Friends who stick around during soup weather. Spare warehouse anyone?

Sunday, June 26th, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Being friends with a zucchini or a tomato is easy; they’re great company and can effortlessly slip into so many social situations. But as convivial as they are come winter zucchini, tomato, eggplant, cucumber et al have headed off to farmer’s markets in Provence or Southern Italian harvest festivals leaving us feeling as deflated as a young caravan park kiosk counterhand at the end of a school holiday romance.

We humans are masters at insulating ourselves from discomfort and tend to resist adversity wherever possible. And who doesn’t want a settled life with recycled hardwood kitchen bench tops and reverse-cycle heating and cooling even though we all know it inevitably leads to boredom, stagnation and reading online articles about polyamorous relationships. And as much as we try to resist it deep down we know that we need disruption.  We need it because it brings out our creativity and maybe gets us close to a celeriac we’d never previously considered to be our type of vegetable.

Because more often than not the great things in our world come about through some kind of scarcity or adversity.  Think how the madness of Vincent van Gogh gave us such incredible paintings, how Molly Meldrum’s absence of any self awareness gave us Countdown and how the need to avoid winter starvation in rural Korea gave us kimchi.  Shakespeare summed it up when he almost said, For now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by cabbage, cauliflower, leek, potato, turnip and swede.

Got a spare warehouse?

So Fair Food is looking for a new home – like much of the inner city our warehouse is becoming yet another block of apartments, and as you can see from the pic above we’re also getting a bit tight for space.

We’re looking for a long term lease on a 1000-2500 square metre warehouse (a yard for our aquaponics would be a bonus) and being for food it obviously has to be nice and clean.

So if you have an empty warehouse kicking around the inner-north please get in touch by emailing info@ceresfairfood.org.au

Have a great week
Chris

Match this soup with that country.

Saturday, June 25th, 2016 at 4:22 pm

So this week Isabelle, who does Fair Food’s marketing, asked if I could do a quiz instead of the “Did you know” segment. Well, you don’t have to ask me twice to play everyone’s favourite consommé clarification game…..
Match this soup with that country!!!
Matching Competition

More specials and recipes … 

Ian Cuming – farmer at the pointy end. Got a spare warehouse?

Sunday, June 19th, 2016 at 6:27 pm

Every year like clockwork Paul Haar calls to announce that his feijoas have finished. Pretty much the next day Ian Cuming (that’s him above) will be on the phone to talk about dropping off the first of his biodynamic kiwis  Not this year though, with the endless summer everything is out of whack – feijoas ended weeks ago but Ian’s first kiwis are just arriving now. Weird weather aside, our conversation is much the same – “How’s his family, this year’s harvest, is he going to stick around for another year?”  But this year as we talk it strikes me that what’s happening at Ian’s Beenak Farm is like one of those Federal bellwether electorates where in this one place, at this one time, all the issues seem to be bubbling up to the surface:

Farm labour: Ian usually hosts WWOOFers (willing workers on organic farms) who swap half a day’s work for room and board and a real farm experience as they backpack around Australia.  They help with all the jobs around a farm but are especially needed at harvest – when you’ve got 15 tonnes of kiwi to pick in a short amount of time you need all the hands you can get. Last year however the Federal Government changed the working holiday visa rules for backpackers ruling out WWOOFing as a legitimate way of completing the 3 months farm work needed to qualify for a 2nd year working holiday visa.  The change has turned backpackers away from WWOOFING and affected Beenak and hundreds of other small organic farms who rely on WWOOFERs.

Aging farmers: Like so many Australian farmers Ian is in his 60’s with no obvious successor to take over Beenak. It’s a major issue facing agriculture in Australia and around the world.  We are coming to a point in this country where we’ll be looking about the local farmer’s market wondering why it’s half empty of food and farmers and all of a sudden realising that the remaining growers are getting about on walking frames and mobility buggies.

Farm viability: One of the reasons we have all these farmers like Ian wondering what to do with their farms on retirement is that it’s really hard to make a living on a small piece of land – or any piece of land for that matter.  Because when the only thing our two largest supermarkets can come up with to market food to us is –  “Down down, prices are down” it really means “Down, down, incomes are down” for the farmers growing that food.  Which isn’t the most attractive prospect for farmers’ progeny who can make a far more comfortable living in a trade or a profession or as a farmer-model starring in one of those lush supermarket ads about local farmers.

Lack of organic growers: More and more people want to eat organic; the thing is we don’t have the organic farmers growing the food. As with kiwis there are often only a couple of organic growers supplying particular lines of produce for the whole of Australia. So when we lose a Beenak Farm it can really affect supply, pushing up prices making organics available to fewer instead of more and more.  And as a heartbreaking aside; when Ian recently talked about retirement with a local real estate agent, he was advised to rip out his kiwi vines to get a better price from potential lifestyle block buyers!

Read more … 

On the subject of rhubarb.

Saturday, June 18th, 2016 at 8:13 am

Rhubarb in 21st century Australia is a niche vegetable; an occasional addition to an apple crumble or an interesting topping for a danish pastry. But like a softly spoken great-uncle who led a previous life as a hammond organ player in a notorious 1970’s heavy metal band, rhubarb also once enjoyed a much higher public profile. In the 1300’s explorer and alleged spaghetti populariser, Marco Polo, brought some rhubarb root home from China where it became a popular digestive medicine.

During the Opium Wars of the 1830’s China’s imperial commissioner, Lin Zexu, sought to counter illegal British opium imports with a ban on rhubarb root exports. Lin Zexu had read Chinese intelligence reports that the British public were dependent on rhubarb root for annual purgatives leading him to surmise that a trade ban would inflict so much digestive misery the opium trade would be called off. The strategy backfired spectacularly; serving only to enrage the backed-up British who mercilessly bombed the Chinese until the sanctions were withdrawn. Previous to the Opium Wars, British attempts to break the Chinese medicinal rhubarb monopoly by propagating rhubarb locally were unsuccessful. The rhubarb grew well enough but was unfortunately of the wrong variety having no medicinal value.

It did, however, taste very good, especially when it was “forced” (grown without light). The sweet stalks were marketed and forced rhubarb was eaten all over the Europe rail network. And unlike our own “endless” mining boom the British rhubarb boom continued for over 100 years, only ending after World War II when the resumption of global trade and refrigerated shipping containers made sweeter tropical fruits available all year around. Gradually rhubarb fell out of favour, eventually slipping into the culinary cul-de-sac it inhabits to this day.

More weekly specials and some recipes here

Vic Cardemone is a fixer. What to do with those window bags.

Sunday, June 12th, 2016 at 2:10 pm

In the Fair Food car park a delivery truck returns from a run with its back step dangling off in an alarming angle. Andrew, the driver, gives it a few tugs and the whole thing breaks off, hitting the concrete with a clang.  The call goes over to the CERES Site Team and Vic Cardemone wanders over to take a look.  Vic looks over the broken step and under the truck where it came off. The truck disappears over to the Site workshop and returns later, the step not just fixed but totally redone, held together with strong clean welds, reinforced with a piece of recycled box steel.  The whole thing made better than before.

Vic Cardemone has been fixing things around CERES for the past 14 years, he started volunteering not long after he retired from his job in the workshop at Caterpillar, the heavy machinery company.  Working through a never-ending list of things needing building or fixing, in his own way Vic has kept CERES going and perhaps CERES has kept him going too. Vic turned 80 the other day, (that’s him above watching on uncertainly as his 80 candles are ignited with a blow torch).

When it comes to recycling things CERES is a place of huge optimism but the gap between the dream and the reality of making some pile of old rusty steel into something useful is regularly summed up by Vic’s well-worn refrain, “What is this f#*!ing s#%t!?”.  Invariably however, what emerges is quite the opposite. The results of Vic’s patience and skill can be found all over CERES in resurrected gates, bike racks, meter cages, fortress-like steel cupboards and endlessly repaired wheel barrows, trolleys and vehicles.

And like so many “no longer required” people and things that come to CERES, Vic’s story is another line in the universal CERES song – a mantra sung to our throw-away world.  In an old unwanted rubbish tip, there is an old unwanted man, making old unwanted things, new again.

Happy Birthday Vic

Read more … 

The Secret Universe of Cheese Possibility

Saturday, June 11th, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Let us go back thousands of years ago to the cheese discovering journey of our early dairy folk, back to their initial weird sour smelling, brain-like curd induced repulsion. Their first instinct must have been to throw that lumpy off-milk out. Until one day, through bravery, curiosity or desperation came the realisation that not only could you eat this stuff, but that it was tasty, spread nicely on bread, went well with just about anything and lasted for ages. And you can just see our fore-farmers coming up with a name – an almost automatic onomatopoeic reaction – what else could they call something so utterly cheesey but “cheese.”

And years later, imagine for one moment the horror of those first blue vein discoverers. In their damp caves finding their cheese rounds ruined; riven by violently stinky, alarmingly coloured moulds. Again the temptation to chuck this poisoned product must have been so strong. But then there was a moment: that very first time some brave soul took a bite of the blue vein itself and all of a sudden their mind and body was flooded by the overwhelming sensuous, musky, almost human flavour – only to be overtaken by the realisation of what now awaited in this secret universe of cheese possibility.

More weekly specials and recipes here.

Winter drops in. Love Crowdsaucing? Now try Krautsourcing.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 at 2:20 pm

It’s funny, last week I read that the 2016 El Niño was officially over, the very next day the cold front hit and it was like summer had leap-frogged autumn and gone straight into winter. Suddenly it’s too cold for Shelley and Craig Heppel to grow lettuce, Coolibah Farm’s roquette got frozen in Monday’s frost and overnight broccoli got scarce and doubled in price. For many farmers the message is clear – time to take stock, rest up, breathe out.

So now his broad beans are up (that’s them above) CERES farmer Vince is leaving the garden to farmer Emily and has gone to visit cousins in Italy, at Hazeldean Forest Farm fruit picking has finished and Marg and Jason are off to see their daughter in the UK and over at Foothills Organics in Colac, Joe Sgro is taking a couple of weeks to sort out a dodgy hip.

For the rest of us city dwellers, apart from it being a little harder to get out of bed these cold dark mornings, there’s not a lot of feedback compelling us to change our routines and rhythms. Beyond the odd long weekend and the start or end of sporting seasons we sort of go about our daily lives the same as ever. There are seasonal clues however; when we can’t find that salad mix for love nor money or it seems like there is a bit more cabbage in our lives than we’d normally care for.  That’s the world whispering to us; a gentle reminder we are here at her pleasure not the other way around.  Just in case we forgot.

Read more … 

The Fermentation Party – a delicate dance with death.

Saturday, June 4th, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Fermentation has become so popular I think that if voting laws for the federal senate hadn’t changed recently I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a Fermentation Party senator sitting in the next parliament. And I reckon I would have probably voted for them. With a party platform something along the lines of – Turning good things into better things that also last longer than they would have normally, what’s not to like?

Because once you join the Party – it really hooks you in. Chances are you or somebody in your life has a kitchen bench resembling a police line-up of scobys, mothers and kefir grains. It begins innocently enough with the usual krauty suspects frothing away in their jars but then something happens, a realigning of neural pathways maybe, and all of sudden your counter space is steadily diminishing as esoteric pickles, Korean pepper pastes and cousins of kombucha somehow inveigle their way into your life.

How do you recognise the signs of ferment capture? The first place to start is your or your loved one’s Facebook page – if there are more pickle pictures than people pictures then there may be a problem. It’s more common than you’d think; there are at least 3 people working at Fair Food currently exhibiting such tendencies.

But what is it exactly about fermenting that so captivates us? Is it the intricate alchemy of it all – the 10 or so enzymatic reactions orchestrated by guilds of bacteria and fungi taking what was once alive and leading it away to some secret sour nether place. Flirting with but never embracing decay – a delicate dance with death…..Maybe, could be it.

More specials and recipes here