How (and why) to buy local food

still vegies in autumn in sheltered microclimate

 

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We don’t buy much fruit (no surprises there), and now that we have the wonderful Gung Hoe market garden on the farm, as well as the vegies that my Dad grows in our on-farm tree nursery plus the produce from our new Farm Shop Garden, we also don’t have to buy many vegies any more. The freezers are full of lamb (from my sister’s farm), duck and pork from our neighbours, and rabbit from our own farm (where they’re a bloody pest!).

 

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Hugh has recently taken up smoking (in a good way!) and built a smoker, so we’re enjoying our own home-cured and smoked bacon (using meat from the pork-growing neighbour). Eggs, honey, cheese, milk and olive oil all come from local farms via our own farm shop and the farmers market, and we harvest our own olives, almonds and citrus from the garden. Our pantry is full of home-made preserves, and we’ve just started learning how to make our own vinegar.

 

bacon laura home made

 

In short, there’s not much food we have to buy that travels any great distance – coffee, tea, sugar and grains mainly. These days, we struggle to spend more than $100 a week on groceries, while eating an almost exclusively local, organic diet – not because we’re particularly faddist about our food, but because we make it a priority to grow as much of our own food as we can, and to access what we can’t grow as locally as possible. We’re also devoted to shopping at farmers markets!

Then we go into the supermarket (to buy toilet paper), see the aisles full of processed food, much of it imported, and remember with a sinking heart that most people still buy most of their food there. Most of the food in supermarkets has taken massive amounts of fossil fuel to grow, process and transport . In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver estimates that if every US citizen ate just one meal a week of local and organic food, the US could reduce itsoil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil per week. Australia is not the US of course, but our supermarket shelves look very similar!

I recently heard a representative from Coles saying that “Coles is in the business of giving people what they want”, by which she meant that if customers want cherries in June, Coles will give them cherries in June, even if they have to import them from California (or wherever) to do so.  While they’re no doubt providing fantastic customer service, are supermarkets actually doing us a disservice by disconnecting us so completely from the seasonality that is intrinsic to food production?

As farmers who sell directly to the people who eat our food, we feel like a big part of what we do is replace the knowledge about food and seasonality that has been lost just in the last generation or two. It’s one of the reasons we sell all of our fruit by named variety, so that our customers see that each variety comes and goes quite quickly, within just a few weeks usually. You might be able to buy peaches for months, but you can only buy O’Henry peaches for a couple of weeks.

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We figure this is a subtle way to reconnect people with what “local food” actually means, and that by being connected with it they’ll value it.  It’s incredibly important to support your local farmers, and by “support” we mean seek out and buy from. It not only reduces the amount of fossil fuels that are used to produce your food, but it also keeps farmland in production and helps rural communities stay alive. The best food – for us, for the planet and for our communities – is the food we grow where we live.  It’s one of the (many) reasons we love and support accredited farmers markets, because they’ve taken the hard work out of trying to figure out what “local” means. As long as you’re buying at an accredited market, you can be sure the food you’ll be eating is both local, and seasonal.

When I started the Farmers Markets Building Communities project at the beginning of my year as RIRDC Victorian Rural Woman of the Year, I somewhat naively expressed my dream of seeing a weekly farmers market in every community, and of them becoming the place where most people routinely go to do their shopping. In my dream, everyone remembers that you can’t eat cherries in June, and they buy pears instead. We’re clearly not there yet, but boy do we need to be!

Cheers, Katie


RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award – week 49

As my year as the Victorian Rural Women’s Award winner starts to wind down my commitments have been fewer, but many opportunities continue to open up for me, as I’m sure they will continue to do for years to come as a result of my experiences this year.  In the last few weeks I have:

  • Been invited to participate in the Women in Agriculture Forum hosted by the Victorian Minister for Agriculture
  • Participated in a forum held by the Australian Futures Project about how to make Victoria’s food system more sustainable
  • Been on the panel to select the 2016 RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award winner
  • Been offered a new board position

My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” has been made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.

Happy (..almost) 1 year!

Well, its almost been a whole year out at the patch and for the last month of that we have done a lot of debriefing, talking and sharing…about our almost year.  Since neither of us have much other paid work at present, we have been able to commit our designated time to the patch, and fit other things around it. Completely opposite to the way we started last year…just for a simple picture, Sas and her partner were in the middle of building a house!  However, lo and behold, no work means we are feeling semi-organised and able to set things in place, execute, and move forward! Hurrah! This may seem like I’m talking in code, but alas, I’m not. Finally we’re planning our planting in full sections, full rows (I know…ssshhh) and real rotations. We’re getting serious. (Well, as serious as we clowns can get, anyway…)
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This commitment is spurred on by our thrice-weekly harvests and selling of everything we put out into the world. Selling to cafes and restaurants, community members, the farm gate shop and mixed vegie/fruit boxes we do with Katie and Hugh. There is a demand, and slowly we are starting to be consistently productive to meet it.
The motivation also comes from seeing our creation begin to really live its own life…sounds tacky I know, but truly!  The flowers, the bees, the bugs, the fruit, the veg, the snakes (!)… the pulsing beauty of things being alive.
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So, one of our main aims this year is to keep that pulse pumping.  We want to bulk up and be consistent with our produce. Well, as consistent as weather, bugs and our humanness allow.  In our planning, we have measured out another block to add to the current ‘patch’.  It might not seem like much, but under intense production, you can grow a lot in 1/4 of an acre. We have a working bee next Wednesday (24th – 8am-2pm, so please come!), which hopefully will put all the willing hands to work!
Its been a funny thing asking the greater world for help in such a way. I think both Sas and I like working hard, plugging away, ‘making it work’; none of which I think negatively about. However, when i look back at last year, I see digging. So much endless digging. Even with the help we had, it simply felt hard. I’m not so naive to think this farming business isn’t hard, but I’m looking forward to this year where there will be other ‘hard’ things.
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And it’s actually a nice place to want to open up your little patch to the scrutiny of others. Hmm, maybe ‘nice’ isn’t the right word, but it’s a place to a step in the direction I reckon. It definitely pushes me out of my comfort zone, sharing what I’ve worked so hard on. But in a positive stretching way…which can only mean good things.
Making changes and having an action plan for this year gives me confidence to step forward more boldly into the year with heart and joy. With next week looming it also brings me much appreciation for friends, community, people who want to see a richer, stronger food system standing with us. This gives me hope and strength.
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So thank you people. Thank you for bees that pollinate. Thank you for Sas who so tirelessly gifts almond croissants and gives hilarious names for vegies that cannot be mentioned here. Thank you for Katie and Hugh who continue to support us and only ever wish the best for us and stand ever with us.
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Thank you for another season of growing and learning; the plants, the weather, the soil and ourselves.
WAHOOOO!!
Mel and Sas
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Wild places

People need wild places. Whether or not we think we do, we do. We need to be able to taste grace and know again that we desire it. We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers. To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd. It reminds us why, in those cases in which our plans might influence many future generations, we ought to choose carefully. Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own. Barbara Kingsolver

There are a lot of straight lines in a market garden. I get it. I get the efficiency and the scale of it and all the logical reasons for it. There is a deep, intuitive and permacultural part of me, however, that rebels against anything straight and orderly in a garden. Its feels somehow too controlling, too boring and too arrogant to try to enforce ‘straight and orderly’ in the wild and wonderful natural world.

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The rows in our market garden are (relatively) straight and (sometimes) orderly but insects, dogs, wind, rain, weeds and volunteer veggies ensure that nothing is too perfect. There is also an odd-shaped section of the patch that was, until this week, a bit of a black spot in our vision. We had a sense that this was a place we could be a bit more creative but the weeds outgrew our initial creativity and we let it go a little wild.

On a whim this week we decided to transform this wild space into another kind of wild space. With spades as our brushes, compost as our paint and a flurry of creative energy, we dug over new beds in the shape of a sun with a circular bed in the middle which will be our sitting, sipping and contemplating spot. A spot to pause and breathe, to observe quietly and patiently and to let the wild around us and within us come alive…our wild zone.2016-02-04-gung-hoe-2

Here we will plant perennial herbs, and other kinds of medicinal, edible and simply beautiful flowering plants…for the insects, the birds and the humans to enjoy together. A patch that isn’t so much about productivity and efficiency as much as beauty and wonder. A place we can sit and contemplate Leanganook (Mt Alexander) standing strong and ancient beside us and glimpse flashes of the pardalotes catching insects from under the purslane. Somewhere we can breathe in, remember to look up and see who is circling with the clouds today….

In wildness…

Sas and Mel