Make the most of spring by getting your hands on some of the region's highest quality produce!
Spring has sprung and with it comes one of the most exciting times of year for both producers and consumers. Days grow longer, chickens start laying, tender spring lamb is succulent and juicy and the veggie garden is ripe for the picking. The produce is abundant! Think new season potatoes, asparagus, broad beans, sweet peas, beetroots, artichokes, radishes, green onions, zucchinis, chillies and edible flowers to name a few. For those with a sweet tooth or two, there’s fresh honeycomb, newly released cheeses and locally churned ice cream with berries and citrus-infused treats. Tastebuds tickling yet? Cassandra Charlick pulls on her gumboots to get you the low-down on all the benefits of paddock to plate eating with some of the region’s busiest and most passionate producers.
Award-winning journalist and author Michael Pollan’s answer to the age-old question of what we should be eating is simple: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Luckily for us, there are a number of prolific plants growers in the Margaret River region who’s veggie patches have been bursting at the seems thanks to their farming methods.
Jodie Lane from Fair Harvest Permaculture Farm in Margaret River shares some of the secrets behind the produce that is brimming with vitality from their farm. Permaculture, says Jodie, is by nature organic if you look at the principles and ethics from which it’s formed. Not producing on a scale large enough to warrant the cost and administration of organic certification, a quick wander around the small farm and it is evident that the systems in place are as natural and eco-friendly as you can get.
Essentially there are three ethics that permaculture practices are derived from: Care for the earth (soil, forests and water); Care for people (self, kin and community), and; Fair share (limit consumption and reproduction).
“The design principles are simply taken from observation of natural, healthy ecosystems,’ says Jodie. So, what are those design principles?
- Observe and interact
- Catch and store energy
- Obtain a yield
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
- Use and value renewable resources and services
- Produce no waste
- Design from patterns to details
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Use small and slow solutions
- Use and value diversity
- Use edges and value the marginal
- Creatively use and respond to change
“If you go out into a healthy forest you will find that all of these things are in place anyway,” she says. “All the plants and animals are interacting naturally – there is no segregation between trees, insects, animals, water sources. It’s essentially how we aim to work here on the farm. Everything interacts to make the whole system work in the best possible way.”
From paddock to plate, Jodie now uses all of the farm’s produce on site in their tasty holistic health food. “This property is an evolution of ideas,” she says. “A lot of what we do is about personal health as well. The ethical focusing on caring for people are also about looking after our inner selves. Because at the end of the day, if you aren’t looking after yourself, the rest is irrelevant.”
Regularly hosting retreats, private events and workshops where their food is devoured by participants, the farm will also soon be opening its permaculture campsite. Spring is the perfect time to enjoy lunches at the property, with the cafe open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from October onwards.
Moving down to cooler climates in Karridale, Jo Wren at Patchwork Farm comes from a lineage of market gardeners. Girl power personified, she is passionate about promoting sustainable agriculture and natural resource management, and about encouraging young people to choose a career path in agriculture.
“It’s about creating a healthy growing environment. Healthy soil and working with the seasons will create happy veg”, Jo says.
Which, of course, creates happy people – as can be seen by the faces of those that gather her heirloom produce: pumpkins, cauliflowers, beetroots, broccoli, beans – the list goes on. “People comment on how fresh and incredible the flavours are and how much longer the produce last compared to their supermarket shopping baskets. Sometimes I have literally been out in the farm picking veg just hours before it’s bought.”
Just visiting the region for a few days and dining out the whole time? Chances are you’ve tried Jo’s vegetable bounty without knowing. “I used to have 10-acres under crop and have taken it down to 2. It’s more about interesting produce that people want to eat and chefs want to cook. I only supply locally now – direct to restaurant kitchens, a local wholesaler and to the public at the Margaret River Farmers’ Market.”
One of the kitchens she helps supply is just around the corner at Glenarty Road, where the demand for their tasty paddock to plate lunches has meant that the chefs need a little extra help from the garden. “In summer during the busiest period we have been so popular with visitors coming for lunch. We never imagined we would have ended up being restaurateurs as well as farmers”, says Sasha Foley, the winemaker and co-owner of Glenarty Road with husband Ben.
‘Everything we grow here has both form and function. The hedges are bay leaf and rosemary, which taste great with our lamb. Our chefs are constantly harvesting from our gardens throughout the day – it’s food that is not only good for you, but tastes amazing!”
With 1,600 ewes, the Foley’s produce plenty of lamb to go with their veg both in the restaurant and for customers to take home for their own Sunday roast. With the vines producing all of the fruit needed for their wines, and now hops for a beer collaboration with The Beer Farm, there is no shortage of tasks to keep the pair busy year-round.
A quick visit mid-winter found tables full of chocolate ready to be packaged thanks to a guest appearance from bean to bar chocolatier Cailo. “We have 160 macadamia trees producing fruit that we planted here as a windbreak for the sauvignon blanc vines. A collaboration on our first chocolate macadamia bars with Cailo is putting them to good use.”
With 250 other varieties of fruit trees around the property, they have a host of nectarines, citrus fruits and avocados to use in the kitchen and available at cellar door. No produce goes to waste – anything unused goes to pickles and preserves, which can be found sitting alongside their own honey from hives on the farm and olive oil pressed from their own olive trees.
“There isn’t really much left that we don’t make”, says Sasha.
Moving on from Glenarty Road’s lamb, it is almost impossible to speak of meat in the Margaret River region without David Hohnen’s name cropping up. An unassuming hero of the region, the quietly spoken farmer has been instrumental in the distribution and development of top quality produce through his business The Farm House.
His winemaking background is now best put to use crafting herb and spice filled sausages, smoked meats and honey brines for a range of cured and smoked goodies at the smokehouse. The butchery on site only sources free-range and grass-fed animals to prepare cuts of Arkady lamb, Harvey beef and his own herd of Big Red pigs that live the good life on his farm in Forrest Grove.
David’s pigs are nourished and cared for as humanly as possible. “I am not a preacher. I’m a hunter, and I put everything into practice”, says David. “In large scale production, the pig is essentially a four-legged chook. Pink, cheaper to process, and happy in an indoors environment. That’s 97% of pigs in Australia -raised in a shed. It’s a cheap product of protein and there is no respect for the animal.”
“My pigs live the way wild animals live. In the open. The sows build nests, they swim in dams. They grow more slowly, twice as long as those not contained. I would be a vegetarian if I couldn’t do what I do.”
Food lovers can purchase meat and small goods direct from David at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, where his passion can be experienced first hand. “We can’t avoid the fact that there is a disconnect between city and country, but on a weekly basis at the Farmers’ Market I like to bridge that connection. It is the window into the south west and south west agriculture.”
His products can also be purchased throughout the rest of the week direct from the cellar door of McHenry Hohnen, which shares the building with the smokehouse and butchery.
These are just a few of the producers in the region that eagerly anticipate the change in season, and have a passion and care for developing agricultural products that treat everyone concerned in the best possible manner. Replenishing and enriching the land for future generations, providing the most healthy and nourishing food for the public to enjoy on their plates and of course to ensure that the animals that live on this planet are also looked after with practices that ensure their happiness and health.