Eating fresh with the Gung-Hoe Growers!
We recently met Mel and Sas, two energetic and passionate young women who have recently started a small organic market garden business in Harcourt, just outside of Castlemaine. They’ve started small and between them are currently working around 4 days a week, balancing other part-time jobs to supplement their income while their farming project continues to grow. And growing it is!
2017 will see the area currently being gardened double in size, giving Gung Hoe Growers the ability to provide even more nutrient-dense greens and vegetables to restaurants, cafes and consumers directly throughout the Castlemaine area. With this kind of success they won’t be able to call themselves “wanna-be farmers” anymore – soon they’ll simply be “farmers”!
We had a chat with this dynamic duo about their beginnings, where they are going and the challenges along the way.
In your pre-“Gung Hoe Growers” days, what previous jobs have you had that best prepared you for what you are doing now?
Sas: Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program at Winters Flat in Castlemaine gave me experience in growing on a larger scale – rotations, planning and being able to make information about growing accessible to little people all the way up to their grandparents. Working for Growing Abundance (a local not-for-profit organisation), made me realise how little growers there were and instead of talking about local food we needed people to grow it.
Mel: being a young thing in my mums garden, living in share houses and working as a social worker means you get used to listening and working with people; lots of odd end jobs that no-one really cares about taught me how to work hard, even if no one tells you you’re doing a good job. Geez – that sounds a bit bleak! A year’s worth of farm internships and visiting small scale farms on the east coast of Australia showed me the variety of systems, practices, ethics and markets people do. This helped me feel comfortable about our clean slate as Gung Hoe to figure out our way, and also feel confident about how to pack and pick produce well.
If you had a time machine and could give yourselves a pep-talk to ready yourselves for this endeavour, what advice would you give to your younger selves?
Sas: To just do it, give it a shot, you can read much and study much, but nothing teaches you like giving it a go…
Mel: same as Sas – as well as – get some capital behind you and don’t fear to dream big right at the start. Also do research into which tools you like and get them to work for you. Don’t beat yourself up cos it takes time!
What do you see as the greatest challenges facing ethical food producers today?
Sas: Climate change. And the expectation created by supermarkets and major food outlets that real food is cheap, meaning that it is sold for less than it costs to grow.
What is Gung-Hoe Growers doing in 2021?
Mentoring new growers, using our space as a working example of productive small scale food production working co-operatively within the local community and food system.
What advice do you have for city-based permies who dream of a tree-change?
Sas: It’s hard work, don’t get caught up in the romance of it! But it can be done and community is everything, being an island doesn’t work and it takes time to form real and respectful relationships.
Mel: It’s a lifestyle change, you can’t expect a city lifestyle in the country. Respect your community, listen and learn the stories
You can follow the adventures of Gung Hoe Growers on their Facebook page.