Grown & gathered
AUSTRALIANS MATT AND LENTIL HAVE LEARNED TO LIVE ALONGSIDE NATURE, ADAPTING AN ANCIENT WAY OF LIFE FOR THE MODERN WORLD. HERE’S THEIR STORY AND A FEW OF THEIR RECIPES TO TRY
These days, people take traditions – such as marriage, sharing dinner times and everyday eating – lightly, but these experiences are the things that make up life. Not in a ‘you must wear a white dress’ or ‘you must eat dinner before dessert’ kind of way but in a ‘it means something’ kind of way.
When you have a connection with what you are eating each day; when you make meals from the produce you grow; when you share the things you love and the things that other people love, each experience means something special. It’s just a more fulfilling way to live, a deeper kind of happiness.
Our experience is about what it means to eat a natural, regional diet. It’s about observing, growing, gathering, nurturing, trading, seeking and eating with the seasons, and it’s about experiencing the whole process from start to finish – not every time, but it connects us with the people who do it every day. And it turns out there’s a reason why this lifestyle, this way of eating feels so fulfilling. We have realised that it is in us. That it’s innate. It’s what our ancestors did.
We started our separate journeys far away from our farm. We both finished school and uni and got our first jobs in the city: I worked as a speech therapist and Matt as a graphic designer. But neither of us felt right. The city was full of lots of things, over-sanitization, and lunch delivered in plastic tubs. There was something missing.
Matt travelled solo for a few years, immersing himself in different cultures and
the way they experience their food and their lives. It was different to what he had seen before and there was no forgetting. He returned home to Australia and leased a little cottage and a few acres from his family and found his first gardening mentor, Brian. Brian knew all there was to know about traditional gardening in a pre-science kind of way. He bartered his skills for everything and Matt soaked it all in, the consummate apprentice. Brian’s mantra was ‘Give half the plants twice the love, and reap four times the reward’. But Matt had no money and Brian couldn’t pay, so he handed him over to Andy, mentor number two. Andy was a man with a plan, turning soil into money, selling heirloom vegetables to Melbourne’s loftiest restaurants. He taught Matt to farm organically as a business.
So Matt started his own little farm on the land beside his cottage. He experimented with the soil, applying 4,000-year-old techniques he’d only read about, and developed an obsession with collecting heirloom seeds. This is when we met, fittingly, in Matt’s garden. I joined him and he taught me to grow alongside him. I planted the flowers and he planted the vegetables. They balanced each other like any good relationship. The farm, too, was in balance, like nature.
Once we were both living full time at the cottage, away from the city, we slowly began to teach ourselves to gather more from the wild. We commandeered old fruit trees scattered across the land around our home and a derelict citrus orchard, planted 40 years earlier. And we started selling our homegrown and hand-gathered produce to restaurants. It took a while, but our
business and life had become one.
Next, we closed the circle by using the food waste from the places we were supplying to feed our farm – we made sure to collect at least an equal amount to the produce we’d taken off.
Then, we had another of those moments that changed our lives forever; the photographer at our wedding traded his skills and taught us what it felt like to remove money from the equation and swap our abundances for his. We started to trade, too; we planned not to sell a single flower for a year – only to trade them with others for what we needed and what they had in abundance. One of the most momentous trades we have had was for our weekly coffee supply, swapping vegetables and flowers for coffee. And we opened our van doors to the people of Melbourne, pulling up in forgotten side lanes to sell and trade, like drug dealers for vegetarian hipsters.
So today, here we are; growing, gathering and nurturing on the farm and trading wherever possible for the things we need but can’t grow, gather or nurture ourselves. Some way, somehow, it was all leading here, and we find ourselves with an intricate and complete food system, and, in turn, a way of life that we believe in completely – a traditional system, one that our ancestors would recognise.
Matt and Lentil have worked hard to create an intricate and complete food system on their organic farm beside their cottage
The couple keeps cows for dairy and mowing, and Wiltshire sheep for meat, mowing and wool. Their cows love fruit; one of them is even called Peaches
Matt and Lentil’s home-built greenhouse (opposite) is used to establish strong seedlings. They keep bees in a top bar hive (above) for the love of keeping bees; honey comes second