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     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.

Keeping your organic fruit & veg fresher for longer

Monday, January 16th, 2012 at 11:25 am

Organic Fruit and Vegetable Storage

As a new arrival to Melbourne, I am also a recent convert to seasonal eating, ethical food and hence the Fair Food organic food box delivery scheme. And yes, I have noticed that organic produce does go off more rapidly than the chemical-rich, irradiated varieties I use to pick up from the large retail monopolies. In discussing this issue with my colleagues, I realised that educating myself, and hopefully providing some useful tips on keeping your F&V fresh was going to be far less resource intensive than individually bagging carrots into plastic for you. I exaggerate about the individual part, but the point still stands!

We want to provide you with the best quality organic produce in Melbourne, but with the least amount of impact on the environment. We don’t think you’d appreciate it if we went around cryovacing everything. So the following might help bridge the divide, make us happy eaters, without upsetting the best of all our eco inclinations.

What Fair Food does to keep your C’s crisp and P’s plump?

CERES Fair Food has a low food mileage policy, meaning we source organic produce exclusively from local suppliers. This makes our organic fruit & veg boxes fresher because local seasonal food travels the least, from seed to plate.

We pack your organic fruit and vegetables the morning we deliver to your Hosts, ensuring your food box has spent as little time as possible waiting for you.

We pack  produce at different stages of maturity, with as much variety as possible, so the contents of your organic food box are ready to eat at different times, minimising loss and wasteage.

What you can do to ensure your ethically sourced grub remains good until the next delivery day?

Get them into the cold (but not too cold): make sure you pick them up on time and get them into the fridge as soon as possible. Ensure your fridge is not turned up too high because this can “cold burn” them. Place your organic F&V into the crisper drawer, which is designed to keep moisture in and air out. This wards off “droop,” keeping your celeries, capsicums, lettuces nice and perky!

Prioritize: eat the fruit and veg most likely to go off first. Items that are ripe and ready, lettuce & leafy greens.

Keep moisture in & oxygen out: place vulnerable items into recyclable airtight containers. This is particularly important for items such as carrots, which may turn black or go “rubbery” if you don’t protect the more fragile of the otherwise robust root veg family.

Preserve: Got some stone fruit about to turn en masse into liquified goo? It’s amazing what cutting them up, sprinkling them with a little sugar and squeezing some citrus on them will do. A scoop of the mix with yoghurt makes for a very easy & healthy afternoon snack. Plus it will give your tastebuds an extra buzz as the fruit mascerates and naturally sweetens.

If you got herbs this week, put them in some water. Or if you know you’re not going to get to them in time, consider freeze drying your chives, oven drying your basil, tarragon, lemon balm & mints, or simply air drying the sturdier varieties such as sage, thyme, dill, bay leaves, oregano, rosemary and marjoram. You can even steep them in oil for a great way to infuse your cooking long-term. Instructions are everywhere on the web. Here’s one post on Wiki How.

Pre-serve… slowly: A slow cooker is an amazing invention. You dump a bunch of vegetables with stock, salt and pepper and some herbs, set the timer and come home to the best cooked stew of your life. I make large scale curries like this, particularly in winter, when there is a natural glut of root veggies and onions. Not only do I not have to cook after a long day at work, but these seasonal vegetables are great for freezing, as they maintain their structural integrity and flavour. So not only can I get away with not cooking during the working week, this one is a great trick for preserving the contents of my organic fruit & veggie box for when I need it.

Any nifty tricks up your sleeve? We’d love to hear them.

CERES Fair Food on Facebook

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 at 3:23 am

You can now follow CERES Fair Food on Facebook!
Join our Facebook page to easily follow news, updates, discussions, photos and competitions.