5 Minutes with a local farmer
Meet John Fairley, a generational and passionate farmer at the family owned and operated local dairy 'Country Valley' situated in the rolling hills of Picton. Be inspired by his love for the industry and find out what John loves most about the business community here in the Dilly.
First things first, tell us about yourself
I was born in Camden and lived in Wollondilly all my life. After attending Picton primary I was accepted into Hurlstone Agricultural High School and later studied at Tocal College full time in agricultural education, returning to the farm in 1979. I have worked on Abbotsford my whole life.
In 2003 we decided to build a factory to process our own milk which started in 2004, as well as continuing to run the dairy. In the 17 years since, there have been lots of ups and downs. We have won every award possible at the Sydney Royal Agricultural Societies Cheese and Dairy competitions and supported many charities. On the downside has been the record floods, droughts, bushfires and now Covid-19.
I am now trying to slow down and hand over the running of the business to Tom, my eldest child. Ellen my youngest has made her name in the coffee scene in Sydney.
What about Country Valley? What’s the story there?
The reason Country Valley was because of the deregulation of the Dairy Industry. The profits in the industries were shifted away from the farmer and to the processors and retailers. We decided to vertically integrate the business to have more control over our destiny.
We buy in organic milk and produce conventional milk within the farm following regenerative principles. We also produce yoghurt and cream. What I love is tasting the excellent coffee, desserts and butter that people make out of our product. Seeing it as grass in the Wollondilly Shire and then sitting in some of the best coffee shops and restaurants in Sydney is very satisfying. We sell our products at 8 farmers markets and it is great to get the feedback from customers. It’s usually “your milk tastes like it used to when I was young”.
In your opinion, why Wollondilly?
The people and location. We can sit in one of the four coffee shops in town and always have someone to chat to. The support we get through the supermarkets for our product is amazing. Wollondilly has many wonderful attractions, so you don’t have to travel far. Thirlmere Lakes, Burragorang lookout, Picton Botanic Gardens and our walking tracks are all excellent, just to name a few!
We also hope in the future to provide farm tours to welcome visitors. And the proximity of Wollondilly to the beaches of Wollongong, the city of Sydney and the Southern Highlands makes it easy to enjoy many and varied experiences.
And now the business community, what do you love most about it?
The support our business community show each other is invaluable. People buy our products and then we buy as many of our supplies as locally as possible. For example, for the fuel for our vehicles we choose a locally owned BP service station over a corporate owned station, who in turn buy our milk!
What makes your customers unique?
All customers are special because they ‘get it’. Buying local and Australian makes a big difference. Typically they are aware of the food they eat and don’t mind paying a little extra for it.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to open a business in the Dilly?
Do it. I estimate to have access to approximately 8 million people with 2.5 hours of the region. You will get great support from the local market too!
Business owners are often driven by an inspiring influence. Who was yours?
There are so many. My Dad, Aunty Joan, one of my teachers at Hurlstone, and then there are also
business people I follow such as Richard Branson and Joel Salatin.
And just for fun… If you could have any band play in your backyard, who would it be?