Recently awarded a Humongous Fungus Award by a gardening group, Leesa Cornford once chose what she describes as a scary path – transforming an eight-acre cattle property along Old Bay Road in Deception Bay into a productive permaculture farm. Five years on, Leesa’s aspirations extend beyond the Little Farm to building connections in the community.
After initially purchasing the property for a co-housing project, prohibitive costs and logistics gave Leesa an opportunity to put her “crazy ideas” out there – designing a permaculture garden, improving the soil with horse manure and coffee grounds from a local café, and planting an orchard. Drainage channels were added to facilitate the removal of excess water from the property in extreme weather, preventing root rot in the orchard. She also incorporated swales to retain soil moisture during the driest periods.
The orchard responded and the dragon fruit flourished. In 2019, “It was a problem because I had so much,” she says.
But that was a turning point. Leesa successfully turned the problem into a solution, opening a fruit stall at her farm gate and Leesa's Little Farm was born.
“I try to have some (produce) available most weekends,” she says. “Mandarins, oranges, limes, lemons, and in summer there's lots of dragon fruit.”
Leesa has supplied dragon fruit to retail outlets, local restaurants and REKO (an online outlet purchasing directly from the farmer).
“My main passion is for people to be excited and empowered about growing some of their food”
“I interplant staple food crops like zucchini, cucumber, tomato and eggplant with other veggies (lettuce, bok choy, Chinese cabbage) and flowers, so that when the primary crop is watered, the secondary crop also gets a drink too,” she says.
Lemongrass and arrowroot are crops she grows and harvests to use as mulch to improve the soil ecology.
“With healthy soils, you get healthy plants,” she says.
According to Leesa, even the leaves of Cobbler’s pegs are edible, so she sees weeds as valuable resources for a garden.
“Chop the top off the weed and let the root decompose in the soil, which ultimately feeds the soil,” she says, but confesses she has learned to live with certain pests because, “At the end of the day, gardening is so abundant – you don’t mind a few going to the birds as they need to eat as well.”
Her approach to gardening is not just about growing produce and sharing surplus crops, it is also about community education and engagement. She recently helped establish an edible exchange and craft swap group in Deception Bay called Grow, Make, and Bake.
“My main passion is for people to be excited and empowered about growing some of their food,” she says. “Supporting them to begin their own food journey, even if it is just a pot of herbs.”
Leesa plans to incorporate an outdoor kitchen and workshop space to teach people how to cook with their garden plants. She envisages linking with community gardens and allied services to engage with both young people and older adults who feel lonely or disconnected.
By building connections in the community through gardening and growing food, Leesa says, “Working together is stronger than working apart.”