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


CERES is appealing

Monday, May 30th, 2016 at 6:13 pm


For the most part CERES generates its money through social enterprises like Fair Food, but there’s a gap (there’s always a gap). Once a year we put it out there and ask for your help.  It’s a one time thing – we hit you up and then let everybody get on with it.  See our spiel below, normal newsletter transmission resumes next week.
Dear CERES supporter,

In the beginning, back when CERES was an unused rubbish tip, when the Merri Creek was a sewer for Kodak and all the other factories upstream. Back when Brunswick was a suburb of closing shoe and textile factories and people were losing their jobs. Back when there wasn’t a single tree between the Roberts Street front gate and the Merri creek – there was a small group of neighbours who came to this small piece of polluted land and wanted to do something good.

There was no master plan; they just cleaned up, they planted trees, made fences out of hard rubbish, cobbled together garden plots and chicken coops and they started teaching school kids how to look after our land and water better.  Years passed and slowly a beautifully chaotic, leafy sanctuary of veggies and chickens and school kids and young parents and bike fixers and solar geeks and preservers and community gardeners seeking respite from a busy, concrete world coalesced from this primal community soup and emerged as CERES.

There was no leader, no charismatic visionary, people just played their parts, gave their time, came and went, came and went. Thirty-four years later CERES remains – this hopeful little piece of land surrounded by a city with its eyes glued to screens, its mind filled with property development, its belly wracked by an insatiable appetite for material things.

And each year around this time we ask for your help to keep CERES – CERES. Because every year almost half a million of you come through the front gate to learn, to grow, to meet, to share ideas, to just span time watching the chickens. You come to this special, chaotic, hopeful oasis in the middle of the city that couldn’t have been made by a government or a corporation.  And we ask you to give because together you made CERES and only you can keep on making it.

CERES plays a long game; one day the 60,000 school children who come to learn at CERES will run this country.  They come to use green technology, to work in food gardens and to talk with indigenous teachers about cultures who live in harmony with the world around them.  And there’ll be things they see, hear, smell, touch and taste at CERES that will help them understand that our needs and desires for food, shelter and energy are intimately connected with the fates of our creeks and rivers, our insects and tadpoles, our chickens and our kingfishers, our gardens and forests.

Take a look around Australia and the world, there’s no place quite like CERES. The money you give today helps CERES work with hundreds of volunteers each month (people like Pete below on the left).  It helps put thousands of plants in the ground. Helps workers like Ellie (below on the right) welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, people who just want to do something good, something hopeful like the neighbours who came here more than 30 years ago and began cleaning up an old rubbish tip.

Today CERES is a symbol for hope, embodied by the land it sits on: because the damage we do can be fixed – if we choose to fix it.  Some people have their walking groups or sporting clubs, some their churches – if you want to be part of something meaningful, something to belong to, to barrack for, to believe in, then make CERES your group, your club, your church, your place.

Donate here 
If you donated, thank you.  Your donation is tax deductible.

Have a great week

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!