Wild Harvest, Native Produce - Feast in the Field 2018
I had the supreme pleasure of travelling down to Solum Farm in Yamba NSW in May to attend Feast in the Field. This event has built up over the years to become the Clarence Valley’s iconic farm to plate 8 course lunchtime degustation amidst the spectacular grounds of Solum Farm.
This year’s theme was Wild Harvest, Native Produce - Local and wild ... land and sea ... the best of bush food celebrating the taste of our bioregion.
Solum Farm is the property of Mike and Cheryl Smith, the hosts of Feast in the Field and founders of Organic Matters Foundation. Their experience and work takes them around the globe with a strong focus on the South Pacific, where Mike and his young family have spent time amongst their ancestors. Mike is a lecturer in organic food growing for the Diploma of Organic Production at the National Environment Centre and it is here that we met a few years ago. I love looking at the front cover of the Grassroots Magazine from almost 2 decades ago where they feature as commercial organic pigs farmers.
Organic Matters Foundation established the RISE (Remote Island Soil Education) production throughout the South Pacific Islands and have the unique role of reminding the people on these islands how to grow their native foods with all natural fertilisers and methods. In the early settlements of the missionaries, their way of life was replaced with western farming techniques, and to this day many of the people of these remote islands are buying in flour, sugar and rice, all foods that were not originally in their diets. Working with these beautiful people is a joy, and advocating the growing of native foods for their subsistence lifestyle using traditional methods is a gift.
The Clarence Valley, where Feast in the Field is held is home to the Yaegl people. They are the traditional custodians of this coastal region with their home lands extending from Black Rocks, South of Evans Head, to Red Rock North of Woolgoolga and along the Clarence River to Ulmarra.
My three children and I took a day to travel to Brisbane by train, then hire car to Solum Farm, arriving after dark and coincidentally right on dinner time. We were greeted by our hosts, Mike and Cheryl and a band of family and friends to a glorious hot meal and some wine and great conversation. We ran through the important message we wanted to share with the 140 odd guests the following day during my speech.
The setting was amazing, in amongst the tall blue gum stand planted at the front of the property. An outdoor stage was set up, bars, coffee bar, wine barrel standing reception area, and long tables complete with white linen, silver cutlery, polished wine glasses and sprays of native flowers.
The MC introduced the hosts, the band and the speakers, myself included. I had the honour of pairing up with Clayton Donovan where we drew on comparisons and differences in our upbringing and told stories of how we became advocates for the native food industry in Australia.
Clayton’s style is brash and cheeky and he displays his relative impatience for the uptake by the Australian culture of foods native to us. He has every right to be, he grew up on Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung land and has been the acclaimed champion of native foods for many years as a celebrity chef who uses his cultural knowledge to create meals reflective of his heritage.
Although much of traditional knowledge has been lost, and indigenous foods have been decimated by the introduction of sheep and western farming methods, there is still much to be gained by the knowledge which is readily available to us now. There are over 6,500 known edible species of native foods, with only a couple of handfuls in production throughout our great nation. Foods endemic to regions are the most biodiverse, which lowers their risk of pest and disease pressure. They can grow in the ancient soils of Australia, with little fertiliser and without the need for pesticides. They are adapted to our flood and drought cycles and extremes in weather conditions. These foods are ideal to be grown commercially and used in each of our homes, once we learn how to cook with them. There are many opportunities to learn what grows well in our local areas, and to establish our native food industry.
I find our native flavours to be unique, they are mostly earthy and many foods are reminiscent of the scent of the Australian bush. They are easy to use within contemporary dishes, and pair very well with a selection of Australian wines. I will be writing more about my findings in my work-in-progress cookbook, Australian Foods of Provenance.
You can click on the links below to learn more.
Please watch this space for my travel journey to meet more farmers and discover their stories about growing Australian Foods of Provenance.
The Barefoot FarmHer
Watch a short behind-the-scenes candid video of the feast...