It’s been a few years since we last had small groups of passionate food lovers attend Lessons from the Farm, my cooking School. I loved hosting these intimate gatherings; all indulging our common passion, dare I say obsession. With the farm in order thanks to collaboration between the hard work of my Family members and the professional pool of advisors instigated by Elders Bairnsdale, we were ready to open the Farm gate and welcome in fellow food worshipers. A really big thank you to Noel, Colin and Gino from Elders Bairnsdale for providing the expert advice and moral support that encouraged me to get the farm back into top shape.
Standing sentry, like Cerberus at the portals of hells gates, was Jonny armed with Clipboard and instructions to keep an eye out for gate-crashers, masking as part of the list. It’s a modern day phenomenon and the techno curse of throwing a party. Word quickly is texted to anyone looking for an uninvited, impromptu time out. Here is Jonny dealing with such opportunists. There is a strong suspicion that the initiator of this unwanted gathering is Baba (Ganoush), our Labrador (inquest to follow). However, they were spotted and turned away, tail between legs. Only legitimate, true believers gained entry.
A big focus for the 2014 season is a gentle stroll through the farm and introduction to the growing styles. This is planned to be the preamble to the 3 hours of cooking instruction, tastings and questions that will always be Lessons from the Farm. Wasn’t sure if this was appropriate; was I just showing off the garden? Nevertheless, we kicked off with the tour du jardin, and it was a real success.
First step was to consider Urban Farming possibilities. Here around my balcony pots and solar powered, self-watering Elevated Garden, the group were astounded at the abundance that could be generated with even a small access to space and sunlight. Imagine the benefits when urbanites secure a place in our agricultural landscape; healthy fresh produce at the fingertips, connection with seasons and varieties, the ability to share and barter crops, more oxygen generated into the atmosphere, dollars saved… Shut up Geoff, everyone gets it.
At the mixed garden section, designed to represent the backyard farmer, the restaurant garden and the community garden, we absorbed the different rhythm and style required to generate fabulous produce. For the past 28 years of farming I have mainly used an overhead watering system, allowing me to move easily between the rows, and attend to part sections of the garden without he hassle of being tangled amongst bed by bed hosing. This year, advised by Patrick O’Shannessey from Toro, I opted for a more efficient overhead system and was able to pass on the benefits to students contemplating such a garden.
The polytunnel was a big hit. Everybody was able to step into a warmer moister environment, which, believe me, helps heat- loving crops survive just that little bit longer through the arctic Bowral winters.
My Commercial crops were a source of huge interest. These are the crops that go into making my farm-made, small batch, high flavour range of products. Sorry to plug my own stuff, but properly made food products seem to be harder to find on the shelves these days. Anyway, the environmentally sustainable and break-down able Degricover plastics that covered the beds and the Toro drip watering lines underneath provided a weed free and water preserving environment for my Tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers, were all intriguing to the students. The heavy cropping was evidence of proper soil condition and wonderful organic pre-preparation of soil with the guidance of Neutrog.
As for the Orchard, well those of you who have seen my videos in the orchard section of my website will have seen orchard expert Geoff Brooke applying his 3 generational expertise to pruning and shaping my trees for cropping this year. Geoff attended this class and was the voice amongst the trees as he shared his knowledge with our group. Geoff and Heather Brooke have become friends and I am so grateful to have their guidance and assistance with the farm. Naturally, apples were on the menu for this cooking class.