Farm Club

2018/05/06 deej 0

The first rule of farm club is..  please do in fact talk about farm club. Tell anyone you know who might be interested. Encourage other people to start their own versions – maybe we can make it into a movement.

Farm club is a combination of a (hopefully) practical co-op for food sharing and an attempt at a real-world version of a gifting/barter economy. The idea is that members offer “shares” in whatever they produce, along with what they need back to keep producing the thing, and other members sign up for those shares.

So in our case, we produce eggs. We’ve tried selling them directly, either for eating or hatching (we have roosters, the eggs are fertilised), but it’s hard. Working full time and trying to do a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is hard; working full time an hour to an hour and half commute away from home and trying to maintain social connections, and spend time with my kitties and my geese and my chickens, have a little bit of time to myself to write or read or play, AND doing a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is well nigh impossible. I just don’t have time, or the energy.

Plus, chickens aren’t machines. They don’t lay an egg a day all year; they molt, or a fox comes past and tries to get in (and fails, but still, it does them a frighten), or the weather turns cold or gets too hot, or something happens in their little chickeny brains and they stop laying. Or they find a cache of delicious bugs or something, and they go berserk laying like they’re mental (2 eggs a day from some of the hens, for no apparent reason). To reliably produce enough eggs to sell, we need to actually over-produce, which means we then have an excess to try to sell (but then we have the same problem of supplying the demand once we generate it) or to use up ourselves (our diet is already egg-heavy, we really can’t effectively use any more).

Thus: farm club. It’s a variation on the idea of people jointly buying and owning a cow or goat, and all taking a share of the milk produced by the jointly owned animal (this idea has been used by people wanting raw milk, because while it’s illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, it is legal to use the raw milk form your own animal).

In this version, we’d offer a number of bird-shares for eggs and farm club members could sign on for one or more of these egg shares. Each share is equivalent to a half dozen eggs a week, and the ‘cost’ of your share covers the feed for producing those eggs (either directly as chicken feed, be that commercial grain-based feed or fruit & veg e.g. excess fruit from a loquat or lilly pilly tree, or in $$). We’d set a day and time (and frequency) that farm club members could come and pick up their eggs (thus sorting out our distribution issue) – for us it would be one Sunday afternoon per fortnight (Fresh eggs will last up to 3 months in the fridge, a fortnight won’t hurt them or you). If the chickens aren’t laying, or are laying less than usual, we’d post an update saying that there are no eggs that week, or that there are limited eggs.

 

farm club spreadsheet

* One standard 10L bucket  of fruit/veg scraps is approx 2 kg, but feel free to bring more if you want. Best options are greens (celery tops, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce), fruit (lilly pillies, loquats, strawberry tops, bruised bits of mango or peach, the seedy bits from the middle of melon, watermelon rinds,apple cores) or chook-friendly vegetable scraps (cooked beans, corn cobs, the seeds from pumpkin or cucumber, peas or green beans, cooked potato or sweet potato). Leftover cooked rice, barley, couscous or pasta is also okay. No citrus or onion please, and nothing mouldy (those should all go into the compost).

I haven’t worked out all the bugs from the idea, but I think it has possibilities. For example, as we start producing more things, farm club will get different types of shares that members can sign up for – and maybe even some different types of shares that other members produce.

Check out the Farm Club page – it’ll be updated as we work the idea out further. 🙂

self sufficiency and community

2016/11/28 deej 0

A friend of mine asked yesterday how long it would be before the farm was self sufficient. It’s not as simple a question to answer as you might think.

 

One answer is: never. We aren’t planning to grow grain, and although I do have some tubs of potatoes and a sweet potato patch, and plans to put in chestnut trees, we aren’t really focusing on growing what the biodynamic gardening people call ‘calory crops’. Those are the foods which make up the majority of your diet – the carbohydrates that give you a baseline energy hit and leave you feeling full and satisfied. For most of humanity the main calory crops are various grains (wheat, maize, teff, millet, rice, barley, etc.), mainly because they are high yielding and fast growing, although potatoes, plantains, and a few tropical starch-producing root crops such as taro are also important.

 

On the other hand, we will be growing some calory crops. Dates, Bananas, a variety of nuts, and a wide variety of fruit are all in the plan, and it is possible to survive on these sorts of foods without the addition of high density carbohydrates. Our modern (and even heirloom) fruit varieties are so high in sugar that they can easily provide us with the energy we need as well as providing vitamins and other nutritients. My not exactly back-of-a-napkin but not fully researched and verified calculations indicate that if we put all the trees in that I want, and if they all survive and produce more or less as well as the literature indicates they should, then once they’re intot heir adult production levels we will in fact produce enough food to entirely fulfil the energy and nutritional needs of somewhere between 8 and 18 people. And there are the animals as well, chickens and geese and ducks (we have muscovies, too, now), and bees producing honey. The fruit and nut trees take between 3 and 10 years to reach full production, and not all are in the ground yet, but.. call it ten years. In ten years, we could be self sufficient if we wanted to, and we were willing to give up any type of food we couldn’t grow ourselves. And we’d have it pretty good too – we’d be giving up most of our wheat & rice intake, and making that up with fruit and fresh vegetables and nuts. Instead of having a sandwich, we’d have dried figs and dates, maybe some cheese, or fresh berries.

 

The third answer is that no one is ever truly self sufficient. Self sufficiency is by its nature isolationist, and that just isn’t how the world works now (if it ever did). Community sufficiency is a much better aim, where instead of pulling back and focusing on your own needs you move forward and form relationships with your neighbours and the people around you who have similar interests. The community you form can act as a miniature village, and between that group of people it’s much easier to make sure that there’s enough to go around – enough food, enough clean water, enough social support. Enough help on the days when running a farm is hard, and an extra pair of hands to get the firebreaks done or fix the fences is the thing you need. Enough shared objectives to check out random banging and crashing in the middle of the night if your neighbour’s away – and hey, it was just kangaroos making a racket, but knowing that someone will check still makes you sleep easier if you have to be away overnight. Enough to share with friends and family, and not just your own friends and family either but the friends and family of your entire community. That’s what this is about. That’s what self sufficiency should look like, and I think it’s what we should be aiming at.

 

On that note, this summer we’re going to start slowly ramping up our workshop capacity. I’m running a trial cheese-making workshop in mid December, with plans to run more if it goes well. We’re going to break out the seed-ball machine in the new year and have a seed ball making workshop (please hit us up on Facebook if you’d be interested in that – it’s kid friendly too), and I’m going to see what I can do about a grafting workshop towards the end of summer. In between times, there’s potential for some food preparation along the lines of jam and chutney making, and fermentation, and possibly some walk-through tours with info about keeping urban livestock. So if you’re keen to get involved and join our fledgling community, watch this space (and the facebook page, which is where events are posted when the dates are finalised). Feel free to request a workshop if there’s something you’d like to see, or if there’s something you’d be keen to teach people – we have a venue, and it would be great to learn something new.

June 28: tastes of the Blackwood

2016/06/28 deej 0

Last night we attended a Tastes of the Blackwood evening at Taste Budds cooking studio in Highgate, showcasing some of the produce of the Blackwood Ruver region in the South-West of WA. It was brilliant. Gorgeous food, talks from the producers, and a chance to ask questions both about their farms and farming practices and about their produce. The producers represented there were:

 

The food, as expected, was amazing. We started with fresh focacia bread spread with butter and honey (from Southern Forests Honey) and cider from The Cidery & Blackwood Valley Brewing Company. That was followed by grilled lamb (grass-fed dorper lamb from Blackwood Valley Beef), then gnocchi with a pork ragu using chestnut-fed pork from Chestnut Brae, and more melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi in a chestnut cream sauce. We followed that with roast chicken (from Southampton Homestead) with polenta, leeks and kale, and finally grilled tamarillos with custard (made using eggs from The Organic Fine Food Company). There must have been around 30 people there, and everyone cleaned their plates.

 

The food being excellent was no surprise – I have a very high opinion of our local producers, and the Blackwood River region has gorgeous soils and good rainfall. What did surprise us was how casual and friendly it was, how much the farmers appreciated everyone just showing up. This wasn’t an expensive event, and they honestly seemed surprised that they had sold out. The group of producers is a newly formed collective (only about 4 weeks old) of individual producers who want to share information and skills, and help each other out to produce and market the best food they can; I’d say they’re succeeding very well. I’d also suggest that everyone check out these six producers because wow. So much deliciousness in one go.

 

We had no idea going in that the intended audience (and indeed, most of the attendees) were chefs, media, and food industry people. Previously I’ve been to similar events, but only those aimed at the general public, so it was really interesting to see the differences (and similarities) in the kinds of questions asked of the producers. Also interesting for us were some of the lessons learned that the farmers shared, like the dangers of running pigs directly under the trees of the chestnut orchard without putting rings in their noses to stop them digging up the trees, and the conversations about the potential for starting a small or even mobile abattoir for the region. The main reason we aren’t considering commercial meat production ourselves is the difficulty of getting animals to (a) any abattoir, since they’re all quite a long way away from us, and (b) the stress involved for the animals in such a long trip. A mobile abattoir would be perfect.

 

I’d love to see more events like this – I spoke to so many people who would have loved to go if they’d known about it a little sooner. I’d love even more to be able to be involved in them and start contributing – we’re a couple’ve years off having any sort of commercial product quantities, but I’m taking so many notes that even K laughs at me for it. And we’re slowly gathering some potential customers and some market data. It’s exciting, starting to see it all coming together – and last night was really inspiring for us. Soon, the Tastes of Chittering will be a thing too. Soon.

June 26: belated weekend update

2016/06/27 deej 0

It was a busy weekend (although a good one!) so I’m a day late with this post. Saturday we attended the Less is More festival and I presented on keeping bees, then we had a mid-winter gathering at my mum’s place and caught up with friends and family there – and ate far too much delicious lamb tagine and roasted sweet potato. Sunday we headed out to the swan valley for breakfast at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory (which does a very nice breakfast), and then a day at the Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm.

 

So many animals. Including Damara lambs, baby goats (and adult milking goats), guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, pigeons, a baby deer (tame enough to eat grass from our hands and let us pet him), two foxes (not tame, in an enclosure away from bite-able fingers and also away from all the birds), pea-fowl, geese, cows, and a big white pony (horse) who was really quite friendly once he warmed up to us. It’s true – I’m still the same person who would sit perfectly still for half an hour at age 5 so that the semi-tame rabbits at the local rabbit farm would come and eat greens out of my hand, and needed to pat and feed every pony we saw. K was vastly amused to see me making friends with the horse at the Cuddly Animal Farm; he hasn’t really seen me around horses before.

 

Sunday afternoon and evening  we had some friends round for a movie night, because friends are important, and so are science fiction films. We watched the 1960 version of the Time Machine, and discussed how one might restart civilisation, and what three books one might take into that hypothetical future in order to do so. My selection is a good maths textbook (going form basics through to complex calculus and geometry), a new edition of one of those 70s homesteading books that shows how to build a house, fix a roof, plant a farm, spin, sew, make soap, etc., and a book of basic machines (things like the Open Source Ecology group are looking at, plus looms, spinning wheels, bicycles, and so forth), with Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Design Manual as a close fourth – but I’m interested in what other people would pick.

 

 

June 25: Less is More 2016 (hosting a beehive)

2016/06/25 deej 0

Today I presented at the 2016 Less is More festival, on hosting a beehive in your back yard. Here are some of the points I covered, just in case you couldn’t make it to the talk, or need a little reminder of the content. 🙂

 

Why host a beehive? Well, it’s more a case of why wouldn’t you, really. It’s easy and safe, the bees will pollinate all your vegetables and your fruit trees, and produce honey as well. Plus, honeybees are under a lot of pressure from climate change, pollution, disease and the use of damaging pesticides such as neonicotinoids – so hosting a hive will help make sure there are healthy honeybee populations around.

 

All you need a little space – as little as 2 to 4 sqm that don’t get walked through every day, in a corner of the garden or even on your roof or the roof of your garden shed – and a bird bath or pond to provide water for the bees. You do need to provide water, otherwise the thirsty bees will go for the nearest water source, which might be your (or your neighbour’s) swimming pool, or your dog’s water dish. That’s when bees become a nuisance. You can reduce the possibility of your bees being a problem for people by putting a person-height barrier (a shade cloth screen, for example, or a hedge) in front of the hive so that the bees have to fly over it to leave; they will then tend to stay at that height until they get to the flowers they are heading for.

 

You should also check on your local council’s rules – most councils allow beehives, but some have rules about how far from the street your hive must be, or how many hives you can have. You also need to register with the state government for a ‘hive brand’, and pay a registration fee, so that you can legally keep bees. The hive brand is a symbol or combination of letters and numbers which must be visibly marked on your hives.

 

You should open your hive up to check on the bees at least four times a year (once per season), to make sure they’re healthy and don’t have parasites or diseases. Open the hive in the morning, ideally on a sunny day – never in the rain or late in the evening. Bees become defensive and angry if disturbed at night. Smoke your bees gently before opening the hive, using a bee smoker. You can also harvest honey when you open the hive up – we’d suggest doing an intro to beekeeping course to see how it’s done before trying it yourself. Always listen to your hive – you can hear their mood in the tone of the buzzing. Beekeeping equipment for maintaining your hive and harvesting honey is available from several suppliers, who can also advise on where to buy bees – try Perth Bee Supplies or Guilefoyles, or you can buy the equipment online from multiple sellers. Your first beekeeping supplies, other than a hive, should include a bee brush, a smoker, an implement called a hive tool, and protective gear (bee suit, gloves, veil).

 

Once you have the honey, you still have to use it. Honey tastes sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it in most recipes. Use approx. ½ to ¾ cup of honey per cup of sugar replaced – and be aware that some recipes won’t turn out the same, especially confectionary, because honey contains different types of sugars to regular sugar (fructose and glucose, rather than sucrose). Honey also adds liquid to a recipe, so you need to reduce the liquid content of the recipe from other sources. Reduce the liquid content of a recipe (from water, milk, etc.) by about ¼ cup for every cup of honey you add to the recipe. Honey is great to bake with, and works really well in jams too.

 


 

Easy Honey and Olive Oil Cupcakes

 

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup of plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup olive oil (or other vegetable oil)

½ cup honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup milk (you can use rice milk, nut milk, or water if you prefer)

 

  • Combine all ingredients.
  • Spoon into cupcake cases or muffin pans.
  • Bake at 180 degrees C for about 10 minutes, or until golden on top and cooked all the way through.
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