You may have seen that we recently had the team from EarthWhile Australia host soil health workshops around our region! The knowledgeable EarthWhile ladies, Bonnie Dunlop and Ellen Walker, taught us all about the importance of looking after soil and gave us a glimpse into the microscope to see for ourselves!
The NACC NRM team, along with some local landholders, and even a group of Wandina Primary school students were all lucky enough to participate in the workshops, and now it’s time for you to get to know Ellen and Bonnie a bit better in this month’s #PeopleOfNRM!
Bonnie: I’m Bonnie Dunlop from Byford, WA. I spent most of my childhood, however, growing up on 100 acres in Serpentine where we had an organic vineyard, grew our own vegetables, and raised our own chooks, geese, rabbits, ducks, guinea pigs, guinea fowl, quails, dogs, cats, a cow (that thought it was a dog) and the rest of the menagerie! I was surrounded by nature and bushland and still to this day am grateful to my mother who annoyingly (at the time) made us come out and watch the sunset every day on the horizon from the hilltop that we lived on.
I then moved to Esperance for roughly 4 years, where I met my now-husband, before moving back to Perth where I’ve settled… for now!
Ellen: I’m Ellen Walker and I am also from Byford, WA!
What are your roles at EarthWhile?
Bonnie: I am a founding Partner of EarthWhile along with Georgina Marsh and Ellen Walker. Initially my role was predominately accounts and administrative, but I love being hands on and ‘in the field’, so I am currently under the training of the wonderful Ellen as a presenter, and workshop facilitator. As equal partners and owners of EarthWhile Australia, we certainly all have our areas of expertise that shine through and compliment and support each other, but when we need to, we are more than happy to pick up someone else’s ‘role’.
What is EarthWhile’s main purpose and mission?
Bonnie: EarthWhile Australia’s main mission is to raise awareness about the importance of soil microbes for a myriad of reasons (including soil health, plant health, animal and human health, environmental protection, water retention, and getting carbon back in our soils) in the hope that we can protect these small but mighty guys! If you’ve seen us present before, you would know that we love Sir David Attenborough’s quote, “No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced”; We want people to experience their Microbes!! And if we can get just one more person to consider soil microbes in their decision-making processes, then we consider our mission complete!
What draws you to the Northern Agricultural Region?
Ellen: My grandparents farmed in the Dongara/Mingenew areas and my mum was born there. More recently, through attending farm field days, the wonderful people we’ve met, and the subsequent invites we’ve had to raise awareness of the amazing world of soil microbes.
What can our readers be expecting to see from you or from EarthWhile?
Bonnie: You will find us wherever there’s an interest in soil health. We gladly tailor our services to meet our client’s needs, be it presenting to Home Gardeners, Farmers, School Children, Horse Owners, Small Landholders, Market Gardeners etc.
How did you each get into soil health?
Bonnie: Looking back over my childhood, I think I have always had an interest in sustainable care for our Earth. We were raised to be in awe and gratitude for all that the Earth provides us, so wanting to protect the Earth comes naturally. My interest specifically in the soil began when I was interested in growing my own organic vegetables to feed my family. I quickly learned that if you want delicious, nutrient-dense food that resists pest attack (without chemicals), I needed to consider soil and soil microbes as part of my system. The more I learned about soil microbes, the more I realised how integral caring for them was in caring for our Earth.
Ellen: Both my parents came from small-scale farming backgrounds -so maybe there’s something in my genes that led me down this path. More recently working with the Serpentine Jarrahdale Food and Farm Alliance, attending soil health conferences, and then, for me the big one…. Getting to see microbes through a microscope …. Real live soil microbes! I was hooked.
What has been a career highlight for you both, while working in the Sustainable Agriculture industry?
Bonnie: It’s hard to beat hearing the excited “Oh my goodness!” of our participants, as they bring the microscope into focus and finally see some microbes! But a highlight for me was getting to spend time on a client’s property, and enjoying an evening picnic in the paddock as the sunset, surrounded by mama cows and their calves.
Ellen: Being named Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (ESTEAM) champions in 2019 by Peel Bright Minds, and being selected to do a TEDx talk on soil microbes in 2020.
Are there any exciting projects or events on the horizon for EarthWhile?
Both: We are excited about being involved with the WA Carbon Farming and Land Restoration Program, and coming back to the Northern Agricultural Region to work with more farmers!