Today is tomato-picking day – the usually big task made easier by the many hands of our lovely visitors, Cecilie, Eva and Nina. The girls gracefully weave through the tomato rows, gently hopping over wild vines that have decided to sprout in the middle of a path, and sidestepping thriving companion plants. The nightshades have grown tall this season, snaking up the salvaged trellising and leaning inwards, so to almost form an arch to walk within.
The plump tomatoes hang heavily, awaiting our eager hands and even more impatient tastebuds. Temptation takes hold and at first a mere few cherries sneakily bypass the buckets and head straight to our mouths. But before long we’re biting wholeheartedly into the largest toms, the Amana Oranges, the saccharine juices spilling from the corners of our mouths and dripping hurriedly down our wrists. Once we’ve picked our haul, we gather up our countless buckets of the precious baubles – a mesh of red, purple, golden and green – and return to the shelter of the deck to roughly chop the juicy fruits, so they can then bubble away on the stove to form passata, which will be stored for the winter months ahead.
While the simmering sauce fills the kitchen with warm comforting smells, we throw together a late lunch to sate our ravenous appetites. We lay out traded salami, homemade fetta (made from milk from dairy cow Peaches), fresh bread, cucumbers from the garden, fermented pickles and preserves – an Australian country Ploughman’s, of sorts. A little red wine (also traded from local winemakers), along with the feel-good company and hearty chatter, brings a happy blush to our cheeks as we linger in the moment.
Outdoors, the overcast sky has brought a hint of coolness to the early autumn afternoon air, and the pops of pink and yellow from the perennial flowerbed stand bright and cheerful against the blanket of grey, just asking to be plucked. We cloak ourselves in an extra layer, and while I go off to pick chrysanthemums and yarrow in the fading light, fellow farm intern Lachie instructs the girls on rounding up dairy cow Peaches and her calf Pippy for milking. As the late sunsets of summer edge earlier into the afternoon hour, it’s almost a race to finish the last tasks of the day before the sun retires for the evening. Yet, for a moment, when resting my forehead against Peaches’ belly, hands moving in practised rhythm, I can tune out time and sound, and turn my mind inward, quietly reflecting on the good work achieved that day, tuning in to my muscles and senses, and pausing to ensure peace is present.
This farm, Grown & Gathered, envisions a future without waste, where people exist thoughtfully. In this world, all compostable waste is returned to the soil, to rebuild the nutrients of the land we tread on, ‘giving’ back to the soil after ‘taking’ from it as we grow food. All hard waste is recycled and upcycled, given a new purpose, lessening the need for new inputs to be created. Being conscious of how we go about our day-to-day lives, what we eat and how we eat it, where it comes from, who we purchase from, how things are packaged and what happens to the leftovers – this is Matt and Lentil Purbrick’s idea of thoughtful consumerism. For some this might be an idea of the ‘future’, but for them, they’re living it now, demonstrating how possible it is to tread lightly on this earth.
Based 90-minutes north of Melbourne, the Grown & Gathered farm grows and harvests seasonal organic vegetables, fruit and flowers, raises chickens for eggs and cows for raw milk on three acres of land. This small-scale farm also practices traditional, pre-industrial methods of food preparation and living – modern homesteading, slow living, and a return to the motions of our ancestors, before the introduction of chemicals, plastic and waste. Raw milk from Peaches the cow is turned into yoghurt and cheese, wild grapes are naturally fermented into wine, sourdough is made with freshly milled flour and fermented for 30 hours, and the fresh bounty of the veggie patch and from the limbs of the fruit trees is preserved, pickled and stored, to be later relished when each varietal is no longer in season.
Each Saturday, Matt and Lentil pack their van full of produce and make their weekly pilgrimage to Melbourne, selling mixed seasonal boxes out of the laneway adjoining Wide Open Road cafe in Brunswick. Both regular and new customers stop by each weekend to collect their share of veggies, gradually forming a wider community that is interested in where their food comes from and how it’s grown (and the faces that grow it).
Matt and Lentil, and their small team of farm interns and WWOOFers, eat with the seasons, plucking produce straight from the earth outside their house, or swapping with neighbours. What they don’t grow themselves, they source locally from other organic or biodynamic producers – likeminded folk who too believe in ecological, clean farming. They also forage from the wild – plums in summer, mushrooms in winter – and trade their organically grown flowers for others’ homemade or homegrown goods.
In our modern day, it’s not an easy task to change habits, to completely rewire our day-to-day existence to focus on actively helping, instead of mindlessly hurting, the environment. But it is possible. And it’s this connection to nature, to the seasons, to real food, to community, and the knowledge that you’re contributing to shaping a more sustainable future for generations to come, that Grown & Gathered believes will in turn give rise to real, simple happiness.
Words by Linsey Rendell
Photographs by Grown and Gathered