Thinking green, by Caitlin

Thoughts and ideas on environmental topics from Caitlin Howlett, editor of Green Lifestyle.

Where food grows


Free-range eggs, asparagus, and locally-baked bread washed down with a glass of local bubbly, and juice squeezed from the orchard trees that we're sitting under.

Credit: Caitlin Howlett


Credit: Caitlin Howlett


Credit: Caitlin Howlett


Credit: Caitlin Howlett

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We may have an idealistic notion that the food we're eating has been grown, processed and packaged with the utmost respect. But if we take a close look at what's on our plate, we may not like what we find.

I was lucky enough to have a meal at a place last weekend where, when I looked down at my plate, I was very satisfied that everything was grown and made ethically. And that's because I has just been out in the field picking it. I'm not lucky enough to have my own patch of soil to grow enough food for a whole meal – apart from a few pots squeezed onto the balcony. And while I did grow up on a farm, I've become an inner-city latte sipper of late and only have enough space to grow an undressed salad with herbs and few cherry tomatoes. So, my most memorable home-grown meal of late was at the current month-long feasting festival, Tastings on Hastings, celebrating the local produce of Port Macquarie on the NSW mid north coast.

Andrew and Therese Heard from Near River Produce run an organic market farm based in Hollisdale, about 45 minutes drive from the hub of Port Macquarie. They use the farming methods of Joel Salatin in which animals such as pigs and chickens help improve the vegie harvest by controlling pests and providing a source of natural fertiliser. These helpful animals give us a warm welcome to the farm in grunts and clucks as we step out of the car.

The Heards have already hosted a couple of events on their property and they have it down to a fine art. They start off this one, called 'Breakfast in the beds', with a taste of their new sugar-free marmalade before we take a walk past the orchard to the poultry run to collect some freshly laid eggs. One hen put on a real show for us, clucking and fussing about until she had a captive audience to lay us an egg. There were squeals of delight from the kids who snuck out the fresh egg from under her feathers, squealing with surprise that, "It's so hot!". I think it's an important lesson for anyone to feel the warmth of a freshly laid, free-range egg instead of those found in cool, refrigerated, supermarket-bought cartons. It's enough to make you avoid cage eggs for the rest of your life.

Next, is a walk into one of the many vegie patches. I overhear one of the guests saying, "You know, I've never actually seen asparagus growing in the ground - I had no idea that's how it grew." Andrew encourages his guests to cut off a few of the asparagus spears poking out of the ground. He admits that he's a little upset because the pigs got in and ate most of our breakfast before he had a chance to harvest it, but we can tell that he doesn't hold it against them as they're just doing what comes naturally, and Andrew knows that the benefits to the farm from the pigs will outweigh the inconvenience in the long run. Lucky pigs, but I bet they didn't know that we were about to sit down to a plate of locally grown and smoked free-range bacon...

When it came to sitting down to the meal in the very paddock that it was grown and cooked in, I think we were all a little more aware of where our food really comes from. This kind of paddock-to-plate experience is an important way of reconnecting with farms and farmers, and encouraging us to be conscious consumers. So next time you're about to eat, think about where the food came, the farmer who helped create it for you and the land on which it was grown.

Find Andrew and Therese's Near River Produce jams, sauces, eggs and chutneys at their stall at the Orange Grove Markets in Leichhardt, Sydney, each Saturday from 8am until 1pm. Keep your eyes peeled for the food-themed Nov/Dec issue of Green Lifestyle magazine, out from next Thursday, 18 October. It investigates the sustainability of fish sold in Aussie supermarkets, shows you how to make additive-free dips and crackers this festive season, delves into the benefits of green smoothies and offers recipes that prove vegetarian BBQs can be all-round pleasers.