Farmer’s very green thumbs still painted red
MICHELE Stephens is not someone you would expect to crawl out from underneath a tractor with her immaculately manicured fingers clutching a spanner.
Originally a city girl, she once couldn't even start a mower.
Now she runs her own farm, maintains her tractor, ploughs using a chainsaw, works on irrigation, fencing, planting and harvesting and then sells the resulting produce at her farm stall.
Michele is the wife of Murwillumbah GP Dr Ian Kettle and the mother of four teenagers.
Her passion is the land and organic farming.
Her organic vegie plot covers 23ha of Cudgen's prime red soil at 529 Cudgen Rd.
"I started farming 12 years ago as a complete novice, and I wouldn't have lasted if it wasn't for the local farmers," Michele says.
"They took me under their wing and shared their knowledge and advised me and walked my land and helped me unreservedly.
"I'm proud to call them friends, and be accepted by them as a farmer, even though I still paint my nails red."
Ian said: "It's her farm and she's committed to it and it's totally Michele's own project and we all pitch in and help when we can."
The pair met in the 1980s at the Prince of Wales Children's Hospital in Sydney, where both worked in the paediatric unit.
Dr Kettle was the paediatric registrar.
There was an immediate attraction between them and after becoming a couple they travelled together as backpackers for a year before returning home to marry and have kids.
"Travelling opened our eyes to how lucky we are in Australia to have the space and to be able to buy country land and live and raise a family there," Michele said.
"When a position came up for a GP practice in Murwillumbah township, we took it and settled in the village but always checked out the local rural opportunities.
"Then years later visiting a friend in Cudgen we were introduced to his farmer neighbour; he was ill and selling.
"As he talked about his life there and his love and the attachment he had for the land, his words stirred something in me.
"You know in your heart when something is right and the pieces fit together, and we knew it was meant for us, and the deciding factor was the high protection status many Cudgen farm acreages come under.
"It's hard to describe how perfect some days are when I pick my own avocados I've grown on this rich soil, then look over the red earth and green pastures to the mountains and over to the west, the sea.
"It doesn't get any better than this and I love this land and its beauty.
"It's the best and hardest challenge I've ever had, and each day is different.
"Now I know and under-stand how important to a healthy society good natural food is and the flow-on benefits."