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

The Simple Things - - | EATING WELL - Pho­tog­ra­phy: SHAN­TANU STARICK

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

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