Christmas parties with a difference

I’ve been to three outstanding Christmas parties in the last couple of weeks, all of which were beautiful examples of what Christmas can be about.

Two were for the boards I sit on—Maldon and District Financial Services Ltd, or MDFSL (a not-for-profit company which runs the Maldon and District Community Bank branch of the Bendigo Bank), and Melbourne Farmers Markets  or MFM (another not-for-profit company which runs farmers markets in Melbourne).

I love being on these boards. It’s satisfying to be part of organisations that do meaningful work in the community and achieve really solid on-the-ground results that are in line with my values.

For example, MDFSL strengthen the local community by funding all sorts of different projects (to the tune of almost $3 million dollars so far), and MFM are radically improving the food system by providing an accessible marketplace for small-scale farmers (like us) to get retail prices by directly connecting with customers.

I’m also grateful for the pathway that led to being on boards that came from winning the RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards in 2015. Without that chance, I would probably never have considered stepping up into leadership roles like this. It’s led to huge personal growth, I’ve had inspiring mentors, and have learned heaps.

Both Christmas parties were absolutely delightful, and much more like getting together with a group of treasured friends than going to a company event.  There was no excessive gift giving, and in fact no commercial focus at all.

Both involved really delicious and thoughtful food; in one case one of the board members cooked us an incredible Sri Lankan feast; in the other the laden feast table featured a wide variety of locally grown delicacies, bought direct from farmers, and prepared with skill and love.

Both evenings were full of interesting, meaningful and thoughtful conversations, and in each case it really felt like I got to know lots of people a bit deeper, and even met partners of people I’ve worked with for years.

Katie, Mary, Merv, Hugh, Sas, Mel, Marty, Elle, Cara, Ant, Tess and Lydia at the dam

The third party was definitely the simplest, and probably the best. This is our first Christmas together as the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op, and we celebrated picnic-style on the farm.

Despite how incredibly busy everyone is, the whole co-op (plus friends) took time out one evening this week to relax and share a meal on the banks of the dam to celebrate.

The slightly cool weather didn’t stop most co-op members (and the dogs) from having a swim, and of course the food was abundant and completely delicious!

Again, the food was delicious and super local, because most of it came from the farm!  The conversations were fun, warm and interesting, and the bevvies were delicious and plentiful. Most of all though, it felt fantastic to stop work, sit for a moment, and just BE together. It felt like our community is becoming a family on the farm—a farmily.

Girls can be farmers too!

Having been a woman farmer for almost 20 years, and being around so many other awesome women farmers all the time, it’s easy to forget that most people still think of the stereotypical farmer as a man.

Luckily Kate Keegan, who is a producer at ABC ME, is aware that these stereotypes can make it harder for girls to choose some careers and came up with a brilliant idea for a television series to celebrate the International Day of the Girl called ‘If you see it, you can be it’.
Katie and Miley in the kitchen being filmed for ABC ME series If you see it you can be it
Katie and Miley in the kitchen being filmed for ABC ME series “If you see it you can be it”

The series matches young girls with interests and aspirations in particular fields with mentors, and Kate got in touch to see if I’d be interested in being involved in a ‘Farmer’ episode of this series.

Of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to simultaneously promote organic farming and farming careers for girls, so I said yes, and got to spend the day today being filmed with Miley, who is 8 and wants to be a farmer.

Being involved in the process of making a TV series was absolutely fascinating, and a real eye-opener. Kate and the production crew were incredibly friendly and non-intimidating, but they were also aiming for a great result, so Miley and I had to go through our paces LOTS of times for each little section of the production to make sure they had enough material for just the right combination of sound and video for each shot. It was pretty nerve-wracking at the beginning but as the day wore on we both got a bit more relaxed, and while we were making a cuppa in the kitchen Miley even came up with a great orchardy joke (hopefully it will be included in the final cut – look out for the joke about her friend Max).

Miley was accompanied by Mum, Lisa, and Dad, Adrian, who run a horse, cropping and sheep farm in western Victoria. They lead what sounds like a very exciting life breaking in horses and competing in rodeos (which explains all the cowboy boots at the door), though they assured me it has its fair share of mud, horse manure and repetitive jobs, just like all types of farming.

 

If Miley does decide to become a farmer she’ll be the sixth generation of her family to do so, and will be following the proud examples set by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all of whom took active roles on their farms.

It’s all too common for women on farms to think of themselves as the ‘farmer’s wife’, so it’s terrific for Miley to have the proud support of her family to think of herself – even at the tender age of 8 – as a potential farmer in her own right. I really hope she does go on to become a farmer, because farming’s an important job and we need farmers to feed the world!

All three episodes of the series (the other two are about a scientist and a firefighter) will air on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child, on ABC ME. Now that I’ve seen the back end of the filming process, I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Cheers, Katie

Wicking beds and vegies

Despite my years of experience in the orchard growing fruit, I don’t have a gardener’s elbow, let alone  a green thumb. I missed out on Mum’s passion for roses, and while I share Dad’s fascination with all things edible, am envious of the ease with which he seems to produce enough vegies to feed the family, and frequently have a surplus.

Gung hoe bend weeding-471x628

I see the amount of hard work that goes into producing the Gung Hoe Growers’ year-round parade of delicious vegies, but at the same I know it’s about more than just hard work – some people seem to have a knack for knowing when and how to do things, and I’m not one of them!

However, common sense says it can’t be that difficult, and since studying permaculture we’ve learnt lots of tricks and techniques to make growing vegies easy. Plus, Hugh’s started taking an interest in growing vegies, so I’m off the hook!

making new wicking beds-360x480A few years ago we converted part of the garden that had been little more than a dusty dog playground just outside the kitchen window into…

new wicking bed-360x480… a very productive (and much more attractive) wicking bed. In permaculture terms this is Zone 1 – close to the kitchen and path, and the right place to grow the things you need most often, like herbs, salad greens and vegies.

After a while we made some modifications, and we now have four beds in this area. The wonderful Victoria (the intern who was with us last year) planted them up with lots of perennials like Vietnamese mint, asparagus, stevia, comfrey, rocket, mint, marjoram, thyme, and some other herbs. This is such a lovely warm sheltered spot that we even have thriving lemongrass and a very happy lime tree in its own wicking bed built out of an old water tank.

Hugh-vegie-garden-cauliflower-490x275Since adopting these beds as his own, Hugh has filled every available space with vegies, keeping us supplied over winter with cauliflower, brocolli, brocollini, brussels sprouts, cabbage, chillies, celery and rhubarb.

He’s started the summer planting with tomatoes (under the glass covers to get them started), sweet corn, pak choi, silver beet, kale, celery, coriander, and more chillies. There’s still a few spots left, so there’ll no doubt be more going in soon.

This is a great spot for wicking beds, being right next to a 150 year-old, 100 m high cypress tree growing nearby, that has roots everywhere! The wicking beds are lined, which stops nearby roots sucking all the water out of them.wicking-bed-tank-lined-490x367

The principle of a wicking bed is that the water is delivered into the bottom of the bed (via the upright pipe) and then the plants ‘wick’ the water up from the bottom, so no water is lost to dehydration – a great trick for our dry summer landscape!

To make sure the wicking principle works, the beds must be level – as this spirit level shows (well, actually it shows that it’s not quite level yet, but you get the idea).

spirit-level-wicking-bed-490x367Every year we add some nutrition from home-made compost, our helpful worms, and chooks, and occasionally a boost from the neighbour’s horse or cow.

The weeds and left over plants get piled up near the chook shed at the end of each season, waiting for me to clean out the chook shed and start the next compost pile. Then they’ll be returned to the garden – gardening is just so cyclical!

For the time being, I’m leaving growing the annual vegetables to other people (thanks Hugh and Dad), and concentrating on the garden we started last year near the farm shop, where I’m planning to add passionfruit, pecan nuts, brambleberries, and choke berries.

custard apple-seed-490x275I’ve also got seed from a couple of different varieties of cherimoya (custard apples) to try – they’re not traditionally grown in this climate, but one of the great things we’ve learned from permaculture training is how much you can ‘stretch’ a plant’s natural inclination by creating micro-climates.

Here’s to a bountiful summer of home-grown vegies!

Cheers, Katie