the same industry so to speak – rural life. It’s brought community solidarity through managing the land and we support each other to do so. We are all keen to succeed for ourselves and the sake of the community we live in – nurturing the place where we are.

Chris and yourself have degrees in horticulture and forestry. What advice would you give to garden ‘beginners’ who long for the country move?
Just do it, you learn as you go, you learn what you need to do the jobs at hand, no bits of paper are needed. If you become involved in the community where you live, the support and knowledge is there. I think you can have this in town, its just about getting out of the box of the 1/4 acre yard and shut-in lifestyle – community interaction draws you out of yourself!

For more information on Killiecrankie Farm, visit their beautiful blog or shoot Lee an email.

To read the CountryStyle feature on Lee and Killiecrankie Farm, you can also pick up the December issue of Country Style magazine (currently on sale). Additionally, to find out more information or to join the conversation, people can visit the Country Style facebook page.

A MASSIVE thanks to Country Style & Morey Media for getting Lee & I in contact. Aaaaand an even bigger thanks to Lee for doing the interview… I loved hearing about your life and am feeling super inspired and encouraged to choose my own path to a creative and sustainable life.

Kate xxx


  1. You've found some great photos out of the archives Kate !
    Thanks so much for your insightful questions, it was lovely to chat.
    Hope to see you on the Apple Isle - we'll save you a few raspberries !

  2. Great interview and a wonderful lady.

  3. Our beautiful Xmas tree from the gorgeous Lee, has made us feel all Christmassy. A lovely interview!

  4. Naw Lee is lovely! And YAY for raspberries!


thanks for your comments, I love to hear from you!


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