• Karen Kinnersly

Paddock to plate

Take a slow, winding journey by road to find the Byron Shire’s most enchanting culinary destinations, where contemporary country dining is set within the rolling fields of a 120-acre working cattle farm.

Step inside this architecturally designed and converted timber barn in the hinterland hamlet of Nashua, and settle in for a long banquet-style lunch with a difference. At Frida’s Field, the focus is on farm-to-table, produce-driven cuisine that celebrates the seasons and ecological farming practices, offering a unique twist to the region’s burgeoning regenative agriculture movement.

Tucked away on a sustainable cattle farm, just 10 minutes drive from Bangalow and 25 minutes from Byron, Mullum, Lismore and Ballina, Frida’s Field offers a dining experience like no other in the Northern Rivers. Patrons are served long-table-style, while the farm’s resident Angus-Wagyu cattle provide a suitable starring role to the banquet, roaming a stone’s throw from the barn against a stunning backdrop of pastoral views.

As passionate foodies, having an interest in growing food and farming was a natural extension for Frida’s Field owners, Edward Rawlings and Jeanie Wylie, who purchased the century-old farm in 2015 and live on-site with their three young kids. The couple carries with them a huge excitement to be part of the growing regenerative agriculture movement in the Northern Rivers and use farming practices that actively reverse environmental degradation while producing more natural, flavourful, and nutritious food.

“Travelling and working in India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia and Europe, we revelled in the local food cultures, and while living in London and exploring Europe, we were further inspired by the attention on provenance, artisanship and food ethics. These experiences solidified our desire to live on the land and be involved in food production once we returned to Australia,” Jeanie tells us of their road to creating Frida’s Field. “We left our city lives in 2011 and spent four years living on the family farm where Edward grew up in Queensland, testing out whether we really liked country living by breeding Tamworth pigs and establishing a market garden. It was during this time that the idea of a paddock-to-plate restaurant began to take shape.”

Ready to commit to finding their “forever farm”, the family headed to the Byron Bay Hinterland, where they believed they could also become a part of a community of like-minded people. “And we did!” Jeanie says. “Our dream of making a living by growing food has developed and evolved as we have dealt with the realities of the market and come into contact with inspiring, progressive ideas such as regenerative agriculture and agroforestry. We’ve been really open and willing to take risks, experiment and use trial-and-error to move our way forward. And we have been lucky to find amazing people to work with who have more experience than us in this area and are willing to help us to transform our vision into a reality at Frida’s Field.”

Jeanie and Edward strive to transform the property from a blank canvas into a productive farm that generates an abundance of different types of food, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, spices, bush tucker, meats, and eggs. “We want to share this food directly with others and grow it in a way that’s better for us (in terms of flavour and health) and better for the planet. By necessity, we have started small with things like our own Wagyu-Angus beef when it is available (beef is seasonal too!); plus garnishes, herbs and any vegetables or fruits that we have sufficient of to serve or transform into preserves,” Jeanie says.

The couple breeds and manages the working cattle farm with holistic principles, rotating their herd across 16 smaller paddocks, allowing the pastures to regenerate, and improving the organic matter in the farm’s soils which actively removes carbon from the atmosphere. Over time, they plan to implement a silvopasture system — planting trees into the pastures — which has a vast range of benefits, including improvements in carbon sequestration, water retention, biodiversity, soil health and animal welfare. They’re also building a food forest system for the farm, starting with an orchard behind the restaurant and two 100 rows on the adjacent North-facing hill, which can expand over time.

Seasonality also drives the artfully designed menu at Frida’s Field. Multi-award-winning Head Chef Alastair Waddell (or Ally as he’s affectionately known) brings formidable experience to the paddock-to-plate concept as the former Head Chef at both the luxurious resort Qualia on Hamilton Island and local icon Harvest Newrybar (he’s a three-time winner of The Australian Good Food Guide’s one hat award, to boot!). Waddell has carefully curated four long lunches per week for Frida’s Field, with ever-changing omnivore and vegetarian set menu selections served as a communal feast. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the farm kitchen offers up dishes that celebrate delicious, produce-driven cuisine using seasonal crops grown right here on the farm, as well as produce from other local growers.

The half-acre market garden at Frida’s Field produces various herbs and vegetables using organic gardening techniques such as composting and mulching, crop rotation, companion planting, all-natural fertiliser teas and worm farms. By engaging with the community and bringing them onto the farm to enjoy bountiful long lunches, the family can keep investing in this ecological farming system and its integration with their kitchen.

And the drinks menu is just as grassroots. The restaurant aims to support natural and minimal-intervention small-batch wines made by producers with a similar ethos, plus there’s a range of locally-made beers, spirits, and cocktails including a Margarita made with their own house-made mandarin liquor with fruit plucked fresh from the orchards at Frida’s Field.

Jeanie says the couple gathers inspiration from their local community to craft the Frida’s Field experience. “The Northern Rivers is such a progressive place. There’s lots of positive motivation to make deeper commitments to building a more sustainable future for humanity on the planet. That influences a lot of what we are trying to achieve with our farm and restaurant. We love supporting other local businesses and groups who take responsibility into their own hands to build positive changes towards a more sustainable future.”

Discover more at fridasfield.com


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