Ten years ago, at the very same time Fair Food launched, Madeline Watts, fresh out of high school, started farming organic garlic.
With sisters, Talsy and Jaklan, and parents, Chris and Christine, the Watts family have been growing around two tons of “Blue Sky Organic” garlic a year on their farm beside the Murrindal River just North of Buchan.
Madeline explains that everyone works off-farm but the garlic jobs are timetabled so the family comes together on the farm when they can.
This year Madeline gave birth to a daughter and has taken a back seat to her mum, Christine.
Christine reckons Madeline is still the brains of the operation.
Last week Josh, Fair Food’s buyer, told me Blue Sky had been burned pretty badly over the New Year.
When I spoke to Christine she said the fires had been absolutely ferocious and there’s very little left around them that hasn’t been affected.
On the farm ninety percent of their paddocks were burned, they lost irrigation pipe and other equipment but incredibly the fire went around the garlic, their shed (apart from one corner post), their grey Fergie tractor and a much loved historical cottage.
Sitting on the cottage verandah, Christine says they feel very grateful for what’s been left and that their priority now is supporting the remaining wildlife.
Chris has been out at night with heat sensitive binoculars, initially he hadn’t seen much life left, though in one of the last unburnt valleys over on their neighbour’s place he spotted two lyrebirds.
Over the years Chris and Christine have been releasing rehabilitated wombats onto the farm – eight of these are still frequent visitors.
Since putting out feed and water stations, however, their automatic cameras have recorded twenty-five different wombats coming in for food.
And now after the rain they’re seeing early signs of life returning; the fire fungi is coming through, bracken fern is sprouting, there’s a little bit of growth on some trees and even a few birds are venturing back.
Sadly though, the danger of dead tree limbs falling means it’ll be a long time before the Watts’s can go walking through the bush.
Christine hopes, though she says she can’t prove it, that farming organically will help their land recover quicker.
When we get around to talking garlic, Christine sighs, they haven’t even started cleaning the bulk of it and there’s so much to do.
To help with the job fifteen Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal volunteers are bringing their tents and food for a couple of days in early February to join a big garlic cleaning session.
Christine explains they wouldn’t normally ask for the help, but can’t tell me how relieved she feels to have it.
“The challenge for people after the fires”, she points out, “is going to be the ongoing trauma. After all the initial attention fades people will feel forgotten – that’s why we need to keep coming together to heal.”
You can join the 270 volunteers who have already signed up with the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal here or you can donate directly to the Appeal here.
You can also buy Blue Sky Organics’ garlic right now at CERES Grocery and from next week Christine says it’ll arrive at CERES Fair Food.
CERES Fair Food is donating $5 for every home delivery in January to the appeal – last week we passed our $10,000 target – a huge thank you for everyone’s support.
Have a great week