Wagtail open day: little farm, big lessons…

Nat demonstrating the different tools of the trade

To celebrate Fair Food Week 2014, Wagtail is having another open day!

Come along on the 13th of October to see the proof, hear the stories, smell the flowers, taste the flavour and touch the spirit of this tiny little innovative farm. Our approach is the result of many agricultural practices and farming disciplines being refined on a (small) local stage. The results speak for themselves!

Gate opens at 3pm, bring some fry-able snacks (BBQ hot plate provided), drinks and an open mind. Questions like- “Why do you plant in the evening?”, “What’s with the floppy Hoe?”, “What’s a complete organic fertiliser?”, “Who buys your stuff?” and more will all be answered on the day, along with very informative demonstrations. This will be a great learning experience, whether you’re just starting out or interested in scaling up.

More details at http://fairfoodweek.org.au/event/wagtail-little-farm-big-lessons/

See you there!

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Wagtail turns one

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New born

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Happy birthday!

That’s right, Wagtail has officially had it’s first birthday. It was somewhere in between the first site preparation (5 May 2013), the first planting (9 July 2013) , and the first harvest (10 August 2013) – thus demonstrating the difficulty of pinning a start/end date on a cyclical activity! Reflecting back on our six-month achievements, there have been some changes – we’ve changed markets, our wages are now greater than $2/hour (but still short of minimum wages), and Brett, the third leg of the stool, has flown the coop to greener pastures (okay enough metaphors) for the time being (walking the path between paying the bills and following your dreams is never easy). But we’re also starting to see patterns emerging – getting a feel for the seasons, comparing notes from last year, learning from our mistakes, and establishing and bedding down the routines that keep the farm ticking along. But while our approach has always focused primarily on growing healthful veggies, there has been an amazing range of other activities and highlights intertwined with this core, for example:

  • Farmers’ Market representatives coming to talk to us about the future of farming, young farmers and local food
  • An artist project exploring the links between climate change, food and sustainability

Rosie from Urban Theatre Projects and Nat talking theatre and food

  • Sharing a beer with the neighbours
  • Connecting with the local community (e.g. reminding a local resident of her African roots when she came and picked rosella leaves to blanch and eat like spinach – I didn’t know you could eat them!)
  • Teaching the local high school about where food comes from
  • Lecturing at uni on urban agriculture and the future of food
  • Meeting up with Costa at the City Farms and Community Gardens conference in Hobart
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  • Hosting the Fair Food Week open day
  • Guiding a Permaculture Design Course tour
  • Holding numerous working bees with friends and supporters
  • Being involved in a local growers collective
  • Receiving a visit from our farming mentors at Allsun
  • Participating in a university-led workshop on urban agriculture
  • And last but not least, featuring on Today Tonight (we’ll keep you posted on this one – we promise it’s not a ‘shonky salesman’ scoop!)

From all of us we say thank you for supporting us over the last year, and let’s hope this next year brings as many welcome surprises.

Steven “Fishhead’ Hoepfner and Silvia Volonta at the Market Shed on Holland St

 

More farm visits!

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In addition to the PDC visit, we recently had a high-school class come from Hamilton Secondary College (only a few minutes round the corner from Wagtail) for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day on May 16th. They picked carrots, beetroot, parsley, mint and flowers to make a Rainbow Salad Wrap, in a record-breaking attempt to have the largest number of people cooking the same dish across the world in a 24hr period. It was great to see everyone getting into learning all the different types of veggies, and Jess, the school teacher who ran the project, is also an ex-chef, so she had lots of passion for the subject of local food.

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Sneaky rainbow chard picking

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Hamilton class and co.

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Preparing the dish back at school

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The finished product

Big thanks to Jess Lock from Hamilton for organising the event, and the students for coming and helping pick the biggest beetroot ever!

 

PDC visit

The Food Forest recently dropped in to Wagtail with students from this year’s Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC). It was great to see so many people interested in what we do, and to be able to share some of our techniques and experiences in micro-scale farming. As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, Eliot Coleman’s methods have a big influence on how we farm, and it was exciting to introduce his methods to a new crop of aspiring growers who had never heard of him before! I’m pretty sure it was during my PDC in 2008 at the Food Forest that I came across his book “The New Organic Grower” and a light-bulb came on, and I’ve been following that light ever since!

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Demonstrating the tools of the trade

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Preparing the bed

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PDC students try out the stirrup hoes and the Coleman hoe

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Transplanting demo – thanks for the flattering shot Brett!

In other news, just a reminder we’re still at The Market Shed on Holland St every Sunday from 9am-3pm – we pick the morning of the market, and it’s only 10km from the farm – you can’t get much more local or fresher than that! We’d love to see you there.

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Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network Conference

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Onya Costa!

Steven and I recently took a trip south to Tasmania for the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network ‘Food for Thought’ conference, which this year was focused on exploring meaningful livelihoods in urban agriculture. Needless to say, it was incredible! It was a sold-out three days of inspiration, meeting like-minded people, hearing from some amazing speakers, eating delicious locally grown food, touring some awesome community gardens and other Tassie community food enterprises, and having some really interesting conversations about the future of urban agriculture, the challenges, and the possibilities.

Some stand-out moments for me were Chris Ennis’ discussion about all the failures that you don’t often see behind the amazing project that is CERES, and the revelation that by sharing these failures and celebrating them, we can learn much more quickly and get on the right track, compared to just viewing pretty pictures of success, with no idea how to achieve it! Another moment was hearing brother/sister duo Harry and Bonnie Wykman from The Black Earth Collective talk about bio-intensive growing, and hearing about their own parallel adventures in small-scale organic gardening/farming.

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Bonnie Wykman telling it like it is.

Finally, Steve Solomon showed me what a real carrot is supposed to taste like, and had plenty of other hard-won advice for aspiring market gardeners, most of which comes down to having truly superb quality vegetables (varieties, taste, looks, nutrition etc.) with which to entice people from the supermarkets back to the small scale farmer. I’m mid-way through reading his new book The Intelligent Gardener which is one of the best in-depth treatise on soil I’ve come across, and is a great reminder that the health of everything starts with the soil.

With that, I’ll let Steven describe his impressions in his own words (plus his computer is stuffed so I’m uploading the following text on his behalf!)

Tasmania!

Firstly, a heartfelt thank you to the Organisers and people who helped make the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network gathering in Hobart happen. There’s not enough characters in the English language to suitably explain how inspiring the gathering was, so I’ll just extend my gratitude to some of those that inspired me.
So thank you Chris Ennis, from CERES, for opening up your big book of failures, so that we may learn from your costly experience.
Thanks to Dr. Nick Rose, from the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, for explaining so efficiently and eloquently, that we all have the ability to subtlety undermine the current food system by changing the language that we use to describe it. Slow and steady wins the race.
Thanks to Steve Solomon, Author, market Gardener, Seed aficionado and graduate from the school of hard knocks, for offering a completely complimentary and yet totally contradictory method of producing food. (The amount of first hand experience this man carries is immense,  just don’t get on his bad side).
Thanks to whoever it was that introduced me to La Via Campesina during morning tea, lunch, a networking session or a random encounter over the three days.
Thanks to Emily Gray for graciously and yet somewhat reluctantly taking on the role of President of the ACFCGN for the next 12 months. I’m looking forward to being a part of this with you at the helm and I’m reminded of a quote by the late Bertrand Russell, “The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubt.”
And a massive thank you to Bonnie and Harry Wykman for researching and presenting the huge weight of information on Bio Intensive farming with a focus on human nutritional needs. You guys really dotted some “i’s” and crossed some “t’s” for me. Harry, thanks also for your dance floor moves on the Saturday night!
Lastly, a big hug for Costa Georgiadis, for being an Ambassador for progressive food systems change both in front of the camera and  behind the scenes. Thanks for being so focused, and yet so accessible. 
As Costa pointed out in his closing speech, the growth of numbers in people who are actively taking part in changing the food system here in Australia is growing and the fact that this event sold out is a great big confidence booster for the future of Food security in this country. The big two supermarkets may have financial control over the majority of our food, but they have no chance of getting their greasy mits on our grass roots.
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Goodbye tomatoes!

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It seems like only yesterday I was writing about the promise of tomatoes, and now it’s all over until another year! It’s been a hectic few months, and the weather has made things tricky – multiple 40 degree plus heatwaves which managed to cook a lot of fruit and fry a lot of leaves, followed by an 80mm downpour which then split a lot more fruit! Ah the joys of the weather. However, we still managed to harvest a pretty impressive load of mixed, heirloom organic tomatoes over the last few months, and from all accounts they were delicious! My favourite feedback has been from a young toddler at the Market Shed on Holland St., who kept asking his mum to buy more of our yellow pear tomatoes – he would eat the whole bag as a snack, then come back for more!

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Mixed toms – Clockwise from top left – jaune flammee, yellow pear, tommy toe, periforme and grosse lisse, purple russian, and green zebras in the centre

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Goodbye summer!

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Summer stall at the Organic Corner Store in Bellevue Heights

 

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A goal of mine for many years was to grow Grosse Lisse to perfection, and this year we made it! (albeit with a slight split due to the rain!)

While I’m sad to see the last of the tomatoes go, I’m also really looking forward to some cooler weather and rain, which brings the promises of soils opening up to life once more, lettuces as big as dinner plates, and all sorts of wintery veg. Plus, given we planted capsicums so late, we’ll probably still be harvesting them in June! Hope everyone has had a great summer of growing veg, and here’s to the new season.

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Hello autumn!