August

INTERVIEW: GROWN + GATHERED

theslowpoke_grownandgathered1One at a time, slowly but surely, a new generation of growers are cropping up in Australia – and they are chipping away at the reality of a nation of ageing, conventional monoculture farmers.

With a desire to recapture traditions, grow food in an organic and sustainable way, and reconnect consumers with the origins of our food, new young farmers are creating necessary change, one farm at a time. And Matt and Lentil from Grown & Gathered joined the ranks a few years ago.

Fed up with the idea of spending their days behind a desk (Matt as a graphic designer, Lentil as a speech pathologist), they hopped to it and started their new life on the land.

On their property in Tahbilk, not too far from Melbourne, Victoria, Matt and Lentil (who are two super lovely folk!) have created an inspiring space where they grow vegetables and flowers. Packing their van each weekend, they head into Melbourne to sell their vegetables and trade their flowers.

Grown & Gathered’s Flower Exchange is just one of the truly lovely things about this duo’s set up – another being their Pay It Forward program! We had a chat with the (recently married!) couple about their stunning set up.

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Tell us about Grown & Gathered, who lives and works there and what you do?

“We are a little farm an hour and a half out of Melbourne. We are passionate about growing organically and sustainably and collect approximately 1.2 tonnes of compostable waste from restaurants and people in Melbourne each week to build our soil fertility. Other than that we don’t bring any new inputs onto the farm.

“We grow heirloom (traditional variety) vegetables, fruits and flowers, and forage what we can around us, it’s all grown out in the sun, totally seasonally. Our vegetables are for sale and our flowers are for trade.

“That always feels like a long spiel! We (Matt and Lentil) are the two behind Grown & Gathered and our veggie and flower patch grows right next to our home so work is life and life is work. We also have a dog Pepper, chickens, soon a cow, and two interns, one who lives in another house on the property and another that travels from Melbourne. They are rad.”

What are your backgrounds, and what led to the start of Grown and Gathered?

“Matt was a graphic designer in another life and Lentil a speech pathologist. Sometimes we feel miles away from those times – but we are still constantly designing our plantings and helping people so really we’ve just changed the medium, the message remains the same.

“Neither of us could see our future days behind a desk and felt that the best way we can help the world is to fill their bellies and give them pretty things to make them smile. Learning to grow didn’t happen overnight but persistence paid off and we think we’re the luckiest little farmers on the planet!”

What does a typical day involve?

“This is a difficult question. Every day is different for us, you move with the farm, with the day, with the seasons. Generally we get up, feed the chickens and let them out (soon we’ll be milking a cow!), then we make breakfast for us and whoever is around. This is when we soak or sour some grains or beans, mill flour and bake bread if we need to, in preparation for the next day.

“If it’s raining, we try to use the day to build something under the cover of the workshop, pickle/preserve something or deal with admin. If not, we get outside and see what needs to be done. Mulching, weeding, planting, picking, packing. We all have a big family lunch together every day and Tuesday night is ‘family’ dinner night.

“Most weeks there is generally a visit or two from someone new or something new we are doing – this week Wednesday is salami-making day with some friends in the local community.

“The weekend is generally reserved for Melbourne, as we deliver on a Saturday. So it all really depends on what the day is. Our life is definitely an adventure and we love it.”

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Tell us about your flower trade, how it works and why you started it?

“The Flower Exchange. Yes. We had been growing and selling flowers for a while, but it never really felt right. Small scale, organic, flower growing is a hard game because with so much reliance on the wholesale market, and imported flowers it’s almost impossible to get a price that reflects the energy that goes into it. We knew there must be a way to make it work for both us and the customer though because it felt so necessary to provide an alternative to such a terribly chemical-reliant industry.

“So we started The Flower Exchange. Now we only trade our flowers in a cashless exchange and everybody wins. It’s really started a conversation about the value of sustainably-grown flowers and it’s become the highlight of our week seeing what people have brought along to exchange. From baked goods to books, massages to meals, it’s brought so much joy to our lives and we hope that’s the fairest trade of all.”

Tell us about the Pay It Forward program, what it is and why it’s important to you?

“We think sharing abundance is rad and when it comes down to it if we didn’t need money to live we’d just give EVERYTHING away! It’s one of the main feelings behind the Flower Exchange and it’s everything that drives the Pay It Forward program. We stumbled across the concept in Wellington earlier this year when we were over in New Zealand on our honeymoon. Cafés would allow people to leave an extra few dollars in a bowl so that when someone less fortunate who couldn’t afford a coffee came along, that money could be used to shout them. We thought ‘how good’s that’ and introduced the idea to our customers as soon as we got back.

“It was a slow uptake to begin with but we’ve now had eight veggie boxes donated and counting and are working with schools and community groups to make sure each one ends up in the hands of someone in need. Visit here to donate.”

What do you love about what you do?

“Everything. It is not really ‘work’ for us, it’s an extension of our lifestyle and the things we feel passionate about.”

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What are some of the things that inspire you in the work you do?

“Nature and traditions. Nature… if it wasn’t an inspiration, what we do wouldn’t work so well. You have to watch it, listen to it, check if it is hungry or thirsty, and let it be. It’s like having a child really.

“Traditions… for some time now there seems to have been this prevailing wisdom that we must research and delve deeper and deeper because we still have no idea what we are doing. We feel so fortunate to live in a time when that sentiment is swinging back to the realisation that we already had all the tools we needed to live happily ever after before the industrial revolution. It is heartening to see so much traditional wisdom being brought back to life and we try our best to grow and prepare our harvest and live our lives using ancient methods proven sustainable and nourishing for millennia.

“Don’t get us wrong, we’re not off to live in a thatched roof mud hut and hunt our food with spears. It’s just about appreciating that for all of its convenience, modern technology is only the jam on our toast. You can’t just go eat the jam and forget the thing it was meant to enhance in the first place.”

What’s next for Grown & Gathered?

“Ugh, if only we could tell you! There a few big plans afoot – watch this space.”

Visit Grown and Gathered online here, for info on where to buy their produce, trade for flowers or contribute to their Pay It Forward program. Matt and Lentil will be string some tips and recipes from their home with us in the coming weeks, stay tuned!

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