Nestled beneath the Weatherhead Range, Peppermint Ridge was first named by Julie’s father Max Weatherhead. Max loved the endemic species of narrow and broad leaved peppermint eucalypt trees that grow on the property. The property was then part of the Weatherhead family farm at Tynong North.
The peppermint produces a high quality eucalyptus oil and this was the first agricultural production at the property in the 1890s. Max and Julie set up a eucalyptus oil still at Cornucopia home farm in the 1970s to show others how it was done. Those pioneers sent the oil to Melbourne in 20lt drums to make eucalyptus lollies as one of the first Tynong North industries along with sawmilling.
Peppermint Ridge was a grazing property for beef cattle.
Inspired by the idea of leading a sustainable lifestyle, Julie & Anthony acquired the property in 1983. They immediately began developing a sustainable management plan to restore some of the lost habitat and to create a polyculture farm using adapted permaculture principles. The aim was to demonstrate how productive agriculture can be undertaken in harmony with the natural environment.
The five year plan involved fencing off all of the remnant bushland and waterways and creating a network of biolinks across the property so that all paddocks were protected with wide windbreaks planted with indigenous species in three layers to create new native habitats that draw in native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to provide precious ecosystem services.
The plantings have helped establish microclimates across the farm that ensure no animals ever suffer from heat or cold stress. The extra vegetation has really improved the ambience of the farm too.
The farm now has a wide range of native species that call it home. Echidnas wander through the gardens, bower birds arrive in early autumn and kangaroos graze on the slopes in the early evening.
The polyculture developed includes sheep, Eucalypt plantation for oil, chooks , a large vegetable garden and orchard, bush food gardens and timber plantations.
The plan took more than five years to complete.
In 1996, Julie and Anthony embarked on a new journey. They were keen to establish an education centre that would inspire others to manage their land more sustainably. Searching for ideas on a building to house their education centre, they were fortunate in 1997 to purchase the original Nar Nar Goon North schoolhouse. Built in 1928, the building had already been relocated to the Pakenham Consolidated school in the 1950s. Julie had been a primary school student in the old schoolhouse in the 1960’s at Pakenham.
The building was cut in three and transported to the farm in January 1997. The schoolhouse was opened in that year with the farm being thrown open to the public with over 1000 people in attendance.
Anthony and Julie established a Registered Training Organisation and offered the Certificates and Diploma of Landcare and the Diploma of Conservation & Land Management for 10 years with many students. They pioneered a unique study mode which enabled students to attend weekend workshops at the farm and completing assignments from home using study materials. At the same time they operated one of the first free range egg farms with 600 hens.
From the late 1990s their interest grew in Bush Foods. Julie produced her first recipe book featuring some of the more popular bushfoods. The schoolhouse evolved to become a café and centre for training in organic vegetable gardening and bush foods. The bush foods cooking classes developed a little later.
During that time a lot of research went into developing a suite of bush food plants that that would survive in the temperate zones of Australia. Julie and Anthony now offer monthly lunches and dinners, classes in bush food cooking, organic vegetable and bush food growing. They often give talks to interested groups on BushFoods for your Backyard.
In 2011, the Living Heritage Centre was opened by Julie and Anthony at the original Weatherhead family property down the road at Cornucopia. The exhibition focuses on Australia’s environmental history and the important place of Aboriginal people in that history.
Peppermint Ridge Farm pays its respects to the Kulin Nation, the traditional owners of the land, their elders past and present.