Each year around the middle of September there’s an awakening down in the swamps of Koo Wee Rup.
And perhaps this year more than any other our iso-sharpened senses are feeling the subterranean vibrations of asparagus spears rising from the deep – a portent of our own emergence perhaps.
And it’s about this time of year I feel the need to call asparagus farmer, Maurie Cafra to catch up on the news.
Asparagus waits for no one. If it is not picked the morning it shoots the spear will go to fern.
Maurie, however, is impressively calm – for a man with acres and acres of the world’s fastest growing vegetable he always sounds relaxed – zen-like even.
Of September he quips Mr Miyagi-style, “If the sun is on your back the asparagus is growing.”
The sun may have come out lately, but this year, Maurie explains, has been as wet as he can remember.
Since their dams filled in February the Cafra’s have been using solar powered dewatering pumps to keep their fields from water-logging.
The boggy soils have made it hard to plant other vegetables as well – the Cafra’s grow around twenty five lines, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, kale, onions, and artichokes
Asparagus, however, is their main crop.
Now you’d think for a plant grown in a swamp, asparagus would be loving this year’s rain, but Maurie says not so. Too much water disrupts a beneficial symbiotic relationship asparagus has with a mycorrhizal fungi which can reduce yields dramatically.
Oddly though, and he’s not sure what’s going on, Maurie reveals that asparagus responds very well to a lightning storm.
The conversation moves onto new coolrooms, solar arrays, compostable packaging, before inevitably getting onto COVID.
The rural village of Koo Wee Rup despite being well away from suburban Pakenham and Cranbourne is officially part of Melbourne and has been put in Stage Four lockdown.
Back in March and April the pandemic panic buying meant the Cafra’s had to ration their produce so everyone could be supplied.
And since Stage Four, each day Maurie’s workers have had to queue up to get through the road blocks to get to work.
On the positive side he and Maria have appreciated having their adult children home.
Lately Maurie’s been maybe half-joking with his commerce graduate son that he should stay and apply his business skills on the farm so they can make a profit for a change.
You can find Maurie Cafra’s asparagus in the webshop
Fair Food is inviting you to reconsider the contents of your fruit bowl and veg crisper.
We’re asking for photos, drawings and audio memos of your most cherished or challenging produce.
Yes, your produce.
It could be a boisterous broccoli inspired by Bruegel or a contemplative carrot struggling to reclaim the Underworld as a positive space – it’s up to you.
For me it’s been a red cabbage atop our piano; a tribute to Michelle Pfeiffer’s career defining role in the The Fabulous Baker Boys.
Whichever way you go there’ll be no judgement. We’re all in this together.
Your work will be entrusted to local animator, Leonie Van Eyk, whose task it is to synthesise our ruminations into a film called Hello Vegetable.
Here’s the instructions…..
Do any or all or none of the following:
TAKE THREE PHOTOS of your produce in landscape format.
MAKE A VOICE RECORDING of your produce thoughts, poem, song whatever you’ve got.
DRAW OR PAINT YOUR PRODUCE and send us a photo.
BACKGROUND take a snap of a favourite spot in your place or garden.
Email your responses to email@example.com by September 25th.
PS. Don’t think about it too much, no need to crop photos and remember send images and sounds that you’re happy for us to share.
Hello Vegetable, like Live from the Packing Floor, is Fair Food’s way of supporting artists who have lost work during COVID-19 and aren’t being looked after by our Federal Government’s Jobkeeper program.⠀
Have a kind week