Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Well we have finished our latest WWoOFing assignment here in Tassie.  And the conclusion?  We are ready.  We may not know everything we need to know, but we know enough to get started, and we know lots of people to call on when we need help.  Our enthusiasm to get started on our own farm is stronger than ever, and the best way for us to learn this stuff is to just get going.
Ready for this everyday!
Ready to go head-to-head with wily animals!
So what are we doing?  We are leaving.

That’s right, tonight we are on the ferry to Melbourne and then over the course of a couple of weeks driving up to North Queensland.  It is time for my sinus surgery.  The doctor is going to drain them and hopefully in a couple of weeks following do the procedure to straighten them out.  It has been a long couple of years living with this and it is going to be great to get to a point where it is all behind me.

But on the flip side, it is a bit sad.  We have great friends down here now and we are sad to be saying goodbye, even if it is only for 6 – 8 weeks.  We really can’t wait to get back to find that place of our own.  We have seen a couple of promising options which we will come back to in July and look at more closely.  We didn’t want to rush the fence before we went away as we don’t know how long all the surgery and stuff will take.

One highlight of the past month was doing a road trip up to Marrawah in the north west with Sadie to buy a couple of cows.  It was a long couple of days driving but it was great to meet dairy farmers Brian and Ros and the Mount Gnomon crew, Guy, Eliza and Dane.  More great people who are happy to share their know-how.

Brian explaining the kelp drying process at Marrawah

The beautiful Guernsey cow we brought back, 880.  I think the name Susan is nicer....

Cor with Susan and 413, the two new dairy cows I picked up with Sadie.
So that is it from Radio Tassie for now, we will keep you all posted on our trip north and the fun and games of my medical dramas.

We are ready!
Moon-set over Stanley

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Generous Spirits

I know that as diary-keeper of our journey to “the good life” I have been a bit slack of late.  It hasn’t been a help that the internet in rural Tassie is so dire I can’t just log on and update the blog.    On this note, don’t believe anything you hear about the rollout of the much-touted National Broadband Network (NBN).  It’s not only late but it doesn’t cover most people outside of town and is expensive to connect to even if you can get it.  Be warned – if you are in a rural area don’t expect it to improve your coverage!

So what is happening with us?  Let me explain….. no, is too much, let me sum up.

We have finished working with Matthew and Sadie for now, having had a great time, worked hard, shared fantastic food and wine, and learned a lot.  They were both incredibly generous with their knowledge and time and we really appreciate it.  We feel very lucky considering Matthew and Sadie don’t often have the time and resources to have WWoOFers.  And to meet wonderfully generous people through them like Phil and Michelle and Jesse and Dwayne and Joan was humbling.

Thank you to Dwayne and Joan for taking us fishing and being such good neighbours, and thanks for Phil for showing us the way of Fat Pig Farm.
Thanks to Sadie for the stylish red work gloves..... I know, I am a wuss.

So we have now left the cold of the pickers’ hut, and are WWoOFing in relative luxury in Crabtree with Bronte and Jenny and their son Luke.  Bronte and Jenny have over 100 acres, a couple of pigs and some chickens, but interestingly they also have turkeys, rabbits and a meat goat herd.

We have come at a comparatively quiet time of the year, the pigs have been slaughtered, the goat herd has already been culled to winter stocking levels, so there isn’t much to do in relation to the animals.  Despite this, we may be involved in another rabbit and turkey cull.
Heavy going to clear the old fences
There has been a goodly share of old fence removal to do, and that has taken up most of our first week, especially given we are now old hands at using the starpicket-remover.  We have also been taking care of the feeding of the animals, plus treating any goats that have developed sore feet from the damp ground.  Coming up we have some goat shelter work to do, gates to renovate, trees to plant, bird fencing to sort, and a whole host of other tasks.
Burning out a stump with Luke calls for a manly pose.
Quite an odd sight to see looking out the bathroom window in the morning....
It is getting hard to keep a log of what we are picking up, because every day holds a new skill or bit of knowledge that we are “learning by doing”.  And what I am really learning is just how valuable this practical experience is.  Seeing how different people tackle their problems and what they prioritise gives us lots of food for thought.  Coreen and I are constantly discussing the things we would like to try, and chatting about where we would take the same approach as people we have met, and where our needs and approach would differ.

The Great House Hunt…..

So where are we on the search for property?  Well we still have quite a bit of our cash in pounds, so the recent weakening in the Aussie dollar and RBA’s indication of possible interest rate cuts is helping us turn our hard-earned British pounds into more real-estate on the old map of Tassie.  We have been looking at land coming up for sale, and there are a couple of promising areas that we are going to look more closely at this week.  We aren’t in a rush.  We want to get the right block of land, and if this has to wait until July, August or November then so be it.  And when we do get our land, we are reconciled to grabbing a caravan/cabin/storage container for temporary accommodation until we can build our own Bonnie Doon.

I previously mentioned the consequences of searching for a bigger block and the impact of that on our budget.  We are now looking to pay up to $300K for fifty-plus acres, then $200K for our own house (with us managing and doing as much of the build ourselves as we can).  This is more than our original budget where we were looking at 20 acres and some sort of existing house for $300K-$400K. While the expanded amount of land will allow us to develop whatever farm business we want to do, the increased financial burden will also leave us less cash to deal with any problems that arise.  Keep your fingers crossed for us!

That is where we are at the moment, we will keep you updated (as updated as we can with this god-cursed-internet anyway) on how we progress.

We hope you are all doing great, until next time, a toast to the good life…..

Friday, 10 May 2013

Getting what you pay for

Yo bitches, we be famous.

OK, maybe not Gourmet Farmer famous, but the 23 people who listen to Food Fight on radio 3CR in Melbourne have heard our dulcet tones on the radio again.  (Sorry Jonathan, I am sure you have more than 23 listeners.  Really.)  The link to it is here:

So it is time for us to use this amazing position of power for good, not evil.  And here is my contribution…. please stop complaining about the cost of food.

Hear me out.  The average Australian spends $14 a week on fresh fruit and vegetables.  That’s right, $14.  And the supermarkets talk about price inflation in the press while the cost of unprocessed food in Australia is lower now than at any point in the last 30 years.
Some tasty quinces going into making quince jelly!

But more than this, for most people the axiom “you get what you pay for” doesn’t seem to apply to food.  People are happy to apply it to so many other aspects of life but when it comes to food there seems to be the view that cheaper is always better.  And this low price has costs that you are paying, but you just don’t see it on the price tag.
Follow me on this..... just like these goats!
Let’s take a few seconds to follow this idea….

The farmers get squeezed by the large supermarkets pushing cheaper food and the spectre of food price inflation – telling farmers to become “more efficient” while paying them less.  Google Queensland dairy farmers and Lion Group, or Tasmanian potato farmers and McCain, or King Island beef and JBS.  These farmers going out of business put real strain on our economy, as any corporate replacement doesn’t employ the same number of people, nor contribute to our community (unless you are a shareholder).

These farmers, trying to avoid going bust, told to produce more for less, have to use chemicals like 24D and other pesticides that are aerially sprayed, increasing incidences of cancer and lymphoma in their communities, the costs of which we all bear.

They also have to use capital-intensive farming techniques that treat animals like commodities, subjecting them to terrible living conditions in the name of efficiency.  They also have to use antibiotics and steroids to allow the animals to cope with these unnatural intensive systems.  This profligate use of antibiotics lead to more and more resistant strains of bacteria, affecting your family’s health and your tax bill as health costs rise.
Who wouldn't want to pay a bit more to see more pigs kept like this?
If none of the above arguments have swayed you (and if statistics are anything to go by, they haven’t), then try this on for size: the good stuff actually tastes better.  If you don’t care about the conditions a chicken is raised in, try eating a true free range chicken and see how it tastes compared to cage-raised bird.  You will find a whole world of flavour that is well worth paying the extra money for.

And if you think the answer is going vegetarian or vegan, think again.  Every cow that is being milked will have its calf killed this year (why do you think they are producing milk?).  Egg-laying chickens don’t get a nice retirement scratching around the farmyard, they are killed after 3 years and put into meat meal.  Farmed salmon is fed Chilean fish meal made from their rapidly vanishing sardine-run (in a ratio of 5kg of meal to 1kg of farmed fish).  Even fruit and vegetable farmers have to shoot possums and wallabies to protect their crops (I have heard tell of one apple farmer having to kill 150 possums per year).
Some wild caught salmon we smoked - great tasting stuff and no added Chilean fish meal.
The answer is not to eschew all food, but to spend that little bit extra money at the checkout, and a little more of your internet time (over lunchtime perhaps) looking for where your food comes from.  Make contact with a direct marketing farmer (they do exist!) and really get to understand what it takes to produce food ethically and sensibly.

Trust me, when it comes to food, you truly do get what you pay for.
Oh yes, Autumn is here!