Sunday, 16 June 2013

Letter From Down Under 6

New Zealand proved to be surprisingly interesting as regards heritage vegetables. And I quickly learnt my limits when it came to gorging kiwifruits. But I will never get used to calling oca "yam".

Kiwifruit pruning takes a while to master, but Marty Robinson was the man to teach us. We’d decided to see out the remaining days of winter in Northland, New Zealand’s “Winterless North” and took the opportunity to do some WWOOFing at Kerikeri Organics, run by Marty and his wife Tina.  In addition to hacking back the rampant growth, we learnt about “cracking” – realigning branches along the wires by a chiropractic-style manipulation - and the ratio of male to female plants required for effective pollination.  Part payment for our efforts came in the form of vegetables from the farm shop and as many organic kiwifruit as we could eat, which is surprisingly few after the first ten.

We borrowed the ute (pick-up truck) one day to visit nearby Waitangi, where, in 1840, the British and many Maori chiefs signed the Treaty which is regarded as the foundation stone of the nation of New Zealand.  Some Maoris believe that it has yet to be honoured properly by the Government.  The Whare Runanga (Maori meeting house) and Waka (war canoe) are elaborately carved and powerful affirmations of the vigour and vitality of Maori culture.  A waka full of Maori warriors with moko (facial tattoos) hurtling towards their enemies must have been a bloodcurdling sight.  The many Maoris who gave us lifts while in Northland, the Maori heartland, seemed to be a friendly and affable lot by comparison.

We also took the opportunity to visit the enormous Kauri trees in Waipoua Forest.  Extensively felled by the European settlers, Kauri (Agathis australis) covered huge areas of Northland.  Thankfully some big trees survive, including Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s biggest tree, which can only be described as awesome, not for its height so much as for its huge cylindrical trunk.

With spring on its way, we headed back down to Auckland.  En route we stopped off at Kaiwaka in the Brynderwyn Hills, to meet Kay Baxter.  Kay runs Koanga Gardens, a trust whose aim is to collect and preserve New Zealand heirloom plants, particularly vegetables and make them available to the public along with records of their use. Kay believes these plants are “Taonga”, that is a national treasure and should be treated accordingly. After a brief tour of the gardens on a particularly wet and windy day, Kay took us down to the seed room, a converted dairy, to view her treasures.  If I had assumed that New Zealand was a bit of a desert when it came to the genetic diversity of its crops, I was clearly mistaken.  Among the varieties Kay offers are: Dalmatian Cabbage, brought over by Yugoslavians who harvested Kauri gum and one of the few cabbages that can be grown for seed in Northland’s humid climate – most varieties rot; the King George Bean, stolen from the King’s garden by a thieving gardener and brought to New Zealand by his descendants; Maori Corn (maize) from Hokianga, traditionally used to make Kaanga Pirau, a fermented product, involving dunking the cobs in water for a few weeks; various tomatoes adapted to the New Zealand climate and Maori squashes like the exotic sounding Kumikumi.

It was the potatoes, however, that really caught my eye.  Kay has a collection of about thirty varieties of “Riwai” or Maori potatoes of assorted colours and shapes.  Many appear to be andigena types – knobbly with deepset eyes and flecked skins.  Kay believes, as others do, that potatoes reached New Zealand prior to European colonisation. The mysterious Waitaha Nation, who supposedly established themselves on New Zealand over a thousand years ago, are credited with the introduction.  Strangely, one of the varieties with purple skin and white eyes is traditionally known as “Peruperu”, perhaps a reflection of its country of origin.  The possibility of a pre-European origin to the Riwai is being investigated by Graham Harris from the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.  Other types included “Karoro” a spud that somewhat resembled Lumpers and was eaten by Maoris when collecting and preserving muttonbirds (sooty shearwaters). One variety I did recognise – the old HSL favourite Urenika, with purple skin and flesh.  This is considered by the Chatham Islanders to be a strongly “male” variety that impregnates other types and is grown apart to maintain varietal purity.

Kay also has several different varieties of “yams” as oca (Oxalis tuberosa) is known, somewhat confusingly, in New Zealand, as well as kumara, the sweet potato, in various colours.  These old varieties of kumara had specific purposes; Kay told me that the large pink variety she unearthed for us was fed specifically to young children, invalids and the elderly; another type was a sacred plant “Taputini” that was grown in baskets then moved up rivers and trails as an offering to the gods. Others have exceptional flavour “like particularly good roasted chestnuts” and all are heirlooms, recently received by Kay from gardeners in Northland.

Our next stop was the Auckland suburb of Avondale, famed for its large spiders, which featured in the film “Arachnophobia” and its Polynesian market.  We had come to see neither, but ended up encountering both.  No, our destination was King’s Seeds, run by Ross King, who we had met at the Diggers Camp-out in Australia. Ross has one of the largest ranges of flower, herb and vegetable seeds available in New Zealand, including heirlooms and his catalogue is well known and has a good reputation amongst the gardeners we met.  King’s Seeds also deals in essential oils and we spent a few pleasant and fragrant hours decanting these into 250 ml bottles.  As a commercial operation, Ross stocks seeds of the varieties which sell and this made for an interesting contrast with the non-profit organisations I've worked with.

With a population of around 3.5 million, the sales potential for home gardeners is much smaller than in Britain;  Ross, however, has found strength in diversity and continues to offer an excellent range.  For example, nearly 30 varieties of hot chillies and several heirloom tomatoes , including Garden Peach, Big Rainbow and Black Karim.  He also stocks a wide range of oriental vegetables and over ten different chicories, plus 25 lettuces.  He believes in offering the best of the old and new varieties and the bottom line is, those that sell well will remain in the catalogue, those that don’t, won’t.  Unhampered by restrictive EC legislation, the potential range of vegetables commercially available in New Zealand is much wider than in the UK.  King’s Seeds is doing New Zealand gardeners a great service by making such a wide selection available.

Economies of scale dictate that most of the seed Ross sells is produced by growers in Europe, Japan and the US and he and his wife Glenys have travelled widely to establish personal contacts with these companies.  He regaled us with tales about his travels and dealings with various companies and their somewhat eccentric owners. 

Copyright 1997

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Letter From Down Under 3

I wonder when I'll next get to eat muntries chutney, wattleseed shortbread and bunya nuts? It's been far, far too long.  

Cann River, a dreary logging town on the Pacific Highway was a hitchhiker's nightmare.  We had begun to despair of ever escaping Victoria.  Then our luck changed, with a series of rides with a forester followed by an abalone poacher and finally an environmental protection officer, who took us straight to our destination - Candelo, New South Wales, a small town in the Bega Valley.

I wanted to learn more about indigenous food plants and how they are used, so it was fortuitous that we found ourselves staying with the appropriately named Jenny Garden.  Jenny is setting up a bush foods garden and education facility and has planted a wide variety of native food plants.  To date, Australia has only produced one crop of world importance - the delicious macadamia nut, but there are many others worthy of international attention. 

Jenny also acts as an agent for a commercial producer of bush food jams, chutneys and preserves.  When we were not tree planting, weeding or chasing errant cows up and down hills, we were able to indulge ourselves.  Quandong jam, muntries chutney, lemon aspen jelly - we managed to empty all of these jars.  Also on the menu were crushed seeds of the mountain pepper bush (hot) and wattleseed shortbread (which disappeared with remarkable rapidity).  It was good to discover, after 200 years of European settlement, a cuisine based on native food stuffs was developing.  Led by innovative restaurants and producers, the bush foods industry is now worth millions of dollars per annum and is expanding rapidly. It seems that the Australian staples of meat pies and fish and chips may yet get their come-uppance.  Some people have questioned the ethics of exploiting these traditional foods and aboriginal knowledge without consultation or adequate financial return to hard pressed indigenous Australians.

These native plants are, as you might expect, well adapted to Australia's climate and many will grow in areas unsuited to European crops.  The quandong (Santalum acuminatum) is a good example.  A bush or small tree producing tasty cherry sized fruits, it grows in dry inland areas with sparse rainfall.  The kernel is also edible with a high oil content and is a good source of protein.  The quandong is a root parasite that taps into the food and water supply of other species which aids its survival in a harsh climate. The selection and propagation of superior varieties is now under way and the Americans and Israelis are also interested in the commercial possibilities of this crop.

Wattleseed is also seen as an important food source of the future. Wattles (Acacia spp) are found throughout Australia and many (though not all) produce edible seeds which can be roasted and ground into a nutritious protein rich flour or used to make beverages.  Aboriginal communities are particularly prone to developing diabetes when traditional eating habits are superseded by western overprocessed and sugar-laden foods.  Wattleseed, a traditional aboriginal food stuff, seems to help reduce the incidence and severity of diabetes and could be harvested and processed on a commercial scale.

Among fruits and berries, one of the most highly regarded is the midyim (Austromyrtus dulcis).  The white fruits are speckled with purple and have a lovely sweet aromatic flavour.  Too bad that Jenny's bushes had yet to bear fruit.  There are many other closely related myrtle bush fruits known collectively as lillypillies, which produce tasty cherry sized fruits. We had our first taste at a scrumping session in the botanical gardens at Wagga Wagga, but that's another story.  Another well known fruit is the Davidson's plum (Davidsonia pruriens), a beautiful rainforest tree with large ginger haired pinnate leaves and bearing grape like clusters of damson sized fruit.  The pulp is particularly tangy and makes a wonderful jam. Once again Jenny's plant was not yet fruiting. 

Perhaps the most impressive nut tree is the bunya nut pine (Araucaria bidwillii).  A close relative of the monkey puzzle, it produces huge cones containing fat, leathery shelled nuts with a delicious starchy flavour. They are usually eaten after boiling or roasting.  They were an important aboriginal food source in parts of southern Queensland, but they will grow elsewhere and are certainly worthy of cultivation, although you wouldn't want the cannonball sized cones dropping on your head.  A few weeks later and further north we were treated to our first bunya nut feed and yes, they do taste good.  Not so impressive was the candlenut (Aleurites moluccana). We were warned by our host not to over indulge in this hard shelled oily nut due to its purgative properties, but to no avail - we spent a day feeling somewhat queasy and rather anxious. We have yet to try the red bopple nut (Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia), a close relative of the macadamia nut with a bright red husk and reckoned to be another commercial possibility.

What of vegetables?  Jenny mentioned the exotic sounding warrigal greens which she had growing in her garden.  When I saw the plant I instantly recognised that it was none other than New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) whose seed pods floated over to New Zealand at some unknown date to be discovered by Captain Cook.  If only he had gone to Australia first, maybe we would be calling it Sydney spinach instead.

copyright  1997

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Letter From Down Under 2

As the nights lengthen and temperatures drop, it's good to be reminded that our loss is someone else's gain - things are hotting up in the Southern Hemisphere.  With that fierce antipodean sun beating down, where better to seek shade than beneath a gum tree.  If only life were that simple. 

One and a half hours drive up the bumpy Bonang Highway gave us a real taste of the scale of Australia.   "Highway" suggested to us a dual carriage way or at least a tarmac surface. Here, surrounded by the vast forests of East Gippsland, it meant road, the only one going anywhere.  

As we crammed ourselves into her "ute" (pickup truck) and meandered through the forest, Jill Redwood, forest campaigner and backwoods woman, helped alleviate the motion sickness I had begun to feel by pointing out the many different species of tree growing by the roadside. There are over 300 species of eucalypt alone in Australia. We also saw signs of clear felling - huge coupes or cuts where all the trees had been cleared and any unwanted timber burnt. An occasional lorry passed us carrying one or two gigantic eucalyptus trees. We were in timber country up beyond the self-styled "timber town" of Orbost on the south east coast of Victoria. Jill's farm "Witchwood" is as at Goongerah, deep in the heart of forests. She has 25 acres of river flats which are home to her goats, horses, geese and chickens.  Saddened and angered by the destruction of the old growth forests all around her, Jill has spoken out against the logging industry and its wanton disregard of environmental concerns. This has won her few friends locally. A courageous and forthright individual, Jill has received death threats, had her horse shot and has been harassed by local "rednecks". Her mail one morning consisted of two severed goats heads, courtesy of a passing trucker. 

During our stay we helped out on the farm and did a variety of tasks including gardening, pressing apples for juice, collecting firewood, maintaining fences and scaring cockatoos off the walnut tree. Jill is a particularly resourceful individual, adept at a wide range of rural skills such as basketry, cheese making, working with draught horses and house building.   These hard won skills have enabled her to build her own house using horse extracted timber as well as a spacious bark hut, an Australian pioneer speciality built of large sections of thick eucalyptus bark attached to a wooden frame.

Jill sometimes runs rural skills courses at her farm and takes wwoofers, but now devotes most of her energy towards the preservation of the forests. This keeps her busy at her desk editing the "Potoroo Review", campaigning and running the local anti-logging group CROEG (Concerned Residents of East Gippsland).  Her efforts have not gone unrecognised - in 1995 she won the Australian Conservation Foundation's award for "environment campaigner of the year".

If the forest appeared endless to our European eyes, Jill quickly put us straight. The depressing reality is that in a little over two hundred years, white settlers have cleared over half of Australia's forests and that destruction is accelerating  The most tragic thing, she told us, is that these huge old growth trees, currently cleared at the rate of 17 football fields a day in East Gippsland, mostly end up as wood chips in Japanese paper mills.  

The forests of East Gippsland are particularly diverse, reflecting the varied topography of the region, ranging from coastal dunes to rainforest and stunted alpine woodlands.   Eucalyptus forests predominate, but also found in the region are callitris pine woodlands and podocarp rainforests.   As a whole, these support over 300 endangered species, such as the Tiger Quoll (the largest predatory mammal in mainland Australia), the powerful owl, the long footed potoroo (a diminutive relative of the kangaroo) as well as plants and invertebrates.   Many of these animals require tree hollows for shelter or to nest in, or they feed on others that do.   Eucalyptus trees do not produce usable hollows until they are 100 years old or more - commercial logging runs on 60 to 80 year harvesting cycles, effectively preventing recolonisation from adjacent old growth areas.   Other animals need sediment free water or moist mossy undergrowth; clear felling removes all these.   The result is a devastated ecosystem, with a radically disrupted species composition allowing introduced foxes and cats to consume or out compete the native animals.  From an aesthetic point of view clear felling is also repellent - the sight of huge tree ferns lying smouldering in the ashes of the once majestic forest is heart-rending.   To learn from Jill that the majority of trees end up as wood chips was particularly upsetting.   It is very clear that the Australian government is more interested in selling off its unique natural heritage than in preserving the forests of East Gippsland, which have been described as "the most diverse temperate forest ecosystem on earth".

copyright   1997

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Hidden Hut Revealed

Just to prove how contemporary I can be, here's a guest post I did the other day  for Chocolate Log Blog on a surprisingly excellent beach hut cafe located on the Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall.  Some of the best presents come in plain wrapping paper and that's certainly true in this instance.

The Hidden Hut Revealed

Monday, 24 September 2012

Cupboard Love

The interest in fermented food has mushroomed recently, with a large number of books, blogs and websites  extolling the virtues of sauerkraut, kefir and other exotic cultured products.  The modification of foodstuffs using microorganisms has been carried out by many cultures worldwide for thousands of years.  It seems like I've been writing about it for almost as long - this article was published in HDRA News in 1995.  For those who are interested, you can follow Twitter conversations on the subject using my hashtag #fermentationnation.   

Cupboard Love

For thousands of years human beings have used microorganisms to produce foods, condiments and beverages, with enhanced nutritional value, digestibility and flavour and also as a means of preserving perishable foodstuffs. Obvious examples are wine, beer and bread. There are many others, however.  Often their origins are unknown and colourful folklore and remarkable health benefits are attributed to them.  It is common for some part of the culture to be retained to inoculate the next batch of food or beverage. Some of these 'starter cultures' have remained in the hands of certain families for generations and are considered heirlooms and as such are jealously guarded.

Often cultures are made up of several different organisms, which appears to increase their hardiness and longevity as they are carried from place to place.  They are easily cultured once a few basics have been grasped.  Most of the cultures described in this article require a temperature of 25-30°C, which is quite easily met in a warm room, or an airing cupboard - the latter being one of my favourite locations for culturing.  It is well worth determining the temperature fluctuation of your airing cupboard, using a max/min thermometer.  As with the preparation of all food, sensible and prudent hygiene will prevent the growth of harmful spoiloage organisms.  If the foods are cultured correctly, the beneficial organisms tend to suppress the undesirable ones. Here are some of the cultures I have tried.

East Asian Fermentations

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian fermentation process by which dehulled and partially cooked soya beans are inoculated with the spores of the mould Rhizopus oligosporus and kept at a temperature of 30°C for 24 hours.  The resultant 'cake' is tightly bound by the fungal mycelium and has a pleasant aroma.  When deep fried, it is absolutely delicious and any fears about mouldy food are quickly allayed.  It is certainly one of the best ways of eating soya beans, as the mould's enzymes help to predigest the beans, aiding the human digestive system and reducing flatulence. I have successfully made 'low food miles' tempeh from field beans, split peas and broad beans. Another product, also from Indonesia and used in similar ways, is onchom, made by inoculating peanut presscake or soya bean pulp with Neurospora intermedia. The cake produced is similar in texture and taste to tempeh, but has an amazing bright orange colour, looking rather like a fish finger.  It is kept at  25°C for two days. To date I have only used soya beans to make onchom, but am intending to experiment with local legumes.

The third mouldy product is miso, made from rice and barley (or even potatoes), which are inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae.  When the grains are covered in mould, they are mixed with mashed cooked beans and salt and undergo a second fermentation by yeasts such as Hansenula and Saccharomyces, and Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria, among others.  This can take a few weeks or several years, depending on variety.  Miso is a paste somewhat like Marmite in appearance, with a delicious aroma and flavour, which can be used in stews, spread  on bread or as a Bovril-like winter drink.  A staple in the Japanese kitchen, it is highly valued for its tonic effects and is believed to have helped prevent radiation sickness in some survivors of the atomic blast at Nagasaki.


The airing cupboard is a familiar location for rising bread.  Sourdoughs, with their long proving period and distinctive flavour and texture are worth trying.  Made up of wild yeasts and Lactobacillus bacteria, the cultures are very resilient and hardy; those from different locations have different flavours and baking qualities.  The long rise, often 12 hours or more, actually makes the bread more digestible and liberates minerals such as zinc, which are usually bound in the form of phytates. If you get bored of sourdough bread-making, the culture can be put in a jar in the fridge and left for several months before reviving and all will be well.

Milk Cultures

There are a number of milk-based foods which can be easily cultured and renewable. Kefir, beloved of Cherry Hills, is well known.  It is made up of a number of Lactobacilli (notably L. caucasicus, lactic Steptococcus and yeasts.  Originating in the Caucasus, it is made up of small irregular grains, a bit like cauliflower florets in appearance. The grains, transferred from batch to batch, gradually increase.   It should be kept at a temperaure of around 20°C for a couple of days, stirring occasionally.  The resultant yogurt is fairly thin and mild.  I use it to make a soft cheese, straining it through a close weave cloth and then adding salt, garlic and herbs.

Another yogurt, or perhaps more strictly, a buttermilk, is viili, a Finnish delicacy with a creamy, custard-like texture and flavour. It is composed in the main of Streptococcus cremoris and a mould, Geotrichum candidum.  A spoonful of the mature yogurt is added to milk and kept at a temperature of 20-2° C for a day.  My culture came from America, where it was taken by Finnish immigrants 85 years ago and is still going strong.  Normally it needs to be cultured at least once a week or it goes off, although I have kept it on UHT milk for several months in the fridge.  It can also be cultured on soya milk, as long as it is reinvigorated every so often on cow's milk.


Apart from the obviously fermented beverages like wine, there are often others that can be produced in the airing cupboard.  One of the most peculiar cultures is kombucha or tea fungus.  The first name, which means 'kelp tea' in Japanese, is a complete misnomer, although this is the name most often used.  Tea fungus is more accurate, although the organisms present are actually the bacterium Acetobacter aceti var xylinum and the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe.  The culture consists of a tough slippery skin, a bit like a jellyfish, which is placed on sweetened black tea for a week or ten days at 20-25°C. The drink that results, when properly prepared, has a taste just like a sweet cider. If left too long, or kept too hot, the Acetobacter secretes large quantities of vinegar, making the drink unpalatable.  It is the bacteria which produce the remarkably tough skin which has, apparently, been used to produce an imitation leather. All sorts of remarkable therapeutic benefits have been attributed to it and at the moment it is the subject of controversy in the USA, where it is being promoted for the health benefits it brings to AIDS sufferers.

Vinegar Mother

On the subject if vinegar, it is very easy to make your own using a vinegar 'mother'.  Similar in appearance to the kombucha culture pad, being produced by the same bacterium, it can be placed on any alcoholic drink and  kept at 20-25°C for a month or two until the alcohol turns to vinegar.  Unlike most commercial vinegars, which are produced by a different culture and are pasteurised, the vinegar mother, sitting on top of the alcohol, prevents the loss of aromatic compounds in the original drink. The result is a very distinctive and flavourful vinegar. Almost any wine, beer, cider or similar drink will do. The woman who supplied my culture makes hers with Guinness!

I hope this brief overview of culturing foods in your cupboard gives an idea of the range of possibilities.  Other cultures to try include sauerkraut, kisiel (fermented porridge from Poland), nuka zuke (bran fermented pickles from Japan), kenkey (sour maize balls from Ghana) and many others I hope to experiment with over the years.

Copyright 1995

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Letter From Down Under 1

Here's my first article on year-long travels in Australia and New Zealand. I had just left my job working in the Heritage Seed Library (HSL) at Ryton Gardens. Written in March 1997, we arrived in mid February during a hot spell and recuperated at a friend's house in the attractive suburb of Albert Park. It was the first time I'd ever taken a shower with my clothes on. Hiding my light under a bushel once again, I notice that for some reason I failed to mention that I gave a talk myself - on the work of the HDRA's Heritage Seed Library (HSL) and the impact of European seed regulations on the availability of heritage vegetables.   The Seed Saver's Network is an Australian organisation dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of seeds and crop plants and is based in Byron Bay, NSW.  It was published in a slightly abridged form in HDRA News (as was); this is the unexpurgated version transcribed from the original biro and paper creation.


from your Owen Correspondent

We arrived in Melbourne during some of the hottest weather of the year.    The combination of daytime temperatures of over 40C and jetlag made the first two weeks a period of slow adjustment to life Down Under.   

I was keen to meet with the staff of the Diggers Club, a leading Australian seed company who have been trialing and selling an excellent range of heirloom vegetables in their catalogue.  Owned by Clive and Penny Blazey, the company’s head quarters is at Heronswood, a beautiful house and landscaped gardens overlooking Port Philip Bay.  On the day we visited, the gardens were open to the public and we sat in the recently constructed rammed earth and thatched tea rooms and talked about heritage vegetables.

Clive is convinced that many of the old fashioned vegetables give tastier produce, with higher and more sustained yields than F1 Hybrids.    He told me that some of his customers fly out from Britain to get their supplies of heirloom vegetable seeds, such is their desperation.    Diggers have recently obtained Crimson Flowered Broad Bean, which they will be growing and offering in future years.    It was good to hear that an old stalwart from the HSL is set to win friends on the other side of the world.  By a lucky coincidence, Diggers were holding a seed campout at Heritage Farm near Seymour that very weekend and we were invited to attend.

Heritage Farm is set in particularly beautiful countryside - impressive granite hills with rocky outcrops scattered through the eucalyptus, tea tree and wattle forests, with the Goulburn River flowing in the valley.    An equally impressive range of wildlife is to be found there too - koalas, possums, wombats, kangaroos and echidnas were among those that we saw during our stay.

Over two hundred people gathered at the campout to swap seeds, information and to listen to the guest speakers.   Food was provided by the local CFA (Community Fire Association)  a volunteer force who tackled bush fires and seemed to have a major role in rural life both as a bush fire hit squad and a cohesive force within the community.

Speakers included Dr Judyth McLeod of Western Sydney University, author of Heritage Gardening, a book on heirloom plants, Jude Fanton of the Seed Savers Network, who visited Ryton in 1995 and David Cavagnaro, former head gardener for Seed Savers Exchange in the USA and photographer extraordinaire.   Judyth spoke of the threats to world agriculture from increasing population, loss of biodiversity and climate change.   She suggested that individuals could help mitigate some of the worst aspects of this doomsday scenario by growing a wide selection of locally adapted heritage varieties.

David described the years he and his family spent living self-sufficiently, the lessons he’d learnt and his conviction that human as well as horticultural biodiversity was crucial for our survival.   He mentioned that recent immigration into Australia had led to a much wider and more interesting cuisine than had existed during the mainly Anglo-Saxon phase of settlement.   The race issue remains contentious with some politicians advocating strict limits to immigration from Southeast Asia.   David’s talk was illustrated with many of his exquisite photographs.  

Jude Fanton, who visited Ryton in 1996, talked about the Seed Savers’ Network’s work with Solomon Islanders and in Cuba. 

Neil Barraclough, the recently appointed manager, outlined his plan for the farm and his desire to eliminate the need for artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers.   Growing commercial quantities of seed organically is particularly challenging due to the wide range of pests which flourish in this climate.   The aerial assaults of cockatoos, rosellas and other birds are also particularly intense.

Neil is also responsible for founding a heritage fruit group and is extremely knowledgeable on the subject.   He kindly provided me with a floppy disk containing some fascinating information which he asked me to copy and distribute to interested parties in Australia (and beyond!)

In order to learn more about Heritage Farm, we decided to stay for 10 days and thus became the farm’s first WWOOFers.

Copyright 1997