The Patch in Winter

As I write this I’m listening to MainFM (Castlemaine’s local radio 94.9FM) – josh Meadows’ show – ‘it’s a jangle out there’, scally wag (the dog) is snoring beside me and I’m warming up some milk atop the wood fire stove top ready to whisk into cocoa… I’m really happy to be writing the blog this week (I forgot it was my turn last week and Katie saved my butt!) as I’ve been pondering lots of things lately.  This always happens when the seasons allow us to slow down a notch.  It’s just the way – shorter days mean less work hours for the likes of us (hurray!), and when there’s weeding to be done you have space to listen to all the thoughts that have been whizzing around that you haven’t had a chance to say hello to yet.

Even though the mornings are colder and I hesitate under the covers for longer than I should, there’s a warmness that is glowing out at Harcourt this last little while.  If we get there before the sun peeps its fingers over the mountains we get to watch the sunrise with Tess too, as shes there before us now milking her cow.  So we can have a cuppa and start the day all together.  Sooner or later Ant, or Katie or Hugh will arrive up to the shed and do what they need to do (packing has almost finished) then the whir of the pruning machine will slowly come into your ears from down in the apricots – Lucy is tackling the trees with pruning full of skill and love.  The dogs are a little gang now and will run around in their mucky ways (they all enjoy eating calf poo, together, gross).  If it’s a Tuesday, we will have had a cuppa with Cohen who rides out before school starts for a few hours of farm time. (legend!). Then a lil bit later, after a more reasonable get out of bed time, Marty and Cara and whoever else is joining us for half a day of volunteer time arrive ready to dive in to what jobs we’re working on that day.

Sas and I have always stood by our decision to not chase people after they’ve said they want to come out to the patch.  We know people want to, but lives are busy, and we are always here – that doesn’t change!  So if people want to come then they can.  Marty, Cara and Cohen have brought so much to our farming day.  They are the perfect example of why we don’t chase people.  They are interested and keen and it’s their own motivation that keeps them coming  (and we give ’em food too, maybe that’s it!).  The longer they stay, the more they learn.  It’s a beautiful and fair exchange.  It’s also been an eye opener to me (Katie always says it and I brush her off) that I DO know stuff and that there are definitely reasons why Sas and I do what we do.  It’s been good getting back into the head space of being clear with instructions and having jobs for us all to do.  The energy and enthusiasm they bring is truly heart warming to us and to Gung Hoe in general.  One of Sas and I’s intentions with Harcourt is that it is eventually a working educational space…having these guys out in the fields with us is like having a very informal window into our dream.

And wait, I haven’t even gotten to lunch! Sharing food is becoming a more regular occurence now, always on a Tuesday, someone cooks a big pot of something and we all bring things to chip in so we can sit down and hang out over a delicious feast (mostly grown at H’arcourt yay!).  Its funny how such a simple act can bring so much relief and rest and reassurance of your fellow human kind (i,e. laughter – we must laugh people!)

Anyone who knows me will know how much I value shared meals and big feasts and little picnics and basically bringing people together over a shared experience of food.  I know this warms Sassa’s heart too, so seeing it become a wee tradition out here is the best.

And because food comes from the earth and that is what essentially we are committing to restoring, this quote is very apt, and I love Wendell, so any chance really…

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

 – Wendell Berry

WIth the collective out here in Harcourt we are tackling some big things.  Big policy things.  Framework things.  Idea things.  And I can get a little overwhelmed sometimes feeling like it’s all a bit big!  And then put on top of that we are still trying to figure out this small-business thing, plus the balance of it with our own individual selves and lives.  Ha, it generally brings me to tears.  Not in a bad way just a whelmed way.  But having shared cuppas; people sharing the care of the land with us and learning how to then go and take care of their own little patch down the way; and eating together makes it all feel manageable again, and real.

And as I cower under the blankets in the mornings, I’m thinking more and more: how lucky I am.  When I get up I get to drive through the bush where I live which I love, past our swimming hole, the res, as see the fog gently lifting to kiss the rising light, go on back roads through vineyards where cows are grazing, ending up at our little place in this big world.  Where as Cohen says, thanks to the mount we see two sunrises each day.  Pretty great office.

And where the little people, like us, like those who currently join us and have already joined us (Tess and Ant and more to come I’m sure!).  We are creating our own adventures of learning and living in a conscious way.  As Emily Says from Brightside Produce just outside of Canberra: “Like many small business owners we’re not there yet. We have hairy moments where we hold our breath and hope the card doesn’t decline and where we dig deep into our creativity to jump the seemingly unending stream of hurdles.  This life is not romantic (who needs that shit?) but it is a deeply satisfying adventure and the only way I feel I can be in the world. During the winter I think about all of this…”

Finally, I’ll leave you with another quote that I saw from Chirons Gardens (an orchard in Robertson, NSW).  Pi didn’t say it, but she shared it and it tugged on me something strong.

Hope that you’re cosy and whatever adventure – career or personal – you’re currently on, you have your wide eyes on and are able to dive in.

Cheers Mel (and Sas)

“As farmers, we’d do well to lose the paradigm of ‘feeding the world’. If I feed my family, friends and community, I consider my job done…”

Celebration and business growth (and how to combine the two)

Our first ever bushdance (called the Gung Hoe Down) will be held on the farm next Saturday (28th) along with a mighty harvest feast to mark the end of an incredibly successful season.

It’s the brainchild of the inimitable Mel and Sas from Gung Hoe Growers, and they’ve put heaps of planning into it, from organising an excellent local band known for calling a good dance tune, to designing a delicious menu based on food grown here on the farm, to sourcing local wine and cider to sell at the event.

As the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance (HOFA) continues to take shape, feasting and celebration has been one of the consistent themes that shows up on everyone’s ‘wishlist’ of what they want out of being part of this farming collective, so we hope it becomes an annual event – or even better, just one on our calendar of celebrations!

But there’s another reason the Gung Hoes are putting so much effort into creating a fabulous event. We’ve watched in awe as they’ve built their business rapidly over the 3years since they started, doubling and then redoubling the size of their patch, and steadily building up their customer base.

They’ve applied themselves to the back-breaking work with diligence, grit and barrow-loads of determination, doing everything by hand because they haven’t had access to equipment.

 

But like so many small businesses just starting out, they’ve been doing it on a shoestring, particularly as part of their mission statement is to provide affordable food to local people, which has meant they’ve kept their prices very sensible.

The rapid growth means they desperately need more physical space for storage and packing, but without capital behind them that’s a big ask.  In their typical thrifty fashion they’ve found an incredibly low-cost way of providing the infrastructure they need – but they still need to fund it.

Rather than follow the traditional business route of going into debt, they’re applying the same innovative spirit that’s seen their business grow and gain huge community support so rapidly into exploring new ways of funding business growth. And what better way to do it than combine it with a huge celebration – hence, the Gung Hoe Down!

It’s a big risk for them, as they have to commit to a whole bunch of expenses up front, but they have faith that by putting on a great party for the community they’ll be able to achieve their financial goal. They’re aware that not everyone likes to dance, and some people can’t afford a feast, so there’s a wide range of ticketing options. Check them out here.

And we have faith in them.  This event just perfectly sums up everything that Hugh and I love about welcoming these enthusiastic young farmers onto our farm – the determination to provide delicious and nutritious food to local people at a reasonable price, the innovative and clever approach to doing business, and the impulse to have a party at every opportunity!

See you on the dance floor or at the feasting table.

 

Heirloom veggie surprises…

The beauty of growing heirloom varieties of vegetables is that it’s always a surprise. This week we cut open watermelons to find the flesh yellow…we didn’t plant any yellow watermelons, ripe canteloupes that were white fleshed…we thought we only planted orange ones…and we also harvested our first lot of beans that included yellow, purple green, and yellow with purple stripes. So much variety, so beautiful!

This time of year is nuts on the farm (do I say that every blog?). We are picking so much beautiful produce we haven’t got enough hours in the day to also be sowing, preparing beds for and planting out our autumn/winter crops. But we’re just trying to roll with it and stay positive. We can after all only do what we can do!

February veggie boxes were a hit and we’ve loved hanging out at the Theater Royal courtyard on a Tuesday evening while people come to pick up their boxes and shoot the breeze. It’s such a joy watching kids and adults alike with melon juice all over their faces and flowers in their hands as they trot off down the lane.

It’s now time to order veggie boxes for the month of March if you’re interested. Things to expect (although there are always a few unexpected surprises) are corn, beans, spuds, beets, herbs, salad, chard, kale, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, okra, onions, garlic, pumpkin, spring onions, capsicums and eggplant, phew! You can also add $10 of organic fruit to your box each week.

We ask for a month upfront payment and the boxes can be picked up Tuesday 4–6 pm at the Theatre Royal or Wed–Friday at the MAFG farm shop from 10 am to 4 pm. If you’re interested, check out the link to our online shop here:

https://gung-hoe-growers.myshopify.com/collections/produce

Another joy of working with heirloom, nonhybrid crops is the surprise of saving seed and replanting the next season. In amidst the planting and harvesting at the moment, we’re also saving seeds…next season will reveal what interesting cross-varieties we’ve accidentally created! Like this season’s freckles x salad bowl lettuce we’ve had coming up!

Grow well folks…

Sas (and Mel)