Field Trips Are Fun

Field trips to other people’s properties are one of the most effective ways of learning about farming (apart from actually doing it for a few years, of course).

Ant at his first ANOO conference, with Hugh and Katie
Ant at his first ANOO conference, with Hugh and Katie

We’re just back from ANOO 2019, the fifth conference of the Australian Network of Organic Orchardists.

We went back to the roots by returning to Tassie, where ANOO was born back in 2015, the brainchild of Michelle McColl from Kalangadoo Organics. It’s a pretty casual group – no committee, no office bearers, no bank account, and is based on two principles: it’s for certified organic commercial growers, and it’s a collaborative, information-sharing space.

Organic orchardists having a round table discussion at Willie Smith's Apple Shed, in the Huon valley
Organic orchardists having a round table discussion at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, in the Huon valley

Even though no-one’s a complete expert, ANOO is a gathering of farmers who are problem solving every day to grow the best fruit they possibly can.

We all face the same issues and problems, but everyone puts their own interpretation on them and solves them in their own unique way, like Simon, who uses a flame thrower in his orchard to get rid of last year’s leaves and the Black spot spores they carry, without only minimal damage to the understorey – a brilliant solution!

Simon demonstrating the flamethrower he uses to kill black spot spores in his orchard
Simon demonstrating the flamethrower he uses to kill black spot spores in his orchard

Sometimes the learning comes from noticing the differences between the farms we visit and our own. And because ANOO is set up on the principle of openness and information sharing, we get to see and hear about everyone’s mistakes, as well as their successes.

Simon's undulating orchard on the side of several hills had Ant jumping for joy
Simon’s undulating orchard on the side of several hills had Ant jumping for joy

In Tassie some of the challenges most growers face is too much vigour in the trees, and too much grass in the orchard. We wish! It’s such a contrast to our semi-arid growing conditions, and our relatively low soil carbon levels.

So it’s reassuring to benchmark ourselves against others and and assess our yields, fruit quality, and disease management against what other people are getting. Ant should feel rightly proud of the success he’s achieved with Tellurian Fruit Gardens with a minimal amount of water, and good soil and nutrition management.

Ant giving the pigs what they love at Our Mates' Farm in Geeveston
Ant giving the pigs what they love at Our Mates’ Farm in Geeveston

We saw lots of examples of animals in orchards, which gave Ant the chance to compare the different management techniques he needs to use to look after his animals in our drier and more fragile environment.

The greatest value of ANOO (or other similar networks, like Mel talked about in her blog about the Deep Winter Agrarians gathering) is having a peer group of like-minded people who “get” what you’re talking about.

There’s not many places in the world we can have in-depth conversations about Codling Moth or Black Spot without the eyes of the person you’re talking with quickly glazing over!

Where are my bloody multigrips?
Where are my bloody multigrips?

Without fail, we learn something new to bring back for the farm, and for our Grow Great Fruit members, and this year was no exception – we’re buzzing with new ideas to share.

How to feel proud to be Australian

Cohen giving his speech at the Sorry Day ceremony in Harcout
Cohen giving his speech at the Sorry Day ceremony in Harcourt

This week we have a guest spot, from Cohen Saunders who regularly volunteers here at the farm. Cohen is also on the Student Representative Council at his local high school, and won this year’s local Youth Leadership Award. Cohen gave a speech at the Sorry Day ceremony here in Harcourt, and did such a brilliant job that we asked him to write this week’s blog to share his speech.

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Hello blog readers! My name is Cohen, I’m 17, and I’ve been volunteering at the Gung Hoe Growers market garden for the past 18 months or so.

I first got involved with the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op when I did a week of work experience with Katie and Hugh, and I loved it so much that I had to come back and try my hand at cultivating veges with Sas and Mel.

Since then I’ve learnt a heap about growing food and have loved the opportunity to get out of school for a couple of hours a week and get my hands dirty, something that would otherwise be lost amongst the busy-ness of VCE, work and other commitments.

My desire to learn to grow food and work with the land was one that came to me through reading the One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, and later Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe.

Both of these authors taught me to think a bit more about how we interact with the land, and the impacts of our actions, and the work of Bruce Pascoe was exactly what came to mind when Kath Coff asked me to make a speech at the Mount Alexander Shire Sorry Day commemoration on behalf of Castlemaine Secondary College. I saw Katie afterwards and she asked me to write a little blog post with it, so here is what I said:

Good morning everybody. My name is Cohen Saunders, and I am a member of the Student Representative Council at Castlemaine Secondary College.

I acknowledge and thank Aunty Julie, Aunty Kerry and Uncle Rick, and any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people present for looking after the land that we stand on, and being so generous to share their culture with us other Australians. I also want to specifically acknowledge Kath Coff for her warmth in teaching me about Aboriginal culture and views.

Like many Australians, one of the most meaningful ways that I have experienced the wisdom of Australia’s first nations people is through reading Bruce Pascoe’s book, Dark Emu. Dark Emu is the account of life in Australia before 1788, a rewriting of history that brought to light the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been practicing agriculture and land management on Australian land for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Reading Dark Emu gave me, for one of the first times in my life, a real sense of pride for being Australian.

Our modern way of life is wrecking the planet, and here was someone telling me that, less than 300 years ago, on this very land that I live on, people had the balance right. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were able to live in such harmony with nature so as to allow them to survive in Australia for 60,000 years or more.

I felt pride in Australia, that people on this land have such a history of working with the environment in a mutually beneficial relationship, but at the same time I felt guilt, and I still do.

I’m not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, my ancestors and I belong to the culture that invaded this country and massacred thousands of first nations people. Massacre sites exist all around us, and all around Australia. This culture created the stolen generation, breaking family links that will never be mended.

How can I claim pride in Australia, when my culture has worked so hard to destroy the people that created this landscape? This is a question I have been struggling with for years, and yet still, every time I talk to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person about their culture, they are so generous in sharing their way of life with me.

After meeting with Kath Coff about this speech on Tuesday I came away with such a warm feeling. Her generosity in teaching me was so humbling, and I knew that people like her, who seem to convey their love for the land and love for people in their actions, are people that can inspire this country towards reconciliation with first nations people, and reconciliation with the environment.

Aunty Kath Coff speaking at Sorry Day
Aunty Kath Coff speaking at Sorry Day

Because, as Bruce Pascoe has shown, these are one and the same, and we need both. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have practiced such beautiful relationships with the environment for so many years, and still are.

In Queensland the Wangan and Jagalingou people are at the forefront of the Stop Adani movement, and, closer to home, the men’s and women’s business programs run by Nalderun with CSC students take Aboriginal and other Australian people on country to learn about connection to country.

Today I want to acknowledge the trauma, the violence, the massacre that my ancestors and my culture have put Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through, and I also want to say thank you. Thank you to the first nations people for showing me that living sustainably means becoming part of nature, working for the benefit of yourself and the environment. Thank you to the first nations people for showing such generosity in sharing your ways with other Australians like myself. And thank you to the first nations people for showing me what it means to be Australian.

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We asked Cohen to share his speech because we felt humbled and inspired by his sentiment, and are so happy to see thoughtful young leaders like Cohen emerging and speaking for their generation.

At one point in the ceremony Mt Alexander Shire Council Mayor Bron Machin offered Cohen her mayoral robes to keep him warm – a portent of things to come maybe?

Cohen having a practice run in the mayoral robes
Cohen having a practice run in the mayoral robes

CSA – big thanks!

Gidday out there!

As I write this the correllas, galahs and cockatoos and cacophony of other birds, dogs, cows and who knows what else are banging around and the sun is on my face.  Its a perfect autumn day, the grass is growing and covering what was dust almost a month ago. The dust of green feels like a sigh of relief; and the ever hovering thought: ‘will it rain??’ diminishes slightly.  I am reminded just how quickly we can be turned to the present when it feels do-able, ok and not that it will all collapse and die if you don’t tend to it.  

This weather is also perfect planting out weather – we need to get everything we can in the ground before the earth cools down and hibernates for the winter.  We need everything to get its grow on NOW so we can harvest it throughout winter/spring. If we leave it too late the plants/ seedlings will sit there and not grow and take up precious space not doing anything…which might seem not such a worry but on our scale and with our intensiveness this is a factor we try to eliminate as much as possible.  If you can hear a thread of anxiety running through my words you’d be completely correct.  As much as I know we do as much as we can; and every year (remember we only get one crack a year at each season!) we improve – these windows of transition are still tricky for us to juggle! There’s days I feel in the flow and then there’s days I try so hard to get my head around it that I think I’m actually ridiculously unproductive which elevates any overwhelm I already have lurking in the background!! We have a massive to-do list that lives on a white board in the shed and is pretty much our brains combined into gung hoe…sometimes i find it helpful and at other times its just TOO MUCH! as pictured here 😉

Ah well…is life, no?  We’re never completely ‘all over it’ are we, and as I heard in a podcast interviewing Mary Oliver recently, she mentioned how important it is to leave space to accommodate chance… I do believe that if we so perfectly organise our lives there is no chance for the unknown and spontaneous, and indeed isn’t that what breathes life into our steps?

The magpies are swooping out of a big gum I sit and type under, they’re singing and uplifting the spirit.  As the seasons roll on by we see the transition – the garlic is all mulched its strong green leaves are poking out of its bed of straw…and in the same moment growth has slowed and it is harder to get the mass bulk we need for boxes, caterers, cafes and restaurants so there is a glimmer in the distance of Sas and me too slowing down.  We will finish our seasonal boxes in early June for a few months, (but still continue with wholesale) so we can bunker down with the season and take stock, regain energy needed for spring/summer/autumn.  We will start with the morning sun soon rather than meeting with the moon at the beginning and end of our days, yay!

As a celebration we are holding with Ant (from Tellurian Fruit Gardens) a casual farm tour and shared potluck dinner with members of our hybrid CSA box scheme on Saturday 8th June. We will be sending out invites to everyone who has eaten and travelled the seasons with us via the electronic mail – via mailchimp – so keep an eye out y’all – and often Mailchimp can go into junk or promotions folders – so please keep an eye out in these too, we don’t want anyone to think they haven’t been invited!!! There is a registration for the event (in the email you will receive!) so we can make sure we have enough seats, toilets, water and parking space so make sure you sign up if you’re intending on joining us 🙂


We are so grateful for those in our community who support us and what we’re aiming to do in building stronger, local food systems and building soil. We understand that it takes a certain amount of understanding and tweaking of what we mostly call ‘normal’ life to live in sync with the food we have available to us in each season as its so easy to not live this way.  So in celebration of you, and for for us to celebrate the earth and everything that comes from it, we would love to show you with a short tour where the food is grown and any questions you have, and then sit around a fire, or in the shed and do what people have done for millennia by celebrating with food, together. Pretty simple, but generally it’s what is the golden ticket we reckon. 

So with that, may you be enjoying these cooler days of green and red and brown and gold and be reminded of this wisdom so beautifully penned by Wendell Berry from his poem Rising : (bearing in mind man equals all peoples 🙂 

But if a man’s life 
continues in another man, 
then the flesh will rhyme 
its part in immortal song. 
By absence, he comes again. 

There is a kinship of the fields 
that gives to the living the breath 
of the dead. The earth 
opened in the spring, opens 
in all springs. Nameless, 
ancient, many lived, we reach 
through ages with the seed.

In peace, Mel (and Sas)