Touching reason Byron Bay sisters took on eco-friendly farm

If you’ve let a houseplant die on your watch then you probably know just how needy gardens can be, but two young sisters living outside of Byron Bay have taken on the responsibility of a whole farm.

When their father passed away four years ago, Anastasia, 21, and Julia Vanderbyl, 23, were determined not to let his land die with him and set about working to save his tropical orchard in NSW.

Julia and Anastasia stand in front of a hand painted shed and wear overalls. There is a sheep on top of the shed.
The sisters have been excited to see a renewed interest in sustainable farming. Source: Mother the Mountain

Anastasia and Julia begin their morning by leading the animals out of their sheds — where they sleep safe from goannas and snakes — and into the lush, green paddocks.

“We are always repairing and upgrading their pens to keep them safe from predators — right now we are working on a chicken dome tractor made from our old, childhood trampoline and we just finished a pen made from an old bed frame!” Julia tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“Spring is a particularly busy time with baby animals popping up across the farm and learning about the world.”


Sleepy duckling a viral hit

While planting, weeding and mulching is a dawn to dusk activity, the ladies make sure to find time to shove their shovels aside and share their journey with the world through their Mother the Mountain online “eco-farm diary”.

Each day the sisters post pictures that celebrate the milestones of their adorable ducklings and lambs, but there’s one little creature that animal lovers just can’t get enough of.

‘Nasturtium’ the duckling melted hearts across the globe after “duck mumma” Anastasia shared a video to Instagram of the fluffy bird gently falling asleep wearing a flower on her head.

It’s videos like these that are helping spread awareness not just about how cute animals are, but how we can farm in a more sustainable, eco-friendly way.

“When the ducklings are young, we take them to forage with us while we garden, and teach them to eat pests and weeds,” Julia explains.

“While I was gardening Anastasia was watching sleepy Nasturtium, who was being so gentle and sweet that she put a flower hat on her head.

“We’re so lucky that we filmed it and shared the video as it seems to have caught the hearts of so many people!”

Close up of Anastasia's chest. She is in a purple dress and clutching three yellow ducklings.
"Duck mumma" Anastasia shows off three of her beloved ducklings. Source: Mother the Mountain

Because the duckings heartily chow down on bugs, slugs and snails, there is no need for chemical pesticides and Julia’s goats are willing to help too.

Unfortunately, it’s not just weeds that goats love to eat and sometimes they want the good stuff too.

“Sometimes when the goats sneak into our garden and eat all of the broccoli that we have watched grow for weeks, it feels so frustrating,” Julia reveals.

“But then you get back into the garden and it feels so rewarding just to be there.”

Looking after a farm has challenges far greater than losing a few vegetables, and the ladies have had to learn to be tough in order to protect their home.

Living on fifty acres surrounded by forest can be life-threatening once the weather heats up.

“Last year the farm was threatened by bushfires which was one of the hardest challenges we have ever faced,” Julia said.

“As we defended our home we only realised how privileged we are to have had this safe and abundant life so far, and that we could never leave.”

Farming backyards and balconies

In an effort to restore the land to a more natural state, Anastasia and Julia employ a ‘circular system’ wherein they rotate each paddock between their animals and their crops.

While not everyone can put their lives on hold and start a sustainable farm, there are small steps everyone can make to make the planet a healthier place.

With many of us spending more time at home, Julia has seen a renewed interest in home gardening and has received many messages of support.

The two sisters, Julia and Anastasia, sit on the ground with ducklings and sheep.
Spring is the time when baby animals need caring for. Source: Mother the Mountain

“We are so excited by the farming renaissance that is occurring, how people in these turbulent times feel that they can no longer rely on the unsustainable food systems that are in place,” she says.

“There are so many inspiring people filling backyards and balconies and footpaths with food!

“Even with the smallest space, there is so much that can be grown! Other than this, there are many ways to support the right kinds of agriculture. If you can, buy local, organic and in season.

“Food that is grown this way is less damaging to our earth, supports biodiversity, and hasn’t travelled long distances in unnecessary packaging to get to your kitchen.”

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