The co-op gets newsletter-y

(NOTE: The interview from Mossy Willow Farm from South Coast Victoria quoted in this blog has a language warning.)

This time last year Ant, Tess, Mel, Sas, Katie and Hugh were sitting around a table covered with food and pens, papers, ideas, coffee, tea, cake…we had a lot of ‘meetings’ going on and amidst growing and selling we were all pretty tired.

SO why were we having bloody meetings? We were committing to gather to nut out together what the ‘Harcourt Farming Co-op’ even was, let alone it’s name (that came way later!).  It involved figuring out a little bit of a vision, if we even needed to be a co-op or if we just leased separately off Katie and Hugh, our values as a combined team; so many things! 

Mel, Scally, Ziggy and Sas going having a wild ride
Mel, Scally, Ziggy and Sas having a wild ride

When you start something new you have no idea what you’re doing, how to do it and what it will become…ha!  A year on and we are slowly starting to combine forces (enterprises) in a way that enables us to do things in the same vein as ‘many hands make light work’.  We are starting closed loop systems and figuring out how we can make separate businesses make best use of being members of a co-operative.

Tessa's cows devouring Gung Hoe vegie scraps
Tessa’s cows devouring Gung Hoe vegie scraps

Logistical things such as marketing, branding and financial things aside there are many more layers to who and what is evolving up on the hill.  
As all young farmers the accessibility to land is something that none of us really had.  Unable to purchase ‘land’ is a very common sticking point for people wanting to become farmers who do not have links to family land.  Setting up the co-op has involved each business having their own lease with Katie and Hugh, so basically we all pay for what we use.  The amount of land, the amount of water, the amount of electricity. 

"We as a society have forgotten that a farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist." Wendell Berry quote
Quote by Wendell Berry

We are in the stages of completing the ‘hub infrastructure’ which involves a Gung Hoe packing shed, tool shed, lunch room/office area, bathroom and laundry; thanks to a Regional Development Victoria grant Katie and Hugh applied for and received last year, under the Food Source Victoria funding. 

Katie explaining the Harcourt Organic Fruit Tree Nursery at our open day
Katie explaining the Harcourt Organic Fruit Tree Nursery at our open day

For us Hoes who have been sharing a shed for 4 years (and for Katie, Hugh and now Ant who use it primarily for packing and sorting tonnes of fruit) the idea of a space where we can do invoicing work or having a shared meal is brilliant!  It’s important to take breaks, but can be hard to when everyone around is working hard!

Tess cooling down on a hot day with her icecream phone
Tess cooling down on a hot day with her icecream phone

Which moves me onto the next point, which for me (Mel) is one of the most poignant…having other people around on the farm means we are building a community of small scale farmers all working together to support one another and look after the land on which we grow. 

Tess builds soil with rotating herds and a mobile dairy unit; Gung Hoe build soil with plant rotations, organic matter, green manures; Ant uses compost teas on the fruit trees, slashes to keep the grasses in their growth cycle which sequesters more carbon and he is experimenting with grazing poultry through the rows; the heritage nursery is keeping alive old varieties whilst Grow Great Fruit is Katie and Hugh’s online business that assists home growers to make a difference to their patch of dirt wherever they may be.

Being surrounded by people who are busy creating a better world in the way they know how is inspiring.  To me that is one of the standouts of this bunch of young and old farmers on the hill. 

Katie’s Dad, Merv, lends a hand weeding, packing fruit and admiring the cows…the farm family continues to grow with weekly volunteers and all the different workers coming on to hook up electricals, build the creamery, and visiting the farm shop.

What we are aiming to create is a way in which the entire property can be productive and regenerative and feed the farmers who are looking after and learning the land; with food, with community, with good systems which support the humans and keep them in the game as well as feeding the heart and soul.

(had to get a lil hippy in there ;))

Quote from interview with Mossy Willow Farm, South Coast Victoria
Quote from interview with Mossy Willow Farm, South Coast Victoria

If you want to keep abreast of all that’s happening in one place, each business is taking turns to write a monthly newsletter…this is how you can walk, laugh, cry, party, eat and learn with us! You can sign up for the HOFC newsletter by clicking this link (and we won’t bombard you with emails, we promise!)

Thankyou for all the support out there for what we are trying to build … you’re part of it too!!

Grow well in all the ways!

Mel (one of the dirty hoes)

A bit of resilience….

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
My tasks lie in their places
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labour,
Mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it.  As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move. 

— Wendell Berry

Hi out there!  I hope you are having a moment’s breath and soaking up the rain we got yesterday and are enjoying the cool change like me (Mel).  Whilst I was picking lettuce at dawn on Tuesday I had this whole blog written out in my mind.  I love the meditative state I can find myself in whilst completing some tasks.  The blog I’d composed was actually quite negative and there were tears forming if I allowed myself to go there.  You see, Tuesday morning through to Tuesday afternoon is a big picking and packing day for us.  We are currently providing 40-odd houses (affectionately named ‘boxies’ – they have committed to buying a small or large veg box off us for the summer season) with weekly veg and still up keeping a somewhat regular supply of salad, veg and edible flowers to local restaurants, cafes, caterers and occasionally sell bulk produce to a few green grocers in town too.  So, Tuesdays we arrive at the farm 5.3 0am, put the coffee on the stove, the irrigation on, water the seedlings in the hardening-off area and after we write all the orders and divvy up which box gets what we set out to pick ‘n pack it all.

Usually by this time of year we are drowning in summer produce and are needing to pick every 2 days, and it was this that made the old eyes start to well.  As I was picking the lettuce (which looked beautiful) all I could see around me was what I deemed as failure.  The green tomatoes staring at us = failure; the basil just plumping up after being in the ground for 2 months = failure; the zuchs with a few fruit on them = failure; the cucamelons from Mexico that are meant to love drought are splattered with baby fruit a few mm long but not really what I’d call abundant picking = failure; the capsicums under their shade cloth with but a few fruit = failure; the eggplants showering again with flowers and bees but small fruit = failure; the corn with its wind-shrivelled leaves and flowers = failure; the beans with fried flowers from the wind = no beans = failure.  A few successes but for the most part what I felt surrounded by was failure. 

I walked back to the shed to splash water on the buckets of leaves I’d picked and put them in the coolroom when I ran into Sas who was bunching kale/silverbeet and restaurants’ herbs…mentioned the failure feeling to her and I was met with an unexpected response: ‘I know!!  It’s all I can see…’. So it wasn’t just me being extra hormonal or something if Sas was experiencing it too. We had a quick chat about it and went back to picking our respective vegies. In our quick chat we had both identified the need to build not just eco-system and food resilience, but mental resilience. We are not strangers to the failure feelings (I’d even be so bold to say that everyone experiences them) and we are getting better at acknowledging them and identifying why we’re feeling that way and if it’s within our control or not.  So Tuesday morning we both came to the fact that this season’s current challenge (as all seasons have at least one) has been the heat. And without wanting to bang on about it, the consequences of it are really tough! Next year we will be better prepared, plan for another hot season and no doubt we will have a wet, mouldy etc etc season and there will be more blogs about wet and mildew ha! (…or it could be just right and nature and us will nail it!). But in the meantime we have to just keep plodding on in the current reality. We get one shot at each season each year…. 

Another thing we acknowledged to ourselves were expectations. Our own expectations and what we think others’ expectations of us are. We want to provide everyone with what summer normally provides! For example, tomatoes big and small, yellow and black and red. But we aren’t doing that.  We feel like we aren’t providing what we should be – thus we have failed and let people down and people will think we’re not trying hard enough, aren’t very good, won’t trust us with their stomachs again…etc etc. It’s a whole spiral when you start going down that tunnel. Which is so bloomin’ easy to do. Hence why we spoke about mental resilience instead.  

We both finished the fragile leaves that need to be carefully picked and bunched before the sun’s rays get too hot by 9am and sat down for a coffee (yes, another one!) and breakfast with Tessa (the legend behind the microdairy) in the shed. We asked her about mental resilience and we spoke about it a bit more. Later that day when I was weighing and bagging up salad leaves for boxes and restaurants, Katie was packing fruit and so I also asked her about the failure feelings. I’m still yet to hear the gems of wisdom from her lived experience, but she spoke about the reality of that feeling being common with farmers. Her decade of farming in drought and seeing farmers commit suicide saw her build mental resilience I reckon – Katie I’m still gonna hunt down that conversation with you!  

Again there was that affirmation that these feelings are very real. So I think I’m still left with pondering a bit of how to build that said mental resilience.  I think we’re doing heaps better this year with that than any other year.  Even though we’re very green (young/new) at farming we do have a few years under our belt now, simply to know that something always goes wrong, there’s always pests depending on the condition of the seasons and if we try hard enough we do remember that we are producing good food, to people and our community and that were getting better each year.  

One of the reasons we wanted to do veggie boxes apart from it stemming from the value of wanting to offer affordable, locally grown, chemical free food to families in our community, was also to have direct contact with people who are eating the food! When we deliver to restaurants we have big smiles for the chefs who produce works of art with our produce – but we don’t get to sit at the table when customers eat the fresh salad leaves and the crisp, peppery watermelon radish… 

Having direct contact and seeing stuff go home to houses has a lot of value for us. I think this year we have seen potentially the other side of this value in action too. This isn’t a cry for comments or anything like that – just a transparent slide from our side acknowledging the fact that we take it very seriously that people have committed to eating with us for a season. So I guess where my I’m left is with the reality of the season and our capacity is what it is. We work hard and do our best. And at the end of the day we laugh and cry and laugh, work in a stunning outdoor office surrounded by other beautiful hardworking souls farming and we love what we do…

And now, you can go back up to the top and read the Wendell Berry poem again and it might make more sense 🙂

Peace out, do some dance steps or jump around to thrash – whatever’s your fancy; and as Leunig would say, go pat a dog. 

Mel   

Feeding people in a changing climate

Today the temperature is set to top 43° with winds up to 50 km/hr. Not an unusual summers day in these parts, but with climate change realities becoming more and more pronounced we can expect days like these to get more and more frequent. Feeding people in a changing climate is a huge challenge and one we as farmers are faced with every day. So today, in preparation for the heat and winds, we tuck all our delicate crops in under shade cloth, water early early to get the moisture down into the soil, mulch what we can and watch for the cool change.

This time of year is slightly nerve wracking. We start our 5-6 month veggie box season in 2 weeks, and many of our crops are only just starting to fruit. A few days like today can completely wipe out whole rows of things and set us back months. Our box customers pay upfront for their boxes, so we are committed to delivering boxes in 2 weeks’ time, but nature doesn’t always keep to our timelines!

This morning I picked the first of our zucchinis and cucumbers and looked at the baby eggplants and tomatoes slowly expanding on their plants.  So far so good.

 

Last year we provided 40 mixed vegetable boxes to our community for 5 months. This year we are hoping to provide 50 boxes for 6 months. If you’re interested in getting a box, there are still some available. We have a small weekly box for $30/wk (suitable for 1-3 people) and a large box for $50/wk (suitable for 3-5 people. There is the optional extra of $10 worth of gorgeous organic fruit from Tellurian Fruit Gardens too.

We ask our box customers to commit to 3 months at a time, which makes the admin and planning so much easier for us, but if that kind of upfront payment isn’t possible for you we are always happy to work something out. Pick ups are from The Farm shop on Wednesdays 10 am- 1 pm and Fridays 10 am – 1 pm and we are also doing a Castlemaine drop off at the Theater Royal courtyard on Wednesdays 5-6 pm. Boxes start on 17 Jan (fingers crossed!)

To order a veggie box, go to our Open Food Network shop:

https://openfoodnetwork.org.au/gunghoegrowers/shop

Thanks to everyone who has supported us throughout 2018, we’re looking forward to another year of growing real food for our people.

Happy New Year to you all, may your 2019 be full of peaceful and joyful abundance!

Sas (and Mel)

Gung Hoe Growers