White with one?

Compost tea is an alchemically magnificent elixir, essential to creating balanced and healthy soil teaming with life. Healthy soil means healthy veggies, which nourish and fuel health-full people.

One of the first things we did when we were negotiating the land lease with Katie and Hugh was to get a soil test. Initially we wanted to test and make sure that there were no dangerously high levels of heavy metals or residual pesticides which would make it difficult for us to grow veggies for consumption. Despite MAFG being a certified organic orchard since 2007, it also had a history of chemical farming practices prior to the organic conversion Katie and Hugh have nurtured the land through. They have done a lot of soil remediation work to bring the soil in the orchards back to a healthy balance free from heavy metals and pesticide residues. With regular applications of compost and compost tea to feed and promote beneficial microbial activity in the soil, they have been able to counteract the negative effects of decades of chemical farming. Heavy metals do occur naturally in the soil from the weathering of rocks and minerals over time, but there is a difference between safe and natural levels and elevated levels due to human actions.

Our soil test came back almost clear. Good enough for us to decide wholeheartedly to go ahead and get digging, but not good enough to pass the organic standards in our first year of production. So, like Katie and Hugh have been doing for years, we are now beginning the process of working with our soil to bring it back into full health and balance. It is after all an ongoing process and relationship with lots of microscopic creatures we can’t even see.

Hugh has kindly showed us how to make a delicious brew of compost tea in the big brewer they use to make tea for the orchards (below) but as our patch is so wee, he has also rigged up a much smaller version for a 20 litre bucket which we have been brewing our compost teas in and then spreading with our high tech watering can (see second pic) onto the garden beds.

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Soon we will get another soil test which will give us a more in-depth snapshot of what the nutrient and organic matter levels are in our soil too, and this will help us to know what kinds of manures and natural fertilisers to use in the market garden to make sure our veggies are growing in a rich and diverse soil. It is so fantastic to be working side by side with Katie and Hugh and learning from their experience and knowledge of this land.  Shoulders of giants and all that…

 

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The incredible power of knowing your purpose – RIRDC Rural Women’s Award Week 11

Do you know your life’s purpose?  It’s a big question for a workday morning, but interesting to ponder. I realised the other day that nearly everything I do in my work life is based around the same passion and interests, so I’m wondering..is this my life’s purpose?

The big realisation struck me this Monday when I helped to launch the Mount Alexander Local Produce Network (MALPN). It’s a new network for sustainable farmers in Mount Alexander Shire that grew out of the “Growing Local Food Economy Forum” that Council held waaaay back in 2012 (it takes a long time for these babies to gestate sometimes!).  The aim is to help connect farmers and others (e.g., retailers, restaurants, farmers markets, eaters – in fact anyone in the local food sector), to promote our rural sector, and to give local farmers a voice. It was a fantastic launch, and well attended, as you can see.

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Local farmers, future farmers, food retailers and eaters at the Mount Alexander Local Produce Network launch

I was asked to give the launch speech in my role as RIRDC Victorian Rural Woman of the Year, and in it I touched on my Award Project, which is all about empowering small family farms to have more control over their marketing.

Which got me to thinking about the other projects in my life. Funnily enough, I find the three other projects I’m really passionate about at the moment are all very closely related! The first is creating new pathways to farming on our farm (e.g. our new collaboration with the Gung Hoe Growers, and getting involved in the Organic Federation of Australia’s new farm intern program), the second is being involved with The Growing Abundance Project and supporting the establishment of a practical organic food growing course, and the third is my work on the board of Melbourne Farmers Markets, where the focus is all about improving the local food system by creating secure and profitable markets for small and medium-sized farmers! I’m detecting a definite theme…

What really brought it all together in my head was realising that all the small and local projects I’m involved in, and in fact our little farm, are part of a much bigger global movement.  In reality, we have a pretty small farm with only 6,000 fruit trees, and it’s easy to feel like we’re not a significant player in agriculture, but I’ve recently come across a 2013 United Nations report called “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late“, which drew on scientific papers about environment, climate change and food systems from all around the world to conclude that

“The world needs…a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based…industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

Then I discovered a heavily researched 2014 report from an organisation called GRAIN titled “Hungry for Land“, which reached the following conclusions:

1.  The vast majority of farms in the world today are small and getting smaller.
2.  Small farms are currently squeezed onto less than one-quarter of the world’s farmland.
3.  We are fast losing farms and farmers in many places, while big farms are getting bigger.
4.  Small farms continue to be the major food producers in the world.
5.  Small farms are overall more productive than big farms.
6.  Most small farmers are women.

 Isn’t that mind boggling? Though small farms take up less than one-quarter of the farming land in the world, we produce most of the food! We small farmers, particularly women, ARE important! Small and medium-sized sustainable family farms play a significant role in helping to feed the world, and I’m pretty sure my life’s mission is to help empower them!

It’s pretty special to find myself doing (mostly) what I love, in work that feels useful and purposeful. I haven’t quite got here in the “textbook” way of first setting the goal, and then working towards it. I’ve followed the more haphazard path of just getting involved in things that are really interesting, working with other inspiring passionate people, and being open to opportunities as they come up.  I guess that’s the incredible power of knowing your life’s purpose!

This week I’ve

  • Been guest speaker at the Mount Alexander Local Produce Network Launch
  • Appeared in an article (and on the front cover!) of Australian Fruitgrower, the Australian Apple and Pear (APAL) magazine
  • Appeared in APAL’s YouTube video: “Using Social Media to sell Organic Apples”
  • Signed the contract with RIRDC to carry out my project – it’s official!
  • Been introduced online to all the other RIRDC Rural Women’s Award state winners – and looking forward to talking to everyone at our first teleconference next week.
  • Organised details for the trip to Canberra to attend the Company Director’s Course in August – can’t wait!

Thanks to RIRDC for their valuable support of the Rural Women’s Awards.

Curious visitors…

I only know of one person who doesn’t like garlic…and I truly don’t understand why!! Garlic has been the first thing we’ve planted in our market garden as it’s hardy, the moon was right and it doesn’t need intensive irrigation like lots of other veggies! It also got us going!!

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The garlic we planted we had both saved from our previous plots last year.  The best, the fattest, the juiciest heads and now there are four different varieties getting their roots strong and their green tips shooting up towards the light.

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Since planting the cloves we have had several visitors check out the new installation at Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens: several four-footed creatures and a few hoppity guests.  We didn’t want to block out the gorgeous view, but we wanted to keep the new green young ‘uns somewhat protected…so we decided to build a fence. Upon doing so the green shoots are undisrupted (stay away cockatoos!) and we have hopes of growing many a thing round, up and across the wire.  Some veg of course, and some flowers, which we hope to sell to a local flower artist, Organica Botanica.

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We are still being blown away with the support and belief our community is showing us…even though the garlic is 6 months away, the lettuces, kale, broccoli, carrots, radishes and many more will soon be in the ground and then (fingers crossed) on people’s plates. We can’t wait! Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Mel and Sas