SLOW GROWN

MEET THE COU­PLE BE­HIND EPI­CUREAN HAR­VEST, A SMALL-SCALE AGRI­CUL­TURAL BUSI­NESS THAT CON­NECTS PRO­DUCE RESTAU­RANTS RESTAU­RANTS WITH QUAL­ITY OR­GANIC PRO­DUCE.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - WORDS BAR­BARA SWEENEY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY PRUE RUSCOE

Meet the cou­ple be­hind small-scale or­ganic farm­ing busi­ness Epi­curean Har­vest in Lit­tle Hart­ley, NSW.

ONE OF THE YEAR’S VEG­ETABLE high­lights for Erika Wat­son and Hay­den Druce is the ar­rival of new pota­toes. “They’re thsosos­mal­landthe­skinis­soth­init­can­just­come­of­fwith­the brush of your thumb,” says Hay­den. Erika jumps in with praise for carrot tops — she blends the del­i­cate fronds with oil, gar­lic, sun­flower seeds and parme­san cheese. Hay­den and Erika are Epi­curean Har­vest, mar­ket gar­den­ers who grow small crops of heir­loom veg­eta­bles for Syd­ney restau­rants. Their clients, chefs such as Peter Gil­more at Quay, will of­ten use more than the veg­etable it­self; new shoots, flflow­ers and leaves. The re­la­tion­ship with chefs is vi­tal. “When they buy veg­eta­bles from peo­ple who are tak­ing care of the land­scape, they in­flu­ence a lot of peo­ple about sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion,” says Erika. Hay­den and Erika rep­re­sent an emerg­ing breed of farmer seek­ing to cre­ate a food sys­tem in­ter­con­nected with na­ture and based on diver­sity and which doesn’t op­er­ate by the same rules as large-scale in­dus­trial farm­ing. Their ap­proach to grow­ing food stresses com­mu­nity as much as it does profitabil­ity, and nat­u­ral over syn­thetic. “We want com­mu­nity to drive what we’re do­ing,” says Hay­den. “Post-war agriculture has been a con­stant push for a re­turn on in­vest­ment. Our pri­or­ity, in the fu­ture, is to feed our com­mu­nity.” The cou­ple en­vis­ages a fu­ture where they share their land with other small-scale food pro­duc­ers. They al­ready host herds of Belted Gal­loway and Red An­gus (the cows, moved fre­quently, in­crease or­ganic mat­ter, which helps in de­vel­op­ing healthy pas­ture) and have plans for bee­hives. Nei­ther Hay­den nor Erika comes from a farm­ing back­ground. They grew up in semi-ru­ral ar­eas on Syd­ney’s pe­riph­ery — Hay­den in the Blue Moun­tains and Erika at Brook­lyn on the banks of the Hawkes­bury River — and both be­came cap­ti­vated by the nat­u­ral world as chil­dren. The cou­ple met while study­ing hor­ti­cul­tural science at Syd­ney Univer­sity. “I had a fas­ci­na­tion and love for plants and plant life and I also care about the en­vi­ron­ment,” says Hay­den, who fol­lowed up his de­gree with a Mas­ters in Agri­cul­tural Re­search fo­cused on aroma sciences in France. Upon re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia the pair started their mar­ket garden, fi­first in their own back­yard, be­fore ex­pand­ing on to a small acreage they leased in Black­heath. As science grad­u­ates, they had sound the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge, but the real learn­ing has come about in the pad­dock. One of the big­gest hur­dles that the cou­ple faced, and one that is com­mon for would-be farm­ers, was ac­cess to land. Three years of solid growth on their Black­heath lease en­abled them to buy Bula Mirri last year — 50 hectares of clay and sand­stone coun­try at Lit­tle Hart­ley, on the western side of the Great Di­vid­ing Range. They live here with their dogs, Pip and Sway. “We named our prop­erty Bula Mirri, Wi­rad­juri for ‘two dogs’ be­cause we wanted to pay re­spects to the tra­di­tional own­ers of the land,” says Erika. “Pip and Sway are with us ev­ery day and are our lit­tle farm fam­ily.” Grow­ing small vol­umes of many difff­fer­ent plants isn’t ef­fi­cient in the same way that a sin­gle crop farm is. “If you want to shrink scale and di­ver­sify, which we do, there’s a cost to that process,” says Hay­den. “Not us­ing chem­i­cals, not be­ing in the in­dus­tri­alised food sys­tem, doesn’t mean a poor re­turn. It comes down to man­age­ment. Ev­ery time we’ve im­proved our prac­tice or made an in­vest­ment, it’s paid off.” The rea­son the new pota­toes taste so good is that Hay­den and Erika grow them slowly. There’s no push­ing the plant with ex­tra feed and wa­ter; plants are let to run their course. “Our kale has a shelf life of about two-and-a-half weeks and chefs tell us it still looks the same as when we picked it,” says Hay­den. “I tell them it grew in Black­heath in win­ter, build­ing sug­ars, and hard­en­ing up. A fridge is a hol­i­day af­ter that.” Fol­low Epi­curean Har­vest on In­sta­gram @epi­cure­an­har­vest

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