24 July 2013

An Ethical and Sustainable Approach to Food Production

*This post may not appeal to people who have made a decision in their lives not to eat meat

Last weekend at our local farmers market, I was proudly shown the head and carcass of a magnificent pig called Betty, which was sitting in Bundarra Berkshires' mobile fridge.  The meat was destined for delivery to someone who was planning one of those traditional family salami-making weekends.

I knew that taking Betty to slaughter earlier that week had been really tough for the farmer, Lauren of Bundarra, as Betty had been their first sow and mother to many litters of piglets.  But such decisions are part of running a rare-breed free range pig farm as a business.  

I've talked about Lauren before.  She and her husband Lachy are dedicated to producing amazing quality, sustainably farmed pork, where at every step of the way the pigs are treated with respect and fed only natural foods, on a property where farming techniques are considered in order to naturally improve the land.  Lauren is also a driving force behind sustainable food initiatives in her local community, and working hard to find ways to "close the system" to ensure quality and viability of local produce.  One key issue she is currently grappling with is the ongoing abysmal state of many abattoirs, an essential link in the chain that is rusty at best, broken in many cases.  Options for on-farm or mobile abattoirs could potentially really improve the lifecycle process of many small producers if readily available. 

Discussing some of these issues with Lauren has added to my thinking about city/country connections and about ways that non-farmers can play a useful role in the ongoing viability of sustainable farming practices.  On the one hand, you could say that I'm just a consumer and buying the meat is my only obligation. Alternatively, my view is that I'm part of the chain and if I want to be able to eat high quality, ethically grown meat then I have a responsibility to do what I can to make the chain as strong as possible.  So we have been talking about ways that some of my professional skills could assist with some of Lauren's objectives.   I'm sure there are many opportunities for interested people to get involved with farmers and regional food groups.  It's really all about starting the conversations and aligning skills.

Lauren has just written a moving post about Betty, and about some of the issues and challenges and opportunities for ethical and sustainably produced food.  It's a great read, that may require tissues.  

19 July 2013

Knitting Socks

I mentioned a while ago that I'd started knitting a pair of socks after being sent a lovely parcel of patterns and DVD instructions from my friend K. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given how great the patterns that K sent me were) I managed to finish a first pair successfully, and in time for my Mum's birthday.  So now that they are warming her feet in the chilly Tasmanian climes, I can reveal them... 
ta da!
I got all excited and decided I needed a pair for myself next, and found a ball of wool with a fabulous range of colours in it that looked like it would knit up in a similar random way to the first pair, so off I set.  Wrong.  The trick for new players that I didn't realise before I bought it is that somewhere on the label in very tiny writing it said "irregular stripes".  And this is how it turned out.  What a mess, and the yellow bits through it look terrible when they are in a block of colour, so I ended up cutting the rest of the yellow out of the ball after the heel section.
So now my question is, should I knit up the other one so that I can at least say I've finished a pair for myself, or give up on it and start a new pair with this gorgeous hand-dyed magenta wool that I found?

This week in the Country Garden

Observing a vegetable garden growing across the seasons and the years focuses the attention on changes and consequences of weather patterns:  Last year was different to this year, last week different to this week.  Suddenly after weeks of very little happening, there's been some visible growth in the Country Garden. Yesterday was Melbourne's hottest ever July day, and a few days in the last week have also been quite warm for this time of year, which has probably spurred on the plants.  Although I always like to see things happening in the garden, I suspect in this case it's not necessarily a good thing.  Last week I saw a plum tree in town that was full of blossom at a time when fruit trees should just be sticks.  The response from a local when I commented on it was "Yes this is Collingwood, we always do things differently" but I'm not sure that's the 'different' they are usually referring to, or should be embracing! 

None-the-less here's some of the change/progress since last week in the Country Garden:

The earliest-planted broccoli plants are starting to form heads
The first broad bean flowers are emerging 
Peas are climbing upwards 
And most exciting of all, the very first asparagus spear appeared!

Are things progressing in your garden in synch with the normal seasonal cycles?

14 July 2013

This week in the Country Garden

Even with some lovely sunny days recently, with the night time temperatures going down as low as -5 degrees there's not very much growth happening in the Country Garden at the moment.  To check out what it's looking like in more detail, just go back to my post of three weeks ago!

But there was still some work to do this week:

07 July 2013

Home Cooked Crumpets

A very clever man called Dr Marty has started selling crumpets at some of the farmers markets in Melbourne.  They are the perfect winter (and probably summer!) market breakfast.  And best of all, he smothers them in organic butter, and then a choice of either locally produced honey or....here's where I fell in love...Vegemite!  Not many people seem to understand my love of Vegemite on crumpets, but there it was, a jar up front on the table, not having to be sheepishly asked for in a whisper!  

And the crumpets were delicious.  Until I tried them though, I'd never even thought about the possibility of making crumpets.  To me they are an occasional treat, cos you know they are probably really unhealthy, and can only be bought, highly processed, in the supermarket in the bread aisle that I never go down anyway, so don't think about very often.  But Dr Marty's made me wonder about how you actually make them, and what's in them to make them so light and fluffy?

The answer, after seeking out some recipes, is not very much, if you make them yourself.  They are actually quite healthy (until you start laying on the toppings) and very easy to make, although a bit time consuming as you need to let the batter rise a couple of times.  The recipe I decided to make was sensibly titled "Perfect Crumpets" and they pretty much lived up to their name. My only tip with the recipe is to cook them slowly on a very low heat, in a bit of olive oil, as they are quite thick and by the time they cook through they could easily burn on the bottom if cooked too hot.  You do need to think ahead to make crumpets, rather than just whipping up a batch for breakfast, but they still taste great toasted the next morning.  

I can highly recommend giving them a go, and if you've never tried it, pile on the butter and Vegemite while they are still hot...  And if you come across Dr Martys Crumpets, you should definitely try some of his, they are excellent!

06 July 2013

Saturday Spotlight - Turmeric

Some vegies require lots of attention, thought and TLC.  Others you just plant...wait...harvest.  Turmeric has been that type of plant for me.  I've just harvested my first ever crop (if one plant can constitute a crop).  I would never have believed that you could grow it in Melbourne, but was encouraged to give it a go when I saw what success Liz at Suburban Tomato had with it.  

I bought a piece last Spring, planted it into a neglected herb garden bed which gets sun for about half the day in Summer, but hardly any in Winter, is full of building rubble and generally pretty poor soil.  I watered it a bit in Summer when it started looking droopy, but otherwise just let it be for about 10 months.  

I had no idea when to harvest it until I read that it's ready when the leaves start to die off.  So when it started turning yellow in the last week or so, it seemed time to dig it up.  For my investment of one piece of turmeric I was rewarded with about six pieces of beautiful, deep orange pieces.  Apparently in tropical areas the plant produces a beautiful flower, but it seemed to be too cold here for that to happen.  After I'd put the leaves in the compost I also read that you can eat the leaves in curries and stir fries.  

I'll definitely plant some more in Spring, perhaps in large pots so that they can get more sun. And if turmeric works, I assume I could also grow ginger and galangal, so I'll give those a try as well.  Gotta love gardening experiments that work - thanks for the inspiration Liz!

And for other inspiration, head over to Liz's blog to read some other Saturday Spotlights.

03 July 2013

I've done it...!

...I just enrolled in a Permaculture Design Certificate course!  It starts in August, I can't wait!