Turn of the Season

Good Morning!

Its still dark outside and I’m tucked up in bed with a cuppa by my side.  This week was the last summer box pickup and the last days for our paid weekly helpers; Ruby and Nikki.  It is like the stop gap for us in the season.  Similar to garlic – in April we and our helpers planted 6000 garlic bulbs that will be ready for sale at Christmas and is our 6th birthday! We are now entering into our 6th year – I think that felt pretty huge for the both of us!

The season has been been shifting for a few months now in the overnight temps, the soil temps and day length and it feels that now is our time to realign with the earth and change gears.  Summer has been a massive season for us, for everybody really.

We planted out more than we ever have before and were graced with a very productive season thanks to summer rain, decent temperatures and obvious increased soil health.  We watched the bush fires alongside everyone else, worked with the local growers, producers, chefs and a bunch of amazing volunteers to put together a feast to build awareness and resilience of our communitys food bowl and to meet our neighbours; and now the virus.  We are looking forward to the next few weeks that see us taking some time for a rest off farm.

Then we can come back to the patch, start winter boxes and start ticking (hopefully!) off our cool season to do list and get peaches and cream (our new acre) up and ready for the on coming spring / summer;  whilst also observing what the earth does at this time, which is slow down and grow in the dark.  Slowly.  It is time for deep rest and rebuilding, renourishing what summer takes out of you.

We are lucky to be surrounded and supported by people who believe in what we are doing and how we are doing it – when you are walking on the edge and creating all the time, this is really important; because more often than not the greater population don’t think what you do is important or useful or worthwhile.  I know for me (Mel) this is absolutely vital; cos you doubt yourself, you just do.

Our friend Allie has captured a lot of our Gung Hoe story via podcasts for different radio shows she has rolled out.  I listened to them last month and in the same way its important to have supporters on your side, it was awesome to listen back to our younger selves banging on about the same things we’re still banging on about.  How affirming!   You can listen to them here if you’re interested…http://gunghoegrowers.com.au/what-we-do-and-why-we-do-it/

As I left the Castlemaine Farmers Market Weekly on Wednesday, I was taken aback at how bustling it was. (In a socially safe, distanced way of course, don’t worry!)  We are now situated on a large oval, and there are lots more stall holders who have been coming and also more of the community has been getting on board.  Something the virus has seemed to have done is shine a light on the people who work in small business, and the community wanting to support them.  It’s pretty incredible.  We have been overwhelmed with a big demand.  Part of me knows this is because people are wanting to support local business and eat good food, and I’m very grateful – the other part of me hopes that this desire lasts and that the support, awareness and enthusiasm of who is growing / producing food in our community out lasts “the virus”.

You see, we will only grow what we mostly know we can sell.  And now that we have peaches and cream we can produce more; pending seasons weather of course, and after this season of selling out most markets, we will.  So I hope that our community continues to seek out fresh, locally grown and made produce.  Because we have’t been busier due to the virus like lots of people have commented we must be.  Our sales avenues have changed – less restaurants – more boxes – and for the first month we were (along with everybody else) figuring out the safest, best way to look after ourselves and look after those who are buying and eating our food.  So systems were changing weekly along with stress levels and holding a calm, positive space; refusing to enter into panic and distress.  Tiring!!  But in regards to us being busier – I think it’s because more people have seen what we are doing, that’s all.  There’s been more attention paid to what we do.  Which I’m not complaining about! Its great that people are getting a handle on how hard we work to look after the earth (crops are always in rotation remember) to produce food.

Sas was planting the tomato, chilli, capsicum seeds into seed trays in her living room last year at the end of July.  The onions that people are eating now were planted in the soil last year from June to August.  The potatoes and pumpkins went in last Spring.  We can’t be busier because of “the virus” as we have to plan how many metres of plants we will plant out in Spring / Summer, so they can grow and then get eaten in summer/Autumn – way back in June the year before!  We can roughly plan for a certain amount of boxes and what will go to restaurants and markets and then we have to just go along with what the season provides weather wise, and so it goes.  Farming is a long distance game, we have to make plans that always change, but the foundation of how much you plant of what is decided 6 or more months before the season in which you eat it.


It has been good that the ‘essential’ nature of we do has been recognised but we also know that what everybody contributes to society is ‘essential’.  Indeed the patchwork of humanity is only as great as all the beautifully diverse squares.  So yes, please keep supporting your local growers and producers, but also support your neighbours  and all the others that make up our society, they are also essential.

My cup of tea is empty and I have to get dressed for Friday Fun Day (Im referring to our Field Couture series, its one of the things that’s kept us sane during these weird isolated times and helped us to laugh) so I will sign off here.  Thank you for supporting us at the farmers markets, through buying veg boxes and sourcing our produce for your restaurants / cafes / catering events.  We love growing real food for our community of eaters.  Every week the boxes look lush and green; have different veg in them to nourish you and I hope you can taste the love with which its grown.  We will still be at the weekly market selling veg and we are planning to grow more for market and so we can add a few more boxes to the total tally for next summer.  Sign up to the Gung Hoe’s email list here: http://gunghoegrowers.com.au/contact/   or to the Harcourt Organic Co-ops newsletter list here: https://hofcoop.com.au/  to be the first to find about winter boxes (green and lean they’re called “diehards”) and everything else going on!

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the ‘Work Song’ poem by one of my favourite authors, Wendell Berry.  Take care of yourselves and the others you live amongst.  Be kind and go gently. Big virtual (oh how I miss the real things) Hugs – Mel x

Returning to the Beloved

The low songs of summer’s end

Dreaming in the air, and the light clear, I drive loads of manure to the field

To make pasture for the coming year.

There is a kind of labour that is absence

In the hurry and fret of growth,

The worry of obligation, time and money,

The threat of summer storm or drouth.

And now we make this return, the team

And I.  In the glimmering atmosphere of song

We come and go again, rebuilding promise

In the ground.  It will not be long

Before the cold will drive us in.  But this, now,

Is where I ought to be, and want to be,

And where I am.  Desire and circumstance

Are one.  Like a woman’s arms this work holds me.

Staying Sane (kinda)

Sometimes everything just gets too bloody serious and you have to start a totally silly and ridiculous art project to stop yourself falling into the abyss. Our lovely weeding fairy Deb suggested a farm fashion project to us. A little reluctant at first, we are now fully embracing the daily practise of taking a photo in exactly the same spot, at smoko, with whoever is working with us (or happens to be unwittingly passing by at the wrong moment). Show casing the subtle (or non existent) changes in our daily farm wear, both practical and fashionable (ha ha).

We hope over the weeks and months it will show the changes in season, the changes in our daily mind frame, all the wonderfull people who help at the farm and be some kind of a diary of our days. When all these crazy times are over and we can gather in groups again, we would like to have a little exhibition in and on our packing container (featuring in the photos) to celebrate!

I (Sas) have also started a similar photographic project to help me remember to pause every morning and take a breath before the rollercoaster of the day begins. I’ve been taking a photo of Leanganook, the beautiful mountain that has our back in all this, at the same time every day. Every day, subtle and not so subtle changes that never cease to take my breath away. Moments of tranquility and reverence amidst these crazy times.

Other than our art projects, we are still finding time to farm! Yes we chronically have not enough hours in the day to get all things done that we need to in order to get our winter crops in the ground. The autumn window of opportunity is slamming shut and we are madly trying to simultaneously harvest the last of the summer crops, rip them out, prepare beds and plant them out with all the autumn goodies; broad beans, peas, brassicas, winter greens, garlic and all the other allium, allium, alliums! Back to it,

Grow well…
Sas and Mel

At This Time…

Hi! I hope this finds you well out there – this feels a weird time to be writing, I should be out picking vegetables, they’re gleaming at me from the bushes.  Beautiful eggplants, ripening globes of sweet tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers hiding under green leaves and golden, dark green and striped zuchs doing the ghosty somewhere and as always you find them too late.  But I think in this weird time it is ever important to communicate.  Sometimes I’m not great at communicating, I don’t have the right words lined up together in my brain let alone for them to come out of my mouth in an understandable format.  My hands are better at creating the shapes and emotions and ideas better than my words a lot of the time.  Poor Sas has to contend with interpreting that more than anyone and she does a good job.  If anyone else heard our conversations sometimes they would think we’re mind readers cos we’re not even using real words!  But seriously, it is a time to communicate.  In whatever way you can, so please bear with me as I scramble together some words and thoughts today.

It is a weird balance to be conscious, careful and resilient without buying into panic, anxiety and stress.  We are so aware that we can’t get sick right now.  And by sick I mean a cold, a flu, a broken toe, anything.  Sas and I feel the responsibility of feeding our community good food.  If you eat healthy food, your body is stronger, your mind is stronger.  If you feed your body with no substance and dive into panic and stress your mental health and immune systems are compromised.

For us it feels like a sharp ridge of a tightrope to walk.  We are holding space for each other.  We feel incredibly grateful that although hard work, we get to be outside, be physical and keep a bit of day to day normality.  You see, we take feeding people seriously.  We think there is a growing demand and in an unknown future that it could keep increasing.  We are planting more and digging more and seeding up more.  We have bought bulk seeds as we know there will be a shortage of summer seeds, and we are saving more and more.

AND It’s all the things we’ve been banging on about for years!  We have had a lot of thankyou’s like never before, which although overwhelming gives us energy to keep doing what we do, so thank you.  Quite often we feel like we have to fight for our right (insert tune!) to exist alongside big systems, easier systems and always have to prove our validity outside of the ‘norm’.  However now, we are weirdly officially fit into being “essential”…

We are grateful that we are in a place (because we have consciously constructed it) where we also know many of the people who we feed and the people who cook our food.  So there is a network of people (feeders) who are working together to look after themselves, their staff and the rest of the town.  It is times like these that connections and relationships speak louder than money, we’re in this together and have got each others backs – whatever that looks like!

One of the emails we received after the last farmers market (thanks Jo & Carl) made a point about how for them, they were seeing in action how we (the whole Co-op stall) were taking care of ourselves, but also of the people we were feeding.  And for me, it hit the nail on the head of how we can do this, together.  Sas and I, you and your neighbour and the person down the road.  Its not just about making sure Me, Myself and I am ok, its checking in and seeing how I can look after you and vice versa. 

We are feeling quite protective of our health right now so if you don’t see us about much its because we’re either resting or we’re farming.  It feels more important than ever to provide people with good food that is safe.  We want to be extra safe so we can keep growing it for you.  We feel we simply cannot afford to get sick, exhausted etc etc.  It is important to us that we all look after each other in this sense, keep each other healthy by being responsible.  And you know what?  If it ends up we’re all being over cautious (but not panicky), I’d almost prefer that cos then we know we can do it – and how much care are you showing someone when the way you act is a way that will keep them well.  Its respectful and beautiful; now of course, but always.

We are trying to not feel overwhelmed, but it is a weird time and we don’t know what the future will hold.  We will keep working together with our community in whatever way that looks like over the next little while to uphold our position as producers.  If you know us you know how incredibly seriously we take this role.  Always have, but now it feels the spotlight is on.

If you’re living somewhere and don’t know your neighbour, leave a note out on the front step, or fence or whatever you feel comfortable with.  Swap numbers so people aren’t fully “isolated” as that is just as dangerous as everything else that’s going on right now.  I saw a clip of a street with their tables pulled out in front of their houses so they could eat, see each other and yell conversations across the road.  I loved it and was an example of how we can be imaginative and create spaces to connect.

The main thing is that we’re looking after each other with humanity, grace and compassion.  Whatever our position, whatever our role, whatever our favourite song.  It’s together that we’ve got this.

So stay strong out there, look up at the sky and feel the solidness of the earth under your feet.  In fact, take your shoes off so you can really feel it.

Love Mel (and Sas) x

1 in 5 is a good ‘un…?~!

Good morning out there!

As I write this (645am) the magpies are singing,  the sun is rising and its pink and lavender tones set light on gum leaves in the most magical way.  In biodynamics the earths’ cool morning air and mist is a breath out.  I think it fits completely the calm still of the early morn.  Often I struggle when my alarm goes off at 430am, but by the time I’ve had a cuppa at home, dragged the dog out of bed into the car, driven to the farm, had a coffee on site and figured a plan with sas; it’ll be 6/630am and I am ready to enjoy the gift of being awake with the dawn.

It’s a late but beautiful summer season.  We’re so used to everything failing bar one thing and feeling stressed to keep things alive.  However this year due to actually getting some decent rain, it not being mid 40 degrees with whipping north westerlys for a month or more AND having done soil building on top of Dave Griffiths yeoman ploughing foundation; we are seeing the patch producing magnificently and looking healthy and lush, not just alive.  Which means we are in full production and things are starting to come on for summer.  It’s still quite cool so the tommies are ripening just not in an out of control manner, which is fine by us as there’s everything else ready to pick.

We have hired help this year because we are getting old and lazy and we actually cannot physically deal with the amount that needs picking and packing with just the two of us.  Although it feels like a big step, it also feels really great to have other people join us blurry eyed in the mornings and be a part of gung hoe goodness and they bring their own lovely energy in with them. 

Katie (property owner and ex Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens farmer) always tells us we know more than we realise and as I explain how to pick, how to pack, how to tell what’s ripe and what’s not, the standard we have in regards to what we sell and why…I’m starting to think she’s right…only 5 years down the track Katie!

Nikki helps us pick and bunch on Monday, Sas and I pick salad on Tuesdays then dosome farming work, Sas picks and Ruby helps me pack CSA boxes and some restaurant orders on Wednesday.  Then most of it goes to town for market Wednesday afternoon (3.30-630 pm in town!) CSA pickups and restaurant deliveries; Thursdays see us working with some vollies for half the day then Sas and I get admin and fingers crossed some more farming done, then I pick for a half a day on Friday…! And then we also have beauty Deb doing a few hours in the dawn most days as our human weeding machine…weeding in summer, what a treat, we’ve never had to do that before!

We released CSA boxes this week and were amazed at how quickly they sold out! We are releasing another round to join up for subscription this week – go here if you’re keen to know what they are or order one in the second round: http://gunghoegrowers.com.au/get-our-veg/

AND pending produce after the Luscious Local Bushfire Fundraiser Dinner next weekend, we may release another round.  We have lots of potatoes and pumpkins and onions and garlic stored ready for when summer starts to wane.

This week we trialled a new CSA pick up system now that we’ve got Tessa’s delicious milk – Sellar Farmhouse Creamery, Ant’s scrumptious fruit – Tellurian Fruit Gardens; and our veggie boxes all picking up at market.  A whole new stall for CSA members to grab their ready packed produce.  This meant no more crazy lines! Win win! Thank you to everyone who supports us as we evolve into systems that are better for everyone.

Sas and I are VERY aware that farming is a lot of luck (weather wise) thrown in with hard work and some tricks up your sleeve.  This week we had a lovely man Kieran who tends Annie Smithers kitchen garden in Keynton come up and individually interview us for his University Research project.  We have done numerous interviews for similar things but Kieran’s approach was definitely more personal and reflective.  Sas went first then me and Kieran remarked that we both answered very similarly for some questions.  Ha!  For me that was somewhat reassuring.  It made me realise (again) how little time I take to reflect on this journey.  I felt opened and somewhat emotional after speaking with Kieran.  One of the biggest questions that silenced me was: ‘what are you proud of?’ Apparently we both answered along the lines that “we’re still here”.  Which made me laugh, kinda sad, but also kinda proud.

People say lots of nice things to us all the time.  If you know us, you know we can find those things hard to grab so they can slide off our backs.  It can be hard when you feel like you’re failing at most of the things most of the time to take a moment to look at the journey.  Sometimes you might not want to because it might mean you have to quit.  But I’m grateful that this year we’ve got tomatoes again, we can see a measurable difference in our soil, plants are looking lush and we’re picking big bounties.  Im grateful that we’ve chosen to walk the edge which means I get to work in barefeet and be outside using my brain, my body, my skills and never for one moment feel that I’m in control of everything, ever.  (A very overwhelming state at times and at others a completely freeing one.)

So here’s to 1 in 5 years of good growing seasons and the community we feed for being there the whole time and to you and me Sas; cos I think we’ve come through a lot, and sure there’s more to come, but lets enjoy the full plate this moment, this minute.

Big love,

Mel (and Sas) your Dirty Hoes x

Luscious Local Dinner- Bushfire Relief Fundraiser

Sunset harvest dinner

The bushfires across the country have been devastating to so many people and places on so many levels. We have been wondering as farmers, what we can do to contribute in the aftermath. We don’t have large amounts of money, but we do have produce, some time and great connections within our local community, so the idea we’ve come up with is a luscious local dinner.

A wonderful team of four local chefs are donating their time and creativity to whip up a feast from the abundance of local produce and prodcuts that have been donated by many generous local businesses. There will be a bar of local wines and beers on the night too.

100% of funds raised are going to bushfire recovery. Some of the more well known bushfire organisations and appeals have been receiving massive donations which we think is fantastic! We thought rather than contribute to those organisations we would choose ones that are perhaps a little less well known, but equally deserving. We want the funds raised to go towards, not just the immediate response of rebuilding what has been lost and protecting against future fires, but also towards the broader and long term vision.

Rather than choose one Bushfire Appeal to donate to we’ve decided on three.  As farmers we can understand the full devastation of losing your feed, your soil, stock, crops, infrastructure, wind breaks, the work it takes decades to achieve; your livelihood. So, half of total dollars raised will go to ORICoop.  The Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal is coordinated by ORICoop (Organic & Regenerative Investment Co-operative) bringing together farmers, consumers, businesses and partners to support bushfire affected farmers in this time of need….focussed on increasing the amount, diversity and productivity of organically & regeneratively managed farmland around Australia, while building a resilient Australian food and farming system.

Cattle in the smoke

100% of Appeal funds will directly assist farmers to Restore, Rejuvenate and
Regenerate themselves and their farmland, and will help to:-
● replace essential farming equipment
● buy certified organic fodder & grain
● provide livestock transport to alternative organic farmland
● fund new seasons plantings
● replace burnt fruit & nut trees
● restore vegetation
● coordinate teams of volunteers to restore farms

and are currently working with farmers in these regions:-

  • -East Gippsland – Bairnsdale and surrounding areas
  • -Kangaroo Island
  • -Lobethal (Adelaide)
  • -North East VIC – Corryong and surrounding areas
  • -NSW South Coast – Batemans Bay/Moruya
  • -NSW Mid Coast/Coffs Harbour/Wauchope
  • -NSW South Coast – Cobargo/Bermagui/Brogo/Bega

– read more here:  http://organicinvestmentcooperative.com.au/opportunities/organic-farmers-bushfire-appeal/

The remaining half of funds raised will go to Wildlife Victoria and the local CFA branch.

As we see it, growing and sharing good food at a local level is a crucial element of how we both mitigate and develop resilience in the face of climate change. Growing strong connections within the community is another major part of this. This is why we grow food and this is why we are choosing to bring people together to share a meal, grown here on this land, in solidarity with all the people, animals and land that have been effected by the fires. This time, we were lucky. Next time, it might be us.

Tickets are selling fast, but if you would like to come to the dinner you can buy a ticket (or make a donations, or both) HERE

Photo Credit: Felix Wilson