CERES Harvest Festival – Peace, prosperity & an eBay goddess

Sunday, March 13th, 2016 at 10:06 am

A few weeks ago in a newsletter I was digressing about the joy of discovering the cornucopia that’s depicted on our very own Victorian coat of arms. Seemingly mundane at first glance, on closer examination I was struck by its offbeat imagery; a  kangaroo levitating in a lavishly decorated medieval jousting helmet while two toga-clad ladies nonchalantly showed off olive leaves and various agricultural products in a style reminiscent of a stand at a fresh food expo on a slow day.    But beyond its offbeat wackiness there was something about this picture, something that’s been nagging away in the back of my mind for weeks now.

It was as our yearly harvest festival approached “that something”  finally clicked into place. I was thinking about the origins of our name CERES and had been revisiting a poem of Ovid’s sent to me by an old friend with a very expensive and esoteric education….

Ceres was the first
to split open the grassland with a ploughshare,
the first to plant corn and nurse harvests.
She was the first to give man laws.
Everything man has he owes to Ceres,
so now I sing of her
and so I pray my song may be worthy
of this great goddess
for surely she is worthy of the song.

Then later while browsing for images of Ceres I happened upon this bronze statue on eBay  (that’s her down there, she’s going for $120 btw). Instantly everything came together. The eBay statue and the woman on the coat of arms!  They were the same!  It was Ceres, her head crowned with a wreath of wheat, her harvest spilling out of her cornucopia.  It was her right under my nose, all these years watching over us, the symbol of our state standing above that banner, proclaiming our  motto, Peace and Prosperity.

I suspect that back in the day the Peace and Prosperity motto alluded to the enforcement of laws upon local populations, both indigenous, convict and poor, so that “gentlemen of the Empire” were unhindered to take as much from Ceres as she would give.

But today, in another age, an age of climate change and with an ecology ready to crack,  Peace and Prosperity now requires us to care for Ceres – in fact more than care for her, to actually give back more than we take, so that future generations may follow us and tell their own stories of Ceres, celebrate their own harvests and draw their own funny coats of arms.

Each year CERES Harvest Festival celebrates and gives thanks to the good earth, our farmers and the cycle of the seasons.  CERES Harvest Festival is happening this Saturday 19th March, 10am to 3pm Cnr Stewart and Roberts Sts Brunswick East. Entry $5 and kids free.

P.s.  Don’t forget this Saturday to share your surplus on “Put a zucchini on your neighbour’s doorstep” Day.

Have a great long weekend


A week for lenticels and a bit of summer fattoushery.

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 1:41 pm

The Seven Stars have been making their delicious Turkish and Kurdish food at CERES since 2007. Starting as a social enterprise project with AMES, this passionate group of Alevi women who wanted to get out of the house and into the world have used their strong food culture as a springboard to do just about everything – from running a Turkish barbecue at CERES market to catering for weddings (including my own) to feeding Jack Johnson on his Australian Tours. Seven Stars have been making dips for Fair Food and the Merri Table Cafe for years now and at a very generous 250g (as opposed to those lightweight 200g supermarket dips) you get every chance to taste the love. Was $5.95, now $5.45More specials and things … 

You helped do this. F21 Thanks. Extra Generous Cooks Box.

Sunday, December 13th, 2015 at 1:55 pm

On Friday, at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, a couple of thousand food-curious/concerned folk attended day and night sessions of festival21 to talk about the future of food. The day was huge, filled with stories of people using food to transform themselves, their communities and their environments.  With Open Table and Tamil Feasts I was part of an instant fundraising session for CERES Fair Food (that’s my enormous head on the screen with a 6 pack of canned tomatoes). In front of a heaving plenary I pitched our Crowdsaucing Day idea to the audience.
In the end it was the amazing crew from Tamil Feasts (every Monday and Tuesday at CERES) who whacked the ball over the fence and onto the neighbour’s roof with their awesome story and raised $7000 to go towards establishing a new restaurant. And I tell you there is no more heart-warming and tasty a project going around this big city of ours.  And though Crowdsaucing Day didn’t win the night I felt like a winner later backstage when the ladies from the Italian women’s choir – La Voce Della Luna, told me how much they loved our idea.
A big, big thanks to all the organisers, the volunteers and everybody who turned out despite the crazy weather.

Farmers are humans too. Deep in the heart of CERES.

Sunday, September 13th, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Over the past few years an idealised image of a kind of hero farmer has emerged – typically it’s an earthy yet evolved being in a pair of weathered overalls and chequered shirt gathering colourful heirloom produce for farmers market stands and veggie box schemes. These tough, gentle folk are often credited with having a sort of telepathic relationship with their soils, crops and animals and are increasingly being put up on pedestals to be revered.  Now being a hero is better than being portrayed as a hick or a bumpkin but it can also raise expectations that are hard to live up to – witness Joel Salatin fans having no problem eating his salad bar beef and pastured poultry but struggling to digest his Libertarian beliefs.
Like everyone, farmers come in all shapes and sizes but making them into role models is just as problematic as doing it to our footballers or pop stars. However, if there’s anyone who could help balance this stereotype then the perfect farmer to do it would be Joe Sgro from Foothill Organics. Now Joe (that’s him in the pic above) is one of Victoria’s most respected organic growers but he’s also as human as they come.  In these YouTube days you might expect to find a sunny slomo clip of Joe’s smiling farm workers bringing in the harvest to the strains of a jaunty ukulele as peach blossoms blow all around (ouch sounds a bit like our welcome video).  But I think maybe the clip that could be more helpful at evening out our perceptions would be one of Joe in the pouring rain, out the back of his hopelessly bogged tractor, hammering a bent rotary hoe back into shape while he swears blue murder with every blow. Scenes of farmer’s being fallible take place across our country every hour of every day and that’s as it should be – because farmers are just human beings too.
As you might have gathered Joe Sgro is no hipster farmer- like his father before him Joe grows hardy crops like potatoes, leeks, beetroot, turnips and silverbeet.  But he does have a softer, even slightly flamboyant side which you can see this week in his joyously purple Midnight Pearl spuds.  Joe only grows a few and you can find them here.


Shop News. World International Soup Week

Thursday, July 16th, 2015 at 5:45 pm

It’s easy to imagine the origins of soup – throwing everything you have handy into a pot of water on a fire – you can even envisage it’s onomatopoeic name popping into existence –

‘What’s in that pot?’
‘What that pot?’
‘Yeah that pot.’
‘Uhhhhmmmmmahhh…it’s….it’s…soup! Yeah, it’s soup. Soup.’
‘Soup huh. Smells really good.’

You can see from this point the inevitable evolution of soup accompaniments like toast, bread sticks, croutons and in some parts of the world crackers.

So this week, in loving a nod to the US who have world series’s for things they just do among themselves, we’ve decided to meet the challenge of the Antarctic vortex we’re currently experiencing with an annual planet-wide/local soup celebration to be forever known as World International Soup Week. Please feel free to host your own global event, soup swap, soup group, consomathon or pop-up-toasty-dunkablitz. Email us and we’ll help you publicise it.

CERES plays a long game. The tyranny of the herb bunch.

Sunday, June 14th, 2015 at 6:53 pm

So every year during a convenient-to-tax-time window CERES, our parent organisation, has its annual appeal.  This year the focus is on supporting CERES’ environmental education programs; firstly because nobody is teaching this stuff on the scale that CERES does and secondly because the programs are really quite extraordinary.
Each year over 60,000 school students, like the cute bunch in the picture above, roll into CERES to get hands-on with soil and water, plants and creatures and day to day life of other peoples.  They come to find out first hand where our water, food and energy comes from, how indigenous people and cultures from around the world live with their environments, how they can live in harmony with the world around them. A further 800,000 students and their teachers participate in programs CERES teachers delivers in schools across Victoria.Thirty three years ago right in the middle of a major Australian city a 10 acre tip site was gradually transformed into a natural oasis.  The children and adults who come to CERES today find a living, working example of how a community took responsibility to turn the wasteland it helped create into a place to learn, grow and play.  The message that underpins CERES is embodied by the land it sits on; that the damage we do to our world can be fixed if we choose to.
One day the kids who learn from CERES at the park and in their schools will run this country.CERES is playing a long game; changing the world by helping young minds understand that our needs and desires for food, shelter and energy are intimately connected with the fates of our creeks and rivers, our mini-beasts and tadpoles, our chickens and our kingfishers, our gardens and forests.  And it’ll be the things they see, hear, smell, touch and taste from CERES that will help them work out how they choose to live on their planet.
Click here to donate online.  Donations are tax deductible and you’ll receive a receipt for your donation by email instantly.

Gil & Mem’s trail of inspiration. The sliding doors of oval autumnal fruits.

Sunday, June 7th, 2015 at 6:25 pm

Since the 1970’s when they started an intentional community called Compost in Thornbury, Gil and Meredith Freeman have left a trail of inspiration in their wake (that’s them above).  They’re this two pronged unstoppable force for good, solving problems wherever they go with the good humoured power of resilient people based projects.  As teachers in the 1970’s they wanted to work outside the mainstream so they helped start the Sydney Road Community School.  After the success of Sydney Road  Meredith went inside the Education Department to work for curriculum change for all while Gil helped found our very own CERES; a place for children and adults to experience hands-on environmental education.
When they retired from the education sector in the 90’s instead of European river cruising they began their agricultural phase.  Shifting from Thornbury to Tarnuk, a ten acre property in the Strzeleckis, they pioneered cool climate bushfoods; growing warrigal greens, mountain pepper, lemon myrtle and bush mint.  The local industry needed a focus so Gil and Mem brought other fledgling farmers together to found Prom Country Bushfoods Association.
On top of their bushfoods they also ran a small veggie box scheme for friends based around whatever they were growing on the farm that season. When demand started to outstrip what their garden and chooks could produce Gil and Mem brought Grow Lightly into being.  Recruiting like-minded local growers, from the smallest backyard blueberry grower to large organic spud operations all within a 50km radius of Korumburra, they started a local business that is about so much more than feeding people. Read more … 

Summer’s first tomatoes from a low profile Joe. Robert Larocca’s gift of governance.

Monday, December 15th, 2014 at 6:44 pm

If ever there was an under-the-radar farmer it’s Joe Valente from Mornington Organics, I’ve known Joe for more than 10 years and as I was writing this I realised I didn’t have a single photo of him. I got on-line and after an hour of  fruitless Google searching nothing; no webpage, no Facebook, no twitter, not even an article about him in a local paper – nothing.  The man’s the antithesis of 21st century look-at-me social marketing (that’s not even Joe’s hand in the picture – imagine something broader, earthier, more farmer-like).
Joe Valente grows broccoli, corn, lettuce and tomatoes on the Peninsula and shares a stand at the Footscray wholesale market with Joe Sgro from Foothill Organics. Two more different men you could not find.  While Joe Sgro is the gregarious front man who appears on MasterChef with his stories and his Midnight Pure potatoes, Joe Valente is much more reserved.  Joe’s happy to stay in the background, to just come to market, sell his produce and then go back to the farm.  I’ve known weeks to pass between Joe’s words and a smile from him is a rare thing.
Anyway, all this leads to the news that Joe Valente’s first cherry tomatoes are ready this week. We’ll have Joe’s tomatoes as well as his broccoli in most of our set boxes and in the Fruit and Veg section,
Last week you might have read about the very-good-for-sharing whole boxes of cherries in the webshop which many of you took advantage of.  This week Josh, Fair Food’s produce buyer, is putting up whole trays of peaches and nectarines with the same idea in mind.  Stone fruit season is in full swing and nothing says, “Hello Summer,” like a tray of juicy white peaches!

Little things on a big day for CERES, and Farmer Steve Marsh

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 at 10:36 am

On Wednesday the verdict came in on the landmark case of WA organic grower, Steve Marsh, who lost his organic certification after his land was contaminated by GM canola from his neighbour, Michael Baxter’s farm.   Even though it was proved that GM canola plants had come from Marsh’s neighbour, Justice Kenneth Martin determined that Baxter was within his rights to harvest his crop in a way that would spread GM seed over his boundary and that it was the certifying body, NASAA, who was in the wrong for decertifying Steve Marsh’s land.

When GM crops were approved State Governments made no provision for scenarios where a non-GM farmer and a GM farmer were in dispute over contamination.  They have simply left it up to the courts to decide and in this case where everyone believed they did the right thing it’s turned into a complete mess.  The end result is a life-long friendship is ruined, Michael Baxter’s marriage has broken down under the strain, both parties have lost significant time and money and non-GM farmers across Australia have no idea where they stand in all this.

The rub to this decision is now some GM crops are legal in Australia organic certification bodies, like NASAA, and organic consumers are being pushed to accept a level of GMO contamination in organic foods and adjust their standards to fit.  NASAA says they’re open to changing the standards but will be lead by consumer demands.  The ball is in now our court and if you’d like to share your consumer demands with NASAA here’s their email address enquiries@nasaa.com.au     We’ll keep you posted.  If you’d like to know more about GMO’s in Australia check out Melbourne’s own MADGE

Read more …

The Real Dirt on CERES

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Original Released March 16th 2012

What’s the worst thing that can happen to an environment park that educates kids and grows food? A contamination scare that breaks in the city’s most trusted paper.

Appearing on page three of The Sunday Age, March 4th edition, just the week before CERES Organic Farm was given the all clear by Moreland City Council and the Department of Health, a feature article reported, “produce grown at CERES banned from sale” because of lead contamination. The timing of Steve Holland’s article could not have been worse or more mischievous.

If The Sunday Age had bothered to check their story, the real but far less newsworthy story would have revealed that Moreland City Council testing had found five privately leased community garden plots with lead levels slightly over ANZFSC limits and that produce from CERES Organic Farm had never been contaminated or banned from sale. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story they say.

When I read the article, including a quote from CERES chairperson, Robert Larocca, which seemed to back up the story, my first thoughts were, “That’s not right and why would Robert confirm it?”

And then I found out how some journalists work and it all became clear. At the time of the interview in January the final Moreland City Council test results hadn’t come out but Steve Holland obtained a leaked version of the preliminary results. The document had the test results but not the locations of the tests. Wrongly assuming the results referred to the CERES Organic Farm instead of the community garden plots, Holland used the report to ask Robert Larocca what he would say to people who could have eaten contaminated CERES produce? Larocca’s reply was, “It is unfortunate it has happened and we are sorry for that. A very small number of people will have purchased that [contaminated food], including myself.” It was an honest answer to a hypothetical question but Holland used the quote make it seem like CERES had actually been selling contaminated produce without ever checking his story was correct.

Two months passed before the article was finally published. It would have only taken a simple phone call to discover that Council test results had cleared produce sold at CERES and isolated the problem to a small number of 4x4m community garden plots not accessible to the general public. But no phone call was made, the story went to print and all hell broke loose.

I’ve been feeling sick about this for the last fortnight. I used to trust The Age. I read it every day, but now I feel like CERES’ good name has been destroyed by sloppy journalism and a paper eager for a controversial story. Two weeks later and it’s all old news; Moreland City Council came out with their test results clearing CERES Organic Farm, new articles have been written with the facts but fear is a powerful motivator and people are turning away from CERES. The damage has been done.

The outcome has been immediate for CERES; Fair Food orders are down, the Market is quiet. We are reducing what we buy from the 50 plus Victorian farmers and processors who depend on us for their income. Our packers and drivers are losing shifts and CERES will need to take money away from environmental education programs to cover the financial losses of Fair Food and Market. So much damage caused by a few careless words.

We can’t beat this alone. CERES has always lived and died on the support of our community, so we’re asking you to tell your friends the real story, to share it through your networks. We’re asking you to stand by our farmers and our packers & drivers by placing your Fair Food orders and by shopping at CERES Market. We’re asking you to stand up for CERES.

Chris Ennis
CERES Fair Food and Organic Farm

If you would like to read more information, please visit CERES Safe Food.