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

To keep the vampires away…

To keep the vampires away!

Garlic is an important marker for us Gung Hoes. It was the first crop we ever planted back in April 2015 when Mel and I first started leasing land off Katie and Hugh. It’s one of those optimistic crops. We plant it as the soil is cooling and the days are getting shorter, when the sweat and dust of summer is starting to settle and we can begin to breathe again. The winter and spring crops are tucked into their new beds (in theory) and we are hopeful for the season to come. The garlic gets planted and mulched and slowly it grows over the next 7 months. We water it and nurture it, take the weeds out so it can grow unimpeded. We hope that when we finally pull them up, they will have grown into perfectly pungent and gorgeous heads of garlic but until we pull them up, we don’t really know how its going.

This time last year when we pulled up the garlic, our hope was crushed. We lost almost two-thirds of our crop because of the wet season and what remained had bulb rot which meant that one or two cloves from each head were rotten! We salvaged and sold what we could but it was the first of a number of challenges that made for a very difficult summer for us.

Come April, ever hopeful again we planted our garlic. As usual we nurtured and cared for it for 7 long months. After consulting with our biodynamic expert friend, Janet from Newstead community garden, about the best day by the moon to harvest the garlic, we dug it up 2 weeks ago. The timing couldn’t have been better. The garlic had had almost 2 weeks of dry weather in the ground and for the first time ever, we dug it up on a blue sky day with no impending rain clouds! The game changer though was finally having a weatherproof drying shed to hang the garlic in to cure.

The timing of when to pull your garlic up is crucial. After 7 months of slow growth, there is a window of about 1–2 weeks when it’s ideal to harvest it. If you go too early, the garlic won’t have segmented into cloves; too late and the head begins to open up which means moisture, critters and dirt can get in and the garlic won’t last as long.

This year we nailed it! It is so perfect! Dark purple (thanks to the cool winter and iron-rich soil), perfectly plump and strong! We got it out just before the rain and have been curing it for 2 weeks in our shed, safe from the storms raging outside! That means Mel and Sas can sleep peacefully.

This time of year, every hour out in the patch counts. There’s beds to prepare, compost to add, seedlings to sow and plant and mulch and a small window of opportunity to do it all before its too bloody hot and everything shrivels. Amidst the spring rush, garlic makes us stop. Sit in the shade and shuck for a while. The other lovely thing about garlic is that it brings people together (unless of course you eat too much and then people may give you a bit of space!). After 2 weeks of our garlic curing, it was time to call in friends, put on a simple Gung Hoe feast and get shucking and bunching together. Many hands and all that…

We are so grateful to Deb, Cohen, Cara, Elle, Marty and Amanda for helping us shuck and plait those babies this year. So much laughter, joy and good vibes surrounded the garlic as we bunched it up. Hopefully that is infused into the food that gets made with it…

Our garlic crop also symbolises our own cycle of growing and learning as farmers. Each year we save the cream of our crop to be the next year’s seed garlic. We pick the biggest and most beautiful heads to plant, and over the years we’ve seen the consistency, hardiness and quality of our garlic improve as it adapts to our specific situation and we learn better how to care for it.

This year we are selling our garlic through the Open Food Network. An online platform that connects farmers with eaters; to order yours go to: https://openfoodnetwork.org.au/gunghoegrowers/shop

It will be available for pick up from the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op shop on Wednesday 12th and 19th December from 9am to 1pm or from the Wesley Hill Market in Castlemaine on Saturday the 22 December. We can also post garlic around Australia too but not to Tassie or W.A.

Our garlic is available as:

15 head plait- $30
30 head plait- $60

Grow and eat well!

Sas (and Mel)

How to set up a farming co-op

We’ve signed the leases! It took 3 months of negotiation and not a little angst, but all 4 founding members of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op now have a lease at the farm. (In fact the leases all started on 1 July, it just took another 3 months to work out the details and get the paperwork signed!).

All the leases are for 3 years, with the option to extend them for 2 more 3 year terms (i.e., 9 years altogether). They can also opt out at any 3 year mark, so it gives them a chance to try it out without making a huge commitment.

Next step is setting up the co-op, which is the part of our big plan that should help each business to save time and money by working together.

We’ve started a “Business Ninjas” program to help members run lean, profitable businesses and financially “future-proof” themselves, but also to come up with a cunning plan to protect us all against the many risky things that can—and do—happen to farmers.

The other main project underway is the RDV-funded project to provide the infrastructure our farmers need, which is now rapidly taking shape—the containers have been found and bought, the concrete footings were poured this week, and we hope to take delivery of the containers in the next week or so.

There’s loads of interest in what we’re doing—we’ve already had a number of people wanting to visit and talk to us about what we’re doing, which is so great and definitely part of the point of what we’re trying to set up.

We don’t know much yet (including whether this experiment will actually work), but we’re happy to share our experience so far.  And we certainly understand why people might be interested in this model, because there are just SO many potential benefits:

  • A succession plan for older farmers like us who want to step away from active farming, but don’t want to sell up and want their farms to stay in production.
  • A productivity plan for farms—our model aims to ‘stack’ as many compatible enterprises onto the same farm as possible (similar to the Joel Salatin model, but each enterprise is run as a separate business).  Multi-enterprise farms are more resilient, and can produce more food and make more money, but unless you have a large and enthusiastic family it’s beyond the capacity of most farmers to do more than a couple of things well. This way each enterprise gets the passion, dedication and time it needs to become as good as it can be, and it also creates a livelihood for many more families.
  • An affordable and supported pathway into farming for young farmers, many of whom don’t have sufficient capital to buy land, or experience to start their own business. This model gives them access to land without taking a massive financial risk, while at the same time giving them business support to help fast-track their business skills.
  • Mitigating climate change by increasing the amount of farmland being farmed organically, which puts more carbon into the soil.
  • Increasing the amount of locally grown food that’s accessible straight from the farm for local families.
  • Creating a supportive peer group for the young farmers, where they provide emotional and practical support for each other, plus lots of opportunities to collaborate to help improve each other’s businesses.
  • A chance to share our knowledge and expertise with the younger generation of farmers.

While we’re really happy to share what we’re learning, time means money, and though we’d love to drink tea and chat all day we’ve also got work to do! So we’re thinking about the best way we can share our model without it taking too much of our time—stay tuned on that one, we’ll let you know when we’ve developed our cunning plan.

Meanwhile, it must be time for another party, so we’re holding our official launch and farm open day on Sunday October 28.  Things get started at 10 a.m. with morning tea, then the farm tour will kick off at 11 a.m. where you can see and hear about

  • Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery
  • Sellar Farmhouse Dairy
  • Tellurian Fruit Gardens
  • Gung Hoe Growers market garden
  • Grow Great Fruit education program
  • Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens heritage apple orchard
  • the infrastructure hub we’re building

It’s a free event, but if you’re coming please register here so we have an idea of the numbers. You’ll be able to buy scones, cake and drinks for morning tea, and soup and bread for lunch, and will also be invited to make a donation to help us with running costs (suggested donation $10). Please DON’T bring your dog (unless it’s on a lead and/or can stay in the car) or ANY fresh fruit or vegetables onto the farm (because we’re on fruit fly lockdown).