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

Deep Winter…and connections

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destiny 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

I’ve just come back from a small-farmers’ gathering called ‘Deep Winter Agrarians’ that this year was held in Bangalow, NSW.  Small farmers, meaning small scale relative to what most people consider ‘normal’ farming.  By no means was it a small gathering—there was 250–300 people in attendance every day!  Friday saw us touring 5 local farms/growing spaces, all quite different markets, styles of farming and some examples of various leasing systems.

Saturday saw us meet in a beautiful early 1900s hall nestled next to the Bangalow Showground, eating local honeycomb and politely lingering around the kitchen for coffee. We began with a Welcome to Country from the local mob. It was really amazing and set the tone for a lot of conversations over the rest of the weekend. We were not only led through the ‘official’ welcome to country, but then were taken through a guided reflective, spiritual-like connection to country that was genuine and genuinely welcoming.

After being welcomed and taken to the level above tokenism, we split up into several groups of different workshops with topics such as land access and agreements, certification, and paddock to plate, chef, and consumer education. I went to the land access one and appreciated the amount of different models there are out there currently in Australia. However, land sharing/leasing is definitely becoming the norm, as access is becoming harder and harder, especially for small-scale farmers, let alone those of us who are just starting up. Frameworks for alliances/agreements—such as what we are about to embark upon out here in Harcourt—are definitely cutting edge, and as a whole movement we are all creating a new way of using land, together.

Being amidst that action is exciting and literally groundbreaking (yes, thats a pun!). There was an interesting conversation around the language used around people ‘owning’ land (surely no-one OWNS land, right?) and we were challenged to imagine how we can incorporate treaty and indigenous history past and present into our legal plans. It was really refreshing and forward visioning to think about how do we want land access to be possible in the future, what history the land holds for indigenous people, and actually asking the land what it wants to show us.  I really appreciated both the positive lens and the respectful mind that challenged and reminded us to seriously work with the land in a holistic way.

After a delicious lunch of amazing soup there was another round of workshop discussion groups and then getting ready for Saturday night’s feast! It was a beautiful combination of farmers, produce, and chefs working together to provide incredible food. I don’t normally get to eat out that well! It was a reminder that in this business you eat like kings. It was a relaxed social event of eating too much, pinning down those people you hadn’t had a chance to chat with earlier in the piece, and being kept warm by a massive bonfire into the wee hours.

So, what did I take away from the weekend, apart from feeling incredibly shy the first few days? Compared to 2 years ago when I first went, this year it was all farmers, and a few farmers’ friends rather than food outlets or policy changers. I’ve gathered a few good quotes that will stick in my brain for a while to be sure, such as “food yields community”.  The idea that building good soil builds community made me think especially about the alliance at Harcourt with lots of different ventures (veg, fruit, chickens, ducks, cows) all working together for the best outcome for the earth and the animals (the good soil bit) and how it will no doubt also build community.

I struggle to use the word community sometimes cos I feel it’s overused and wrongly used, but refreshingly this weekend it was a pleasant and exciting word again. I saw the overrepresentation of market gardeners and could see the boom from 2 years ago in our field.  My theory is that this is because veg has the easiest and quickest turn around of planting, money, and personal gratification, and way less red tape to go through. You can also do it on a very small scale. It was promising to see a few animal peeps there, edible flowers, cut flowers and grain farmers. It’s exciting as I feel they are the next ones to boom, which means our food system will become that much stronger.

One of the discussions was around different community-supported agriculture (CSA) models and distribution frameworks. It was a nice reminder to see for Sas and me how much our values underpin our decisions in regards to access and modes of selling, and that there is (of course) no one way that is ‘right’ as every climate, farmer, community, soil, and lifestyle is different.

The final morning saw us being led by a pear orchardist from Roberston, NSW in a little session called yoga for farmers, which can be practised in jeans, hehe. Pi Wei reminded us that we have to look at our body the way we look at the land—regeneratively.  She led us through some stretches and a few movements but the main thing she was teaching us was to check in with our body, read its landscape, and take care of it. After that session, Erika, who farms in the Blue Mountains, NSW remarked to me the new tool shed she’s building will now have a human tool bit to it, where you rebuild the body just the same as sharpening tools—love it!!  It is not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as understanding of our own inner wild natures fade. — Clarissa Pinkola Estes

It was a pleasure to keep the company of Tess, who is about to start her micro dairy here in Harcourt, and continue to be amazed at her amount of knowledge and depth of understanding of what she wants to do.

Coming together over Deep Winter introduced me and reintroduced me to people from all over Australia who I respect and admire in the same vein.  The core point of deep winter is to connect with other farmers during the depths of winter (when stuff can be tough), and warm the heart’s hearth, so to speak. It’s a gathering where we can learn from one another, realise we’re not alone, and continue to grow the revolution of small-scale farming to feed the land and our communities.

Thanks for listening! Mel x

Choosing the right fruit tree

2003-oct-12-netting-81It’s that time of year again, when our minds turn to planting some new fruit trees. Winter is the right time for planting, when the trees are dormant and their roots are inactive, so they’re at less risk of being damaged by being lifted from the soil in the nursery where they grew, transported (bare-rooted), and then planted in their new home.

Choosing the right variety is exciting, but always seems to be a challenge, both for first timers and experienced gardeners. And it is tricky, because you’re (usually) choosing varieties you’re not really familiar with, so you’re not sure of when they’ll ripen, whether they’ll suit your climate, if they’re going to ripen at the same time as a similar fruit you already have in the garden, or even whether you’ll like them.

pa-lucy-planting-trees-480x359

Which is one of the reasons that fruit tree gardens are such a pleasure, because each autumn you get to review how they performed during summer, whether you’re getting enough – and the right types – of fruit, and make new decisions to keep improving the garden every year. It’s a constant work in progress, and an endless source of delight. It’s easy to see why it becomes a life-long passion for lots of people.

We reckon the keys to creating food security in your own backyard come from creating a regular supply of fruit over the whole growing season (as opposed to periods of glut and scarcity), extending the harvest period as long as possible, and having as big a variety of fruit as possible.

autumn fruit bowl
autumn fruit bowl containing 7 different varieties

So an easy way to think about your garden review and start choosing your new varieties is to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. How many months did I have fresh fruit available?
  2. Did I have glut periods where I had more fruit than I needed?
  3. Did I go through periods where I had to buy fruit because there was none ready in the garden?
  4.  Am I growing all my favourites?

Your answers will give you a great starting point for making some choices for this year’s trees – look for varieties that will extend the season either at the beginning or end, ripen at the times when you are having to buy fruit, or provide you with some of your favourites. You might have to do some clever thinking around creating microclimates if your climate doesn’t quite suit the ‘favourites’ that you’d like to plant.

Of course, planting more trees is not the only solution – a lot of problems can also be resolved by grafting to make an overproductive tree into a multigraft, for example. But that’s a story for another blog!