Somewhere between sweet and tart

On the corner just up from our place is a share house with a strawberry guava that’s loaded with ripe fruit.

Planted in a gardening frenzy by a long since departed housemate, I’ve been slipping out inbetween emails and Zooms to snack on clusters of the blackish red berries that hang over the front fence.

The other day a sleepy-eyed fellow wandered out front and watched me eat, “I thought they were poisonous?” he asks slightly concerned.

“No, they’re good”, I reply and tell him what they are. 

He picks one tentatively, takes a bite and yells into the house.  

“Hey Sal, our poisonous berries aren’t poisonous!” 

“How do you know?”  says Sal, who emerges with her fading mint green hair onto the front porch.

“This guy”, he points at me. “He says they’re guavas….apparently.”

He drops one in her hand. Sal looks doubtfully at him and even more doubtfully at me.

“You could wait and see if he dies,” he suggests.

Sal stares at me eating for a bit. Then with lips pursed takes the tiniest nibble.

Pleasant surprise comes across her face.  She takes another one and pops it in her mouth.

The older I get the more I appreciate autumn fruits; guavas, feijoas (which I just learnt aren’t guavas), tamarillos, passionfruit and kiwi. 

It’s the magic that happens somewhere between sweet and tart.

Last week at Fair Food the first kiwis of the season arrived.  It reminds me I haven’t spoken to my old friend and kiwi grower, Ian Cuming from Beenak Farm, since before COVID hit.

When we last talked Ian was thinking about selling his orchard and retiring down the Great Ocean Road.  I wondered if he’s actually made the big leap.

When I ring he says they’ve done it – he and Anna, his partner, sold Beenak during COVID to a couple of firefighters who wanted to give kiwifruit growing a go.

Ian tells me he and Anna (that’s them above during pruning season) found a small block with a house and large shed (for Ian’s tractors) in Maldon near Castlemaine.

After mulling over retirement for years, when they finally hit go and put Beenak Farm up for sale it sold in 2 weeks.

I hear the worry when he talks about the land he spent two decades patiently spreading a small mountain of biodynamic compost over, bringing tired soil back to life and an orchard into existence.

I feel the same way – Ian’s kiwifruit have sustained our community for so long – his skills and knowledge are as much a part of Beenak Farm as the soil and the vines.

When I ask him what he’s been doing now he’s a retiree – he tells me he how wonderful it is to have time with friends, of course he’s started a garden (his soil is terrible) and he’s been working fixing fences for his ninety year old neighbour – he laughs and reveals the work mostly involves having cups of tea and talking.

Ian’s also been rereading Charlie Massey’s Call of the Reed Warbler – with a smile in his voice he says he’s discovered he’s been a regenerative farmer all this time.

Then the teacher in him bobs up and he talks about the untapped potential soils have to sequester carbon as well as the untapped potential people have to lock it in there.

He tells me he’d like to spend his last years helping people make that leap from accepting that we’re the problem to understanding that we’re also the solution.

Ian Cuming has been teaching biodynamics and supplying kiwifruit to CERES for twenty years.

All our best



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