I am blessed to be a mama to two boys,
three years, two months and five days between them
these curious, adventurous and oft-smiling brothers –
I want to remember them as they are right now,
no baby book milestones, but those everyday graces
the no-longer-napping child falling asleep on his bed,
the slap slap of hands and knees crawling about the house
with increasing speed,
yes this –
the questions why,
the head shaking and crook of my neck snuggling,
the car-ride storytelling, the careful observations
the mispronunciations –
and announcements –
“I think only big men can climb on the roof”
“I am embarrassed when Beren keeps looking at me”
“I think those ants are laying eggs on that box”
“These bananas are getting crazy”
Oh, and when my baby giggles as he hides in pillows
when my boy climbs the fence to “check” on storm clouds,
and later he wraps his arms around me
and says, I love you mama –
There are hard days too,
and long wakeful nights
unsettled, restless, grumpiness –
when we loose our tempers, melt down,
kick something, knock a block tower over,
push a little brother back –
but I don’t really want to remember all that
except to say, it passes,
we got through –
and we spent a lot more time smiling.
This month marks one whole year of operating Hand to Ground; our small-scale, regenerative, family farm business. And what a year it was for us – so many things done for the first time, research gathered, mistakes made, successes celebrated, relationships built. It was daunting to step out and make a go of farming full-time for a livelihood. We are told the first two to five years are the most difficult for a new business, and without the support and encouragement of friends and family, as well as mentoring through the Government’s NEIS program – we likely wouldn’t have kept going.
But there is nothing so rewarding as hearing how much a customer’s children enjoyed (and devoured) their roast chicken, or seeing golden yolked eggs crack into the breakfast pan, or have neighbours lend a hand to unload bags of grain – as falling into a clean, warm bed after a long day out in the elements, to see with your bare eyes the landscape refreshed from a cycle of hens scratching and fertilising the ground…
So a summary of operations –
- We started the year with two warré beehives in operation. We harvested our first batch of about 9 kilos of raw cold pressed honey in March.We sold all our strained honey, and rendered the beeswax for soap and candle making and cooking. Sadly after a very dry Autumn and cold Winter we found we had lost one of our hives, the other appeared slow and weak and the colony absconded before we had to chance to re-Queen! At the same time in the early Spring we gained four other colonies – two from abandoned hives on a friends’ property, and two as wild swarms – one caught onto of our water tank and one caught in a friend’s backyard. Despite a very short and hot Spring, all four hives are going well, though building their stores very slowly.
- In February we welcomed 300 day-old layer chicks to our custom built wooden brooding houses. Once big enough, they moved into their beautiful “egg mobile” hen house built atop a caravan trailer – which provides shelter at night, a cool place to lay eggs in the day, and can easily be towed across the pasture. In June they began to lay eggs – about 180-210 each day – which we collect, clean and pack by hand. We began delivering our pastured eggs to cafes, restaurants and a green grocer in nearby towns. We added a further 50 point of lay hens in Spring, and encountered a great chicken faux pas – that you don’t ever just join two flocks of hens together without giving them some time to get used to each other (with a barrier or some kind) – otherwise the pecking order is disturbed and you experience a swift drop in egg production! We acquired two roosters to help keep the peace, and slowly got back to normal production.
- In Autumn we brooded our first batch of meat chickens. The 300 day-old broiler chicks actually arrived the afternoon of our baby boy Beren’s birth! We learnt a lot in the weeks that followed about brooding broiler chickens, our local climate and how to keep our birds healthy and thriving despite extreme temperature fluctuations and prowling foxes! In late Winter we began brooding our next batch of meat chickens, ready for processing in late Spring and early Summer. We began suppling local cafes and restaurants with our tasty birds, as well as running a pre-order and pick-up system with our fabulous local green grocer Watts’ Fresh in Kyneton. We also bought a refrigerated trailer – and with the meat safety inspector’s tick of approval – were able to start transporting our chickens to our local farmers markets.
- We attended a total of 12 farmers markets with Emily’s gluten free baked goods and seasonal preserves. Her French-style baked custards “canéles” and sourdough bread were especially popular. She also ran her first gluten free bread making workshop in October – hosted by our dear friends at A Plot in Common – It was a great success and she will be holding another workshop in February.
- Alex was fortunate enough to see the great farmer, writer and agricultural activist – Joel Salatin speak three times this year! He attended a Jonai Farm’s Grow Your Ethics workshop, and was also part of a Deep Winter gathering of like-minded people to discuss the future of small scale sustainable and ethical agriculture and food sovereignty. We are optimistic that with continued public interest, political pressure and support from local communities – fair food and farming systems will continue to grow in Australia.
We are so thankful for the support from our local community – our families, new friends (and old), big-hearted neighbours, chefs and restauranteurs, grocers, mums and dads – who care about what they eat and where it comes from. We do feel enormously blessed that we are still in operation – that we have access to land and water and opportunity to share what we raise with those around us.
As we look forward to our second year we hope to keep learning from our mistakes, build on our successes, problem solve, persevere – and above all to to keep our faith in the Earth’s remarkable abilities to heal and regenerate itself, in the joy of wholesome work, in the goodness of fresh food, in a better future for our kids…
Thank you for joining us!
I was hesitant to write this blog post – to capture the same angles of my garden that I did in my post from October last year. To pause and reflect on how much a garden changes in two and half months – when your tank runs dry, and you have one the hottest, driest and shortest Spring’s on record, when a plague of grasshoppers descends and consumes most green in sight! But then I thought, no, I want this record made – it is real life trying to grow a garden, trying to work out the seasons, to live on land. You just have to keep going as best you can…
And remarkably our garden is not all dried and brown. There are patches of green, petunia blooms and tomatoes forming. There are a little herbs (that the grasshoppers are not eating) like chives and mint we can pick and toss through our salad. There are lettuce leaves to be picked from a pot, zucchinis and dainty green squashes that mysteriously appear overnight.
There was a point when we just had to choose which plants we wanted to survive the most – and spend our scant and precious rain and household “grey” water on them. So it’s become our nighttime ritual, after we put the boys to bed and it’s still light – we cart out the cold water from our showers, baby bath and kitchen sink – we fill up watering cans from the garden tank – to pour out on the infant trees, vegetables and flowers we planted here.
This summer we are learning the absolute joy a spot of living green brings… we are also taking note of which plants are truly hardy, how an organic soap-based spray is fairly effective deterrent for grasshoppers, what difference enough mulch makes.
I am especially amazed that some plants have survived in the heat of the polytunnel – that these grasshoppers just don’t seem keen on eating my tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, squash or watermelons (but the corn and sunflowers, oh my, they are devouring that) and they are actually thriving and producing good things for us to eat.
Last week we had an idea to install one of our many farmyard bath tubs into the polytunnel so I could finally have a much wished-for soak every now and again. And a day or two later I filled it with pots of rain water heated on the stove, adding epsom salts and a few drops of lavender and bergamot oil and lay there luxuriating as night fell, with our cats padding around and grasshoppers jumping, I listening to rustling trees and the crow of birds, and looking up spied a faint sparkle of stars… the next day I scooped out the water onto the plants. Bliss indeed.