The Food Farm Blog
I’ve long given up resolutions. They sound so earnest and contrite, like I didn’t try hard enough last time. I prefer intentions; they sound kinder and more real, and as long as I’m heading in the direction of the intention, the journey can be filled with rest stops and side tracks.
So the intention here is to write about our lives on The Food Farm, but also to insert interesting bits from our travels and working lives, including Eat New Zealand.
We’ve seen a huge increase in interest in what we are doing here (on our 16 acre Permaculture small farm) over the last year, and the purpose of what we do is to encourage others to step into a more resilient food future. As I write this our other home country, Australia, is burning. My social media feeds are full of astonishment, panic, and a sense of disbelief. How can relatively normal lives become a fight for survival so quickly? After a decade of earthquakes in this place, Canterbury New Zealand, we understand the incredulousness.
Upon reflection, the biggest takeaway from our experience is the power of communities to pull together to find a way through. I think waiting for governments & their agencies often doesn’t work, as by their nature they move too slowly; the answer to resilience lies within ourselves and those closest to us.
Community looks like different things. It can mean a geographical community, those physically closest to us. But it can also be a virtual community of like-minded souls, or the larger community of a food region or food nation. The commonality is the purpose; a nimble, resilient and connected group able to navigate challenges and take advantage of opportunities when they appear.
That’s pretty much what we do here on The Food Farm. It seems there are more and more of you out there as well.
I’ve always seen myself as a story-teller, it’s what I can contribute most to what comes next. Indigenous people around the world understand the power of communicating ideas and important information through story-telling, but I think it has become a lost art in recent times.
So what follows is a simply a few stories. I hope you enjoy them!
The first week of the year is always a strange one. We’re on holiday in the official sense but it falls at a time of the year (mid-summer) when it’s difficult to get away from the farm for an extended period of time. It’s the growing season and everything needs watering, weeding, planting and harvesting. In the vineyard the canopy growth is more rapid than any other time in the calendar.
So our ‘time out’ involves shorter day trips, often centered around wild food (an example of taking advantage of opportunities when they appear). Last week we headed to South Bay in Kaikōura, a chance to take Ruby & Flynn free-diving with their new weight belts. They’ve been diving since they were much smaller but the extra weight makes a world of difference. They can dive deeper for longer, but it also takes a great deal more energy to stay in the water. It was really just a practice session rather than a purposeful hunt, but the long term aim is to find fish such as butterfish and crayfish.
On the way home we found an wonderful patch of wild cherries. Matilda (our middle child) is the queen of spotting wild food opportunities and a quick stop by the road side over the Hundalee hills was enough to fill our tummies and pockets for the trip home. We shared our food place with a magnificent kererū or New Zealand Wood Pigeon.
The ‘wild cherries of North Canterbury’ are actually Siberian Cherries. The story goes that they were brought here over a hundred years ago to a property near Mt Thomas, about 30 minutes drive south-west of The Food Farm. We have a friend Nigel Wilson who lives very close to this original spot in Garry River and his property is full of these trees. Interestingly there are always black and red varieties together. They taste very similar, although the black cherry is a little more intense. They’re a lot like ‘normal’ cherries but much smaller, which makes the effort of removing the stone labourious.
The Kaikōura discovery lead to a day at Garry River collecting wild cherries and sharing some food and stories with our friends Nigel & Glenda. Nigel is an amazing carpenter; he made the table here on the terrace at The Food Farm as well as my milking stool, and all his vegetable garden structures are made from the cherry tree wood (Check out Red Lion Workshop for more of his work). Picking the cherries at his place is a little unique as he chainsaws the tree to the ground in order to carve pathways through them.
We gathered enough for our ongoing experiments including cherries steeped in grappa and a wild cherry cordial.
Instead of a big New Year’s Eve night this year, we chose to get up early (about 4:30am) and head to one of our favourite local beaches, MacIntosh Beach, to see the sun rise. It was important to do something significant as a family to acknowledge the beginning of a new decade, so we set our intentions and waited for the sun to appear. Little did we know that when it did, it would manifest as a red disc in the sky courtesy of the smoke from the Australian bushfires. Those fires are close to 2500kms away from us so it puts the size of them into stark perspective.
Our final adventure for the week was a trip to Stonyhurst, my ancestors original farm here in North Canterbury. It has been farmed since 1850 and is owned by my cousins the Douglas-Cliffords. George Clifford originally bought the first sheep to the South Island, landing them at Clifford Bay in Marlborough and driving them through the bush to a beautiful part of North Canterbury on the coast, 40 minutes north of The Food Farm, near Motanau. I feel a deep connection to this place, and spent some time here when I was younger. It’s wonderful to return and be welcomed with such generosity. The farm is steeped in history and the original homestead has been painstakingly restored after the earthquakes with huge limestone blocks quarried on the property. We had a dive here too before lunch but the water clarity was too poor to have any success. This property is filled with wild food though, and has been a favourite destination for previous Forage North Canterbury events. As a result many of our best Christchurch chefs use Stonyhurst lamb on their menus.
Meals and ingredients that defined our week.
Char Siu Pork- we marinated this special cut of pork on our pig processing weekend in July. It’s delicious barbequed and served with noodles, pak choi and green beans in black sauce from the garden. The following evening we added the cold pork to Vietnamese cold rolls, laced with excessive amounts of Vietnamese mint from the tunnel house.
Sloe Plum Gin- a bit of a preserve audit and clean out this week lead to some wonderful discoveries including a big jar of Sloe plums preserved in gin from last year (I know, how could we have missed those!). In turn this has lead to a couple of delightful pre-dinner drink moments out on the terrace.
Wild Cherry Cordial- served in cups on the beach on New Years Day at dawn. Basically we steeped the cherries for a couple of hours in hot sugar syrup and then added tartaric acid to add acidity and preserve.
Vegetable Curry and Salad Nicoise- we have a vegetarian Wwoofer, Mariel, with us at the moment so many of our meals in the latter part of the week have been meatless. The first (incredibly early) harvest of eggplants inspired a curry with new potatoes, beans and zucchinis. The base of The Food Farm curry comes from Jamie Olivers ‘Pete’s Curry’ recipe. And the plethora of potatoes, beans, eggs and tomatoes led us to a salad nicoise moment (tuna and anchovies on the side).
Zucchini Bread- Mariel flexed her epic cooking muscles (most recently used in Melbourne’s ‘Lentil as Anything’ pay-as-you-can restaurant), to re-purpose a Moosewood Cookbook carrot cake recipe.
Raspberries and the first apricots- other highlights of the week included an healthy amount of raspberries, some ending up in a Gatherings restaurant dish after Alex bought his family (including the darling two year old Hazel) out for a day on The Food Farm. Amazingly he managed to get some past Hazel to create a dish of salt-baked beets, pickled raspberries, buffalo stracciatella and thyme. Check it out if you’re in Christchurch.