Reaping what he sows
SAM Blanco loves gardening. There’s nothing spiritual about it. For Sam it is certainly not the dirt- underthe- fingernails equivalent of yoga’s full- lotus position. It is not like he is slipping away into another mental dimension, skipping away with butterflies or dialling his inner Sam while out there in the vegie patch between the farm house and the highway. More likely he is thinking about how he can improve fuel consumption in his fleet of farm machinery. He finds this sort of idle meditation soothing.
He enjoys the simplicity and wonderful sense of achievement that comes with growing food. He gets immense satisfaction knowing that between him and his trusty hoe, they are beating back Public Enemy Number One: weeds. No matter what he does they keep breaking through the crust of the earth which nurtures his rows of beans, beetroot and tomatoes. It is an ongoing war of attrition.
For every 10 hours he spends working on his 60,000tonne cane farm he will spend at least two working the vegies. That is Monday to Friday. On weekends he might be working in the vegie patch all day Saturday, all day Sunday. Time flies by on gossamer wings while he hoes, waters, fertilises and sprays the crop against that other implacable foe: insects.
Born in 1946, Sam came out from Sicily with his parents when he was two.
“We would have come out earlier, but there was the war. Dad came out in 1949 and cut cane here for 10 years before buying this farm in 1960,” he said. The farm grew in size, mainly as a result of watermelons and vegies.
“We used to grow a lot of melons and vegies, but you could only grow them back then on new ground for two years before the weeds arrived,” he said.
“We kept buying new ground on which to grow the melons. What happened was they deregulated the cane industry, which meant you could grow more cane. We had this extra land we’d bought for melons and vegies and so we turned it over to cane.”
He is married to Jenni, who cultivates flowers. Sam enjoys looking at them, but says that personally, he won’t have anything to do with something he can’t eat.
There are three daughters, relatives and friends and five or six permanent farm workers. All are beneficiaries of the vegie garden.
“I like to grow things for the family. I’m good at it. It’s destressing,” Sam said.
He bristles at my suggestion that gardening to him might be a spiritual activity. Does he see it as the organic equivalent of yoga?
“No,” he says, shutting me down. It’s got nothing to do with spirituality or yoga.”
From little things big things grow. Like Sam’s pasta sauce. He fries tomato, onion and garlic and then pours tomato over it. ( The tomato has been frozen after bubbling away on simmer for four hours). While this is happening the pasta is cooking.
“You pour the sauce over the spaghetti. You can put basil on it, salt and pepper and even some butter if you want. It is fast to make. That is why they call it the working man’s meal. It can be made in half an hour for lunch. My father used to eat mountains of it,” he said.
Sam’s philosophy on life? There are no big riddles out there for Sam. “You live till you die, so make sure you live a good life.”
He is happiest when with his family. Nothing much else matters. He’ll keep gardening and farming until he can’t get around any more. He’s nearly 70. The bones are good and the joints still spring- loaded.
Death and the great thereafter? “I’m not worried. When the time comes it comes.”
DE- STRESSING EXERCISE: Sam Blanco gets great satisfaction working his productive vegie garden with his trusty hoe.