Until Thursday the rain had been dodging First Generation Organics’ farm just south of Swan Hill.
When the storm finally came thundering down over Lake Boga Bec and Kristian Walker had plenty of time to put covers on their grapes – especially their Black Gem Currants.
It wasn’t the powdery mildew that worried them – Black Gems are bred to be mould resistant – their delicate skins however were another matter.
When rain hits a ripe Black Gem they split and that’s it, season over.
As the name First Generation Organics suggests the Walkers are relatively new to agriculture.
Twenty years ago the newly married Bec, an administrator, and Kristian, a diesel mechanic, left Winchelsea on a gap year.
They hit the harvest trail finding an affinity with sustainable agriculture and fell in love with North Western Victoria.
Bec and Kristian moved up to Lake Boga, worked on organic farms and while they learned how to grow and care for land, Eden, Charlie and Madeline were born.
When a vacant block with a water entitlement came up a stone’s throw from where they were living – they jumped at it.
Years as a neglected horse pasture the block was the blankest of blank canvases.
There was no shed, no machinery, no irrigation, no trees – it did however give them the inspiration for their farm’s name.
If the land was their canvas it’s been Kristian’s huge windrows of compost that’s been the paint.
Kristian learned about compost’s soil transforming qualities while working with farmer and mentor Kelvin Free, at nearby Wattle Organics.
Kelvin’s passion for compost became Kristian’s and true to his name he took to it like a believer.
Taking a dark brown handful from his shoulder high windrows he squeezes it and breathes it in. Bec understands its importance buts says to her it smells like poo, to Kristian, it’s life itself.
So much so that everything that grows well, including their kids who are much taller than their parents, Kristian attributes to the power of his compost.
Living on a farm Bec believes has made engaging with their kids easier – from an early age they understood that the non-negotiable cycles of planting and harvesting require them to help out.
On Saturday afternoon when Eden comes home from his job in Swan Hill he helps wash and pack watermelons until dark.
Charlie, the family inventor, has found an economical replacement for the traditional and increasingly ineffective gas-powered scarers local growers use to frighten grape-loving birds away.
With solar-powered electronic timers firing various car horns and reversing beepers at randomly set times Charlie has created a cheap alternative that Bec and Kristian estimate has saved about 95% of their grape crop.
The future of their farm may or may not rest with Bec and Kristian’s kids taking over. But as they get older they’re moving away from labour intensive annual crops and planting more perennials.
New rows of Black Muscats, still babies Bec says, already have a heavy crop this year.
Along with the Crimson Seedless that will arrive at Fair Food in February these are the crops that will begin to make up more and more of First Gen’s harvest.
And after the sweet Black Gem Currants we’ve had in January we can’t wait to taste what the Walker family send down next.
Currants or currants?
Over January a controversy raged back and forth from customer service to the packing floor and back again.
Confused customers were asking whether our Black Gem Currants were currants or grapes?
“They’re black currant grapes” came the answer from produce buyer Joshua Arzt.
But the confusion somehow persisted and blossomed into emails questioning what we should be calling them on our website.
Almost reduced to tears Joshua Arzt yelled to anyone who will listen, “Has the world gone mad – they’re black currant grapes!”
Which, when we looked back to the year before we’d had exactly the same conversation about currants and currants, and Joshua was absolutely right this time as well.
To set the record straight according to Wiki-diff (the site that tells you the difference between things)
Currants come from very small seedless grapes (usually Black Corinths) and are not to be confused with black, red, or white currants, which are berries that grow on shrubs (from the genus Ribes) which are usually eaten fresh and have a tarter, more savoury flavour.
The thing everyone can agree on and have universally appreciated during all this is that the cardboard punnets the Black Gem Currant grapes are packed in are truly awesome.
Farmer, Bec Walker, says she’s also been overwhelmed by all the positive punnet feedback from customers.
Have a great week