Solitude and a reset…

Well its been an interesting fortnight, that’s for sure! How is everyone out there? The season has definitely started to turn—I see fat buds waiting for their chance to burst and the golden blush of the first wattles across the land. I (Mel) have been away in NSW, in a little bush shack. I had the company of two dogs—Scallywag and a kelpie named Pickle—an arrangement of chooks, bellbirds, bower birds, whip birds, wombats, poetry, the beach and a hearty fireplace. Oh! and my new favourite tipple—Maidenii Vermouth.

This year has still had its ripples from the years that came before it and I knew I needed Mel solo time. I was surrounded by green and lush and life, as well as slow, quiet, and a chance to really rest and give myself some time  (I’m aware this opportunity is a big privilege and precious and view it as such). I also had moments of exploration to nearby towns for op-shops and coffee and record hunting, discovering old friends and new. I sat with solitude and ate it up, and have taken away learnings, not the least being how important it is to care for yourself and even one step further—give yourself love (might sound hippy-dippy, but it’s straight down the line true!).

This poem penned by Judith Wright (Aussie lady yiew!) was the stand out to me of how the seasons around us change, but also how the seasons in ourselves change in their own, right, and beautiful time. As with nature, it is within us…I hope you can take a moment and read the words of The Cedars.

On the way back to Victoria I had an unfortunate meeting with a corner, wet roads, and some trees. It wasn’t a good experience and we’re (Scally and me) totally lucky we’re all ok. The towtruck guy amongst others said I “shoulda bought a lottery ticket” that day… So arriving home shaken and sore, we hit the ground running with the Harcourt Alliance vision day (not as flouncy as it sounds i promise you. We worked hard!) and it was bloody amazing and reassuring how each individual around that table was thinking along the same lines as their neighbour and as it continued the whole way round. An alliance of farmers and primary producers standing tall and strong. It was awesome.

And so I’m left here, at the end of another week (but what does Friday mean really….not much for those of our ilk) with a feeling of almost a reset. It’s weird, and I’m not holding my breath, but coming back and working in the dirt, surrounded by the possibility and people involved both here in Harcourt, but all over Australia, I have a renewed sense of gratitude that growing food is what I get to do. It’s bloody hard work, and we’re not there yet (who is though!) but for now, this is absolutely the best.

May your buds burst at just the right time (even if it doesn’t seem like it to you—trust them, they know better than us).

Mel x

Gung Hoe Growers
69 Danns Rd Harcourt

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

Savouring a slow time…

Good morning!
Even though we are past the shortest day and summer (yes, not even spring!) feels just around the corner, we are still in the depths of winter.  At Gung Hoe we are still weeding and, as it’s been so dry, we are still watering too.
It really is this time of year where we have to make ourselves relish the slowness of the patch and use our time for the things we wouldn’t normally.  It’s funny.  It makes me (Mel) realise just how human and ridiculous I am having to acknowledge the tricky time I have with the slow (even though I truly savour it).
So there’s not much to report, which kind of sums up this time of year! But not for long – the next few weeks see us visiting a whole bunch of other farms, so there will be stories and learning to share a-plenty I have no doubt!
And don’t forget, we are still on the lookout for somebody to lease the organic orchard which is currently Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens!  The next few months see us planning and visioning and figuring out how to work as a team of independent enterprises on the same land, under the same roof. It’s really exciting and a whole new level of learning and working together.  Please share this around!
As the leeks are slowly turning into blades rather than green tubes and the garlic is growing bulbous without us even seeing, may we also be shifting and growing in all the good ways.
Once the weeds are under control, sit back and have a cuppa and enjoy it.
Grow well,
Mel n Sas