In search of compost, inspiration and a good lunch, I dropped in on this food festival in Bundanoon on my way back from Canberra last weekend. I found all three.
Set in the abundant community garden of the Quest for Life Foundation, the festival aims to celebrate and promote locally grown produce and sustainable, community based food production. It was very like a farmers’ market, only with more educational opportunities, like workshops on seed saving and beekeeping .
I spotted two good ideas within minutes of my arrival: a retaining wall made of wine bottles and an eco-friendly method for repelling cabbage moths. Apparently the moths won’t lay their eggs on foliage that’s protected by white balls on sticks. It seems like a great idea, but I couldn’t see much evidence of it working, there were plenty of moths fluttering around.
My next stop was Curly’s Compost. Unappetising bags of the compost’s raw ingredients, sawdust, cow and turkey poo were on display, along with the final product – a rich, crumbly and surprisingly not very smelly soil. At $4 for a 20 kilo bag, I didn’t think I could find a better price for much needed manure to enrich the Broughton garden.
I didn’t meet any of the community gardeners, but I did chat to a few of the stall holders, including the inventors of an impressive multi-story worm farm made of stacked plastic drawers, and a recycling expert from the local Council.
The worm farm would be ideal for community gardens in apartment complexes such as ours, because there’s extra space for kitchen waste. One of our challenges is that we have more green waste than we have room in our worm farms. But we also have way more worm tea/wee/juice than we can use, so unless our garden gets a lot bigger, we’re probably fine to stick with the two worm farms we’ve got, and perhaps, if our Strata Committee will approve it, a compost bin for the excess kitchen waste.
I was very pleased to chat to the recycling expert because she was able to clear up a couple of troubling questions for me. I’d heard you couldn’t put plastic lids in the recycling and she confirmed this was true, because they are too small for the sorting machines.
Fortunately, there is a solution! She suggested cutting a hole in a milk bottle and filling it with the lids. Then you can put the bottle into the recycling and it will get sorted into the ‘mixed plastic’ waste stream and all the caps will be recycled, not diverted into landfill.
My other question for her was about softer plastic containers, such as blueberry punnets. She told me that as long as the item springs back into shape after you crush it in your hands, it can go into the recycling. Excellent news for a berry addict such as myself.
But, back to gardens, which is what we’re all here for.
Another great idea I saw was a tepee for climbing beans that doubled as a children’s cubby house. How wonderful! Right next to it a sandpit was shaded by a grapevine trained over an arched frame.
There were also lots of heritage fruits and vegetables, both in the garden and on sale in the market stalls. Most of the fruit & veg we buy from supermarkets and greengrocers come from a very limited range of plants – choose from 3 kinds of potatoes, or 5 kinds of apples, rather than the hundreds or thousands of species that actually exist. Heritage, or heirloom produce, on the other hand, comes from the multitude of other plant stocks that haven’t been bred into submission to our modern fast food lifestyle.
Just excuse me a moment while I go and snack on one of the special variety dan bei nashis that I bought.
By the time I left the festival, my shopping bag also contained a black capsicum, Dutch cream potatoes, a colourful assortment of cherry and grape tomatoes, walnuts in the shell, golden delicious apples (not quite golden because the birds were eating them so the farmer had to pick them early, but still delicious), beetroot and chilli relish, locally grown beef, wholemeal Irish soda bread, a dozen bantam eggs, and organic seeds for red kale, beetroot and Turk’s Turban pumpkin. Ok, so I had to make several trips to the car.
I could also have bought locally produced wine, olive oil, honey, saffron, soap, lots of other vegies, fruit, jams, pickles, seeds and seedlings, and, I kid you not, a Thermomix.
I love being able to buy my food this way, and I love how it inspires meals you might not otherwise think of eating. I roasted the beef as soon as I got home and have been eating it on the soda bread with beetroot relish for lunch every day since – with cherry tomatoes and a nashi on the side.
Reading what I’ve just written, I’m amused to notice how well I fit the findings of some social research that was presented at the festival. Like community gardeners who were surveyed by Gabrielle O’Kane for her PhD research, I’m enthralled by the aesthetics of growing, cooking and eating food. I love the vibrant colours and distinctive aromas that indicate freshness, I love the carnival of flavour and texture that you find in good food. I’m soothed by the many shades of green in a productive garden and excited by the bursts of red and gold that reveal ripening fruits hidden among the foliage.
Gabrielle also surveyed people who don’t garden, but buy their food from supermarkets. It appears they don’t share the community gardeners’ passion. They didn’t talk about the beauty of food or how it pleased their senses. Unlike an hour or two in the garden, food shopping was described as a chore to be got out of the way as quickly as possible, and food was described as ‘fuel’, as though we were all machines, not humans with tastebuds.
The people she spoke to didn’t talk much about enjoying any step in the process of ‘shop, cook, eat’, and even the taste of food didn’t seem that important to them. How sad. And a bit surprising, given the abundance of popular reality cooking shows on TV, and the efforts to which supermarkets go, to make their food displays appealing.
Gabrielle’s research aimed to find out what sort of meaning food has in people’s lives, and how that might relate to their health and nutrition. As a dietician, she has a particular interest in food-related health issues such as obesity, and one of the things her research explored was whether being involved in food production could have health benefits.
The results seem to show that people who are involved in producing their own food do have more positive attitudes to it, which may flow on to eating more healthy and nutritious food. Although perhaps people who have that passionate relationship with food are also the ones who are more likely to get involved in community gardening?
Anyway, it is interesting research, and I’m not really doing it justice here. Gabrielle is sharing her findings at schools and public events because she wants to encourage people to think about their relationship to food, and to the systems that produce it.
Gabrielle’s not arguing that everyone should be community gardeners, or even that all our food should be locally grown organic, just that we all need to better understand where our food comes from, and that we need food to have more meaning in our lives than just ‘fuel’, in order to be healthy.
Well I’m with her on that, and visiting the festival was certainly a very pleasurable afternoon providing plenty of food for the senses, for thought, and also for the belly – I had a very tasty bruschetta for lunch: capers, olives, tomato, and cucumber on Irish soda bread, washed down with home-made lemonade, to the tune of a local recorder group playing lilting melodies from the Middle Ages. If only every meal, for everyone, could be so delightful.
How do you feel about shopping for, growing, cooking and eating food? What does food mean to you?