In the beginning there were a couple of young CERES farmers. One day while they were out farmering they came across an empty polytunnel and thought, “Yea verily, that empty polytunnel would make a splendid place to grow our heirloom tomato seedlings.” And so it came to pass and all who laid eyes upon their tomato seedlings growing in such variety and abundance were heard to utter, that indeed yes it was good.
And the young farmers sold their tomatoes throughout the city and the tomatoes grew and fruited heavily and the home gardeners rejoiced in the harvest and invited their friends and families over for salads and various pasta dishes. And all the citizens agreed that it was also good and that they should get together like this more often. And they ate and drank more than they should and there was much laughing and hugging.
That was the King James version of how CERES Propagation began. This is a sort of the official version. Many years ago, it could have been 2005, CERES farmers Matt Danielle and Aidan Quick (that’s them smiling goofily up there) were frustrated by not being able to buy organic vegetable seedlings. There happened to be a disused polytunnel on the CERES Farm and so they saw an opportunity and promptly proposed to propagate in it. There was no money for wages so a deal was made – Matt and Aidan would give it a go in their spare time and after a year if it was viable they could draw a wage.The first year was full of learning and wonder; they got themselves organically certified, they propagated herbs, salad greens and their signature – 25 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. There were setbacks; dead potting mix, dud seeds and the discovery that both of them couldn’t go to the same Confest during a heatwave without organising somebody to water. But despite the challenges after the first year there was money in the bank and they were employed a half day a week each. It wasn’t much but it really was – Matt and Aidan had created an enterprise and they were on their way. Each year after the business steadily grew and so did their hours.
Then came a seismic shift; the CERES Nursery crew switched Matt and Aidan’s seedlings from the table at the back of the retail display to the table at the front. Again it didn’t sound like much but it really was. Like a slow burning love it was like people actually saw the seedling’s for who they were for the first time. Sales grew and grew and so did Matt and Aidan’s polytunnels. One turned to two and then three, followed by a new potting area and larger and larger hardening off spaces. And then there were the volunteers.Many people think being a farmer is a romantic pastime but after a day on the CERES Farm fighting couch grass under the blazing sun eager volunteers begin to reassess the relationship looking about for something gentler and more nurturing. They didn’t have to wander far; for there under the shade at the potting up bench were happy people laughing and talking as they went about their work, seeding up trays and pricking out seedlings. Propagating plants is relaxing, satisfying and quite social work and it became and remains CERES’ most popular volunteer activity. Some people have been turning up weekly for years.
A few years back Matt (happy birthday for today btw) and Aidan left CERES Propagation and moved on to their own properties. Meg Stewart took over and Propagation hasn’t missed a beat. This year in a world first (well for us anyway) and for a very limited time (the next couple of weeks) we are going to sell some of CERES Propagation’s heirloom tomato range through Fair Food. They’re $3.95 each and you can find them here
See Meg’s list below: