Peaches and cream…

It’s happening! We are expanding our patch from 0.5 acres to 1.5 acres. Eek! We have been growing incrementally by design and out of necessity since we started over four years ago. Starting with 1/8 of an acre and then slowly taking on more land as time, finance and energy allowed. But seriously, an extra acre…? That’s a leap. 

Hugh and Oli gazing in awe at the Gung Hoe's new patch
Hugh and Oli gazing in awe at the Gung Hoe’s new patch

It will help us produce more veggies but also allow us to be more efficient by having large chunks of the land resting in green manures  and ready for the next season’s crop. Slowly over time we’re testing the boundaries of what size growing area is both viable and manageable, and this is the next step on that journey.

Sas getting her Daikon
Sas getting her Daikon

After the old orchard trees were ripped out, lovely Dave Griffiths, who Yeomans ploughed and worked his soil magic on our last patch, came and Yeomansed the new acre. He commented on how extremely compacted the ground was after decades of tractors driving up and down it and rows running down hill that carry water away rather than across the slope to sow and catch the water.  The Yeomans plough is designed in such a way that it deep rips the soil, opening it up and aerating it without turning it over and disrupting the soil structure. This helps let air and water into the soil .

Dave's Yeoman Plough
Dave’s Yeoman Plough

Since Dave’s plough went through, we’ve been rotary hoeing the soil to loosen it enough to get a crop of green manure sown into it while these lovely rains are coming. Progressively from December onwards we’re going to work with Tessa to put the cows on the green manure crop, eating, pooing, weeing and trampling it where we would normally use our bodies and walk behind tractor. It’s a bit of an experiment inspired by the Holistic Management(HM) course that we’ve been doing the last few months. Come January and February, the new patch (which we’ve called ‘Peaches and Cream’ because of its previous history as orchard and our use of the cows in it) will be ready for us to plant our autumn crops into. In theory!

Sas studying hard at the HM course
Sas studying hard at the HM course

One of the many things that has come out of the HM course we’ve been doing is that we have reviewed and written our Holistic Context for Gung Hoe. Part of this is like a ‘statement of purpose’ or ‘vision statement’ which we would like to share coz its helped us re-invigorate our focus and motivation to keep doing what we’re doing. Here it is:

“We nourish ourselves and our community with the life force of the food we grow. By daring to do things differently, we work with the elements to grow thriving, robust, diverse and joyful communities of living things.”

Like all vision statements, it isn’t worth the paper its written on unless you have the means and motivation to bring it into reality as well as continually reflecting on it adapting it as things change.  That’s what we’re pulling apart by creating our whole business holistic management plan. So stay tuned for more developments.

We’re also gearing up for our next season of veggie boxes. Mel has been madly plugging away at planning the crop rotations and numbers of crops that we need to grow in order to feed people well and consistently over the next 8 months. Sas takes that plan and numbers and turns it into the right number of babies in the hothouse to plant out at the right time. Part of our planning process for the next season is to do a little ten question feedback survey for all the people who have got veggie boxes off us before. This helps us review what has worked and what hasn’t and improve our boxes for the next round.

Maka investigating the new Gung Hoe "Peaches and Cream" block
Maka investigating the new Gung Hoe “Peaches and Cream” block

If you have five minutes and wouldn’t mind answering our veggie box feedback survey, that would be amazing! It really helps us do the best we can, to feed you!

That’s all for now. Who ever said that winter was the quiet time in farming!!

Grow well

Sas (and Mel)

VEGGIE BOX SURVEY link:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HNYJTZT

Gung Hoe Growers
69 Danns Rd Harcourt

Deep Winter 2019

Hi there out there, hope this finds you well.  We are in the middle of the deep, dark winter out here with cold fingers, sunny (hurrah!) skies, wet soil and busy minds…

In mid June Sas, Ant (amongst heaps of others) and I travelled to South Australia’s Fleurieu peninsula to the fifth annual ‘Deep Winter Gathering’.  It has been three years since I attended and for Sas four, so we were nervous / excited.  I don’t know if anyone else has this feeling ever but I know that I can get nervous being in a room full of people (especially farmers!) and feel like I have no right to be there… so I was determined to not bow down to mind scuffles and engage with the weekend and others right from the start…lets just say I did better than 3 years ago!

It was brilliant to see people in the flesh that I often ‘like’ their photos and stories on social media and connect in real time.  SO good actually.  Because online only tells part of the story and is short, becasue our attention spans suc these days; but hugging someone for real and having a coffee/cuppa/beer/wine and true conversation cannot be beat.  It’s really refreshing being around a bunch of people who completely get what you do because they do it too.  Its the same in any community, skill or trade I reckon.  


This year the organisers were South Australia (it moves states every year) had organised a key speaker for the weekend; which Sas and I were really looking forward to hearing.  His name was Walter Jehne, an Australian and a soil micro biologist.  Woohoo – wisdom on soil that also understand Australian soils.  He was fantastic.  All about building soil, maintaining soil hydration, sequestering carbon, farming to reduce carbon emissions and potentially draw back the effects of climate change…  All things that we harp on about regularly.  His ability to explain scientific processess in a way that is accessible, interesting and poetic was incredible.

However what I took from him that has stuck most prominently in my brain is how what we do actually  questions the status quo. (Dont worry, I have all the practical, scientific stuff written down and Sas and I have started to mull over and are keen to put into action plans this winter too).  I dont see myself or Gung Hoe Growers as crazily weird or different or challenging.  I see it as enacting our values to want to feed our community real, healthy food; not add to the destruction of the planet but try our damned hardest to actually do the opposite, build skills in ourselves and others to strengthen food security for who knows when but the inevitable crash of the current food system which is not sustainable and does have an end point.  That’s all pretty common sense I would have thought.  The reality that we are small scale also has to do with our values, and the belief that if there were more of us the afore mentioned values will see fruition.
However connecting with farmers (veg, animals, dairy, grain, eggs, bread and fruit) who are farming with the same techniques in mind of building soil, not relying on chemicals to stop pests or make their food look a certain way, refusing to rely on trucks and supermarket contracts to sell their produce and wanting to work WITH nature and their environments to rehabilitate landscapes and the earth it was both heartbreaking and inspiring to learn that the majority of people havent found a way that it simply ‘works’.  People 30 years in or like us, five are still figuring it out.  
Listening to Walter speak it was affirming to remember that the current system is the status quo and no, what we’re doing or trying to do is not the norm and anybody/thing that is attempting to work outside of that major norm will find themselves pushing.  A lot.  Despite if what you are doing is true, or good, or more efficient or proven to work better – it’s on the edge… I forget that I live in a bubble sometimes… it’s funny I can relate ‘the edge’ to creativity and people who invent things or work medicinally with plants and midwivery; but seeing farming in our way as another challenge to the current system has helped me.  The truth is we are trying to create a new system that values things differently.  This is also why I feel tired, not just getting up early or manually doing a lot of things.

Here is some excepts from an interview with him from ABC;s Australian Story back in 2009 (https://www.abc.net.au/austory/interview-with-walter-jehne/9206054) which demonstrate how what we are trying to do isn’t romanticism or idealism, actually:
“If you’re leading and innovative, you are always questioning the status quo. Invariably the status quo doesn’t like being questioned. More than that the status quo doesn’t like to actually be confronted with the reality that, hey, there may be smarter, easier, better ways. That’s just an inevitable reality with innovation. Just because Peter is an innovator doesn’t make his options and messages radical or controversial. Nature’s actually been operating through them highly successfully in Australia for the last 40 million years…So the question is, how do we foster this innovation at that practical farmer level? Of course, it’s very important that support be given to lead innovators. But often, it’s not the innovators it’s the agencies, the gatekeepers who become the dominant recipients of any support. This often reinforces the status quo impediments rather than providing a chance for those innovations to come up. Our outcomes from the public funding of resource management may be impeded by this. If the role of Government is to foster innovation, and actually support the innovation, rather than the gatekeepers who are often reinforcing the status quo we may need to look at these issues critically.

You basically have innovators who are illustrating and demonstrating that and how good things can be done. But then you have a lot of dogma coming back to say “No, that can’t be done” For example, one of our key priorities is to rebuild carbon in our soils because that carbon is fundamentally important in rebuilding the structure and, therefore, the water holding capacity, the nutrient cycling, root ecologies and the productivity of key bio-systems. Against this, we have the dogma within the status quo that it can’t be done at anything like the rates demonstrated. This is despite nature of course doing it all the time.

The food and agriculture organisation of the United Nations, has now recognized that soil carbon restoration has to be a key part not just to secure future water and food essentials but also in providing the key opportunity for the world to bio sequester carbon to address climate change. Here again we face a paradigm shift where the people who resisted and said it can’t be done can actually change, and drop their dogma, because now there’s a lead for them to do that.

Australia needs to face up to such paradigm shifts on many fronts urgently if we are to address some fundamental challenges. For example, if as we believe, southern Australia is drying as rainfall patterns change we need to face the precarious situation where many of our forests are going to be so vulnerable to fire that they risk collapsing or changing radically within decades if wildfires become too intense and too frequent. We may have to find a whole new way of understanding and managing fire ecology. How can the intensity and frequency of fires in these bio-systems be reduced and managed? What can nature teach us if we cant see beyond our dogma?

Conversations about green manures, seed collecting and sharing with species work well and why were some other nerding out with other market gardeners Sas and I particularly enjoyed, as well as the farm tours.  There was a group conversation dedicated to land access / land sharing which we took part in and it is exciting to see lots of different models coming up in regards to small scale agriculture…some of them working better than others but they’re in existence.

We also took to the ocean and had a sunrise swim for the winter solstice – well, attempted to!  It was ankle deep and freezing so some flopped into puddles and others (like me) just ran on back out!  There were laughs, good food a plenty, dancing and informative, encouraging conversations.  I have taken Walter’s advice of keeping on doing what you’re doing…in fifty years time the government might even say that what you’re doing was what they created; but it doesn’t even matter.  What matters is that there’s a growing movement of people pushing the edge and the more it grows the closer it comes to pushing into the norm…which is what we want.

Grow well out there.

Mel (and Sas)

P.S. Here’s a poem that was read out by Alice on the last day that she had written in response to the weekend:

Going Underground

I am going underground,
where the lost things can be found.
Where the ringing songs of ancient feet surround
the fungal threads, the dung, the bed
of many buried heart-beats in the dark;
they must have stowed away upon the Ark,
or hitched a floating raft of leaves and sticks
and listened to the laughter of the furred and feathered beasts
and the righteousness of Noah, so oblivious
to necessary ugliness and muck.
Oh! I am going underground to try my luck
among the worms and squirming centipedes,
the roots of ferns and wattle trees,
the tangle of the vegetable, with animal and mineral,
the humming of the miracle of mycorrhizal messages;
I’m going underground to make a mess among the messiness!
Amongst the heavy coldness of the cast off bones and stones
in the pockets where the silken-footed spiders make their homes;
where colours are irrelevant,
and actions are irreverent-
life is sucking and it’s sliming and it’s writhing and entangled;
with the patience of cicada
and the power of the lava
rising molten in the memory of sediment.
I am going underground to taste its secrets with my skin,
to read the languages of scent and spark,
pulsating through the brilliant dark.
I’ll swim through truffle-scented regions,
touch the velvet of a mammal’s winter sleep
and there I’ll slumber through the ages,
with the aquifers, the fossils, and the peat.

Alice Blackwood

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