All we ever do is have meetings

An alliance meeting in our kitchen
An alliance meeting in our kitchen

Setting up the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance (we’re still waiting for someone to come up with a better name….) is exciting, fun, stimulating, inspiring and reinvigorating for us old farmers, but mostly, it’s a lot of meetings!

On the phone, by Skype, in person, at offices in the city, here on the farm—we have been talking to a lot of people about this project over the last few weeks.

Meeting with Clare from Sorted4Business (in our kitchen) to work out the finer details of where all the alliance members will fit!
Meeting with Clare from Sorted4Business (in our kitchen) to work out the finer details of where all the alliance members will fit!

We’ve been going through a thorough process of interviewing and getting to know each of the applicants for the orchard lease, as we’re keen to choose the person who will be the best fit for the opportunity. We’ve had multiple meetings with other alliance members as they start to work through the detail of setting up or expanding their businesses. We’ve had regular meetings with our business consultant, Clare, to work through the many layers of complexity involved with our business development plan, we’ve met with professionals to get advice on various aspects of our plans, and had meetings with the funding body to report on our progress and discuss next steps. We almost don’t have time to farm any more!

We’ve also had some welcome interest from the media about what we’re doing, and are now starting to get inquiries from other farmers and farming groups interested in doing something similar on their farms. As part of our mission here is to develop a replicable model that can be implemented all around the country, we’re happy to share our progress so far, but all this talking is keeping us from our fruit trees!

Spring is such a crucial time of year in the orchard, when it’s more important than any other time of year to keep our eye on the ball so we can anticipate and respond to the weather to protect the trees while they’re flowering and the fruit is setting. If we stuff up now, we pay for it for the rest of the season!

gala blossom

So we’re feeling a little distracted by nurturing two completely different ‘babies’ at the moment—this year’s fruit crop, and our fledgling alliance. Both promise great things and deserve our full attention, but we can’t wait until we’ve steered them through these early, risky stages and can stand back a bit and take a breath!

October in the Patch…

Well, happy October everyone, and isn’t this the most perfect spring weather – warm sunshine, lil bits of rain, choruses of birdsong and then cooler nights.  The mozzies are out and the bees are too.  It’s all on! But it feels calm and beautiful, not like the dry, hot and dusty summer!

However, out at the patch everything is ON! It’s the turn of the season for us, the warm air and soil tells the plants its time to flower and set seed, and we need to prep beds ready for our first successions of late spring/early summer plantings for our local community! It’s wonderful to be working in the sunshine and its a great time to open up the place (when we’re not working) so people can come and have a look at what their garlic looks like in the ground and the currently grassy/weedy 1/4 block which in 1 month (eeek!) will house the tomatoes and eggplants, capsicums, potatoes, melons, pumpkins, corn…the list goes on!! 

A few weeks ago we had our first ‘open day’ and it was a roaring success! We were so blown away with the interest and support from the wider community in our humble patch.  I reckon we had 50-80 peeps through the gate to have a gander and walk around. So nice for Sas and I as that’s one of our visions for our space – to have it as a welcoming place.  There were scones devoured, questions asked, information sought and seedlings taken home. Thanks again to everyone who helped beforehand and during and everyone who made the trip out!

Another exciting tidbit to share is that there is movement with the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance…here’s a wee story and article that Rural ABC came and did last week.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-09-29/organic-coop-combines-vermouth-and-dairy/8999866

Pretty exciting to introduce Tess as the new dairy queen who is beginning building her things this month, wahoo!

 

Due to progress with the alliance, Sas and I have been motivated to plant more trees…it’s pretty novel for us market gardeners to plant something ONCE, and we’ve enjoyed it immensely.  In the ground are oranges of a few varieties, Tahitian limes and elderflowers. In the future we want blood oranges, grapefuits, lemons, pomegranates, and some more natives.  All of these are creating for our new block edible shade and wind breaks.  Winning!

We’ve also moved our geenhouse (thanks chuffed!) onsite and it’s working a dream. Sas has set up automated watering systems and has planted thousands of green babies that are poking their heads up already. It’s really heart warming to see!

As there is SO MUCH to always do (at any time of year really) as everything grows so quick, including grass and weeds, our mental health and anxiety levels are doing pretty darn great I reckon. We’re looking after ourselves and each other and we’ve got a beaut mob who surround us too.  We also make sure we have some off-farm fun time and exercise other elements of life we enjoy – aka silly buggers, music and dog boxing…

I think this is important for us in order to keep the passion and still work really hard. We know the crazy 6 months have begun and we want to do the long yards…so we’re practising breathing, laughing, appreciating the beauty surrounding us and taking life lightly. Cos really, what else can we do?

Grow well and go smell a blossom or two.

Mel xx

Gung Hoe Growers

69 Danns Rd Harcourt

Getting Up Close and Personal

If you follow us on Facebook, you might be seeing a bit more of our faces in coming weeks, because we’ve started doing Facebook Live videos.

Thumbnail of this week's Facebook Live video showing Katie talking about apricots in spring
Thumbnail of this week’s Facebook Live video showing Katie talking about apricots in spring

We need to put in a little disclaimer right at the start—don’t expect anything too professional, we’re definitely better farmers than we are videographers, and this first video is a bit ropey, especially the sound. We didn’t realise what a difference a bit of wind would make and it sounds like there’s a jet engine firing up in the background, but we’ll get that sorted before we do the next one!

So, why are we putting ourselves through the mild torture of videoing ourselves regularly when we could be quietly going about the business of growing organic fruit?

Doing a home visit to help someone get the most out of their fruit trees
Doing a home visit to help someone get the most out of their fruit trees

Because even though we’ve been teaching organic fruit growing for a few years now, we got a sharp reminder last week about how many people out there are still not aware of why it’s so important that as many people as possible learn how to nurture the soil and grow their own food.

It’s easy for us to get complacent because we’re often surrounded by people who ‘get’ that our food system is under serious pressure, so we were pretty shocked and saddened when we attended a function recently where one of the drawcards was the ‘sustainable’ food supplied for morning tea—every item was imported, out of season, or highly processed! And there was no organic produce at all! What was worse was that the organisers knew they had organic growers present and made a point of letting us know they’d put some thought into the food. Their version of ‘sustainable’ was to include some fruit and a couple of salads alongside the highly processed deep-fried offerings.

We could have wept…

But, instead, we went back to the drawing board and thought about what else we can do to help to get the message out there about the many, many benefits that come from growing at least a small portion of your own food organically, as well as sourcing food that has been grown in a regenerative farming system. People need to understand that these simple choices are incredibly powerful, and can make a real difference to your health and well-being, your family budget, and the health of the planet. And we decided we need to do it in a way that’s easy for people to access, free, and not too hard for us to produce. Hence, Facebook Live!

We’re probably also influenced by a dinner we had recently with some close friends who told us—almost in passing—that they’ve decided to pull out their fruit trees because they’re sick of putting in all the work of looking after the trees and not getting any fruit year after year, and why should they bother any more when they can just buy beautiful organic fruit from us?

Well, we were honoured, but also deeply saddened. These guys are great gardeners, take a lot of pride in it, and produce almost enough vegies to feed their family all year. But they were giving up on their fruit trees. They’d never joined any of our teaching programs because they didn’t want to muddy the waters of our friendship, they hadn’t wanted to impose on the friendship by asking for free advice, and we hadn’t wanted to offer unsolicited advice either. But we know they’re “that close” to getting a great crop from their fruit trees, there’s just small gaps in their knowledge that mean they’ve been missing a few small crucial jobs each year that have made the difference between success and failure.

Katie getting some spring jobs done in the orchardSo, we’re making it personal! We’ve realised we need to step it up a notch and provide a heap more information that touches people in a different way to get our message out there more effectively. We want to bring people onto the farm (without actually bringing them all onto the farm…) so you can see for yourself in real time what’s involved with producing your food, and that with the right guidance it’s really not that hard!

Look out for us in coming weeks and months—you’ll be seeing our faces a bit more often from now on (and please don’t judge us on our lack of video skills!).

Hugh standing near the fruit trees doing a site visit