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Book review: Greenhorns


Greenhorns: 50 dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement
Edited by Zoë Ida Bradbury, Severine von Tscharner Fleming and Paula Manalo
Published by Storey Publishing

A few years ago, a young graduate and aspiring farmer with the spectacular name of Severine von Tscharner Fleming began profiling new American farmers. What began as a documentary film project has, in the ensuing years, grown into a thriving network with the mission of recruiting, promoting and supporting a new generation of agrarians. Drawing on the diversity of their members, the Greenhorns network utilises “avant-garde programming, video, audio, web content, publications, events, and art projects that increase the odds for success and enhance the profile and social lives of America’s young farmers.”

North America, like Australia, has an aging farming population. As a majority of farmers drift into their late 50s and early 60s, the absence of a new generation of aspiring farmers taking on the responsibility of food production has furrowed brows in farmers’ organisations for some years. The recruitment of “millions of rough and ready protagonists of place to care for our ecosystems and serve our country healthy food”, a “critical meeting of minds, bodies, and land”, forms the foundation for the Greenhorns work, it is not just a new crop of farmers they seek. Rather, it is the transformation of the food system into one that nourishes communities through a model of farming that is ecologically sound, locally-focussed and small(er)-scale.

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Permies make passata

In the inner southern suburbs of Adelaide, a small group of permaculturalists have been gathering to experiment with artisanal food skills. From cheese-making to sourdough, they’ve been exploring and sharing the skills that make good food. To herald the end of summer, we sourced 180kg of tomatoes from local farmer’s markets and had a go at making passata. A 15-hour food preservation epic, our kitchens are now lined with long-necks filled with crushed tomatoes. This film is a little something I shot amid the spraying tomatoes and bubbling barrels.


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Edible weeds: chickweed, mallow, sow thistle, plantain and nettle

This article is adapted from a segment Joel did on Radio Adelaide‘s Gastronaut.

Foraging for nettles, Maude Island Farm, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada

With healthy winter rains on the Adelaide Plains, neglected corners have once again been swallowed beneath a green tide. In a segment earlier this year, I presented a handful of the last edible weeds standing midway through an Adelaide summer. The cooler months bring with them a wealth of unsolicited edibles in the form of chickweed, mallows, plantain, nettles, thistles, and others. (In fact, almost all of these were the most prolific plants in the nature strip outside my house).

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Lizards in the laundry

The second of four days over 41 degrees Celsius. I was heading out to check on the chickens, and to refill their water, add ice-blocks and if necessary, give them a squirt with the hose. Apparently chickens don’t drink water outside a certain temperature range, so on a hot day, once their water gets too warm, they’ll simply stand, wings out, beaks hanging open, but unable to drink.

As I walked out through the laundry, I heard a slithering sound behind the washing machine. I look behind to find a blue-tongue lizard, medium-sized, one of two or perhaps even three that live in our yard. I don’t know whether even cold-blooded creatures need to seek solace from the heat, but I knew that if the cat discovered it, it might come off second best. I’d seen the Big blue-tongue that lives behind the shed up by the house a couple of days before, its back looked injured, like perhaps a cat or a dog had had a curious chew, and taken with it a mouth-sized patch of scales.

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Moving On

Approaching the last few months of living at this rented house, it highlights how something like gardening is about things that go on. Planting and cultivation for a harvest weeks or months into the future offers an understanding of time that seems to contradicts the logic of short-term leases and moving house. While we’ve planted gardens, we’ve selected varieties that we hope we can harvest before we leave. Sophie and I have wanted to plant fruit trees, but have contented ourselves with potted dwarf varieties, getting established until we find a patch of land to call our own.
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Spring chickens…

With spring in the air, little advertisements have started appearing in the ‘Tiser classifieds, promising all kinds of birds at all kinds of prices. On a trip down to the Torrens Island Market one Sunday morning, we picked up four new ladies, New Hampshires crossed with Rhode Island Reds. The guy at the fodder store selected them from their dark enclosure in the dusty old shed, dropped them into a potato chip box and taped it shut. We got them home, and Sophie released them into their new home. They scratched around curiously, standing on the perch as they surveyed their new digs.


The existing trio of chooks, Agnes and her posse, soon realised that they had company, returning to the House of the Rising Sun to find four new chicks on the block. The turf war soon began, and sadly, the new red chooks have all been debeaked, meaning that not only do some struggle to eat grain, but they have little chance of holding their own against the incumbents. Perhaps used to dingy, enclosed spaces for most of their 18-week lives so far, the new chickens spent most of the first two days in the coop, before tentatively venturing out into the green expanses of the new yard. Now, a week later, they gleefully caper in the long grass, stretching their wings and settling down to bask in the morning sun.

Excitement reigns at the prospect of four more birds

Excitement reigns at the prospect of four more birds

They run like the clappers whenever one of the white chickens gets within pecking range, but they vigilantly keep the turtledoves and magpie-larks out of the yard. If ever a turtledove makes a tentative landing on their turf, the run straight at it, velociraptor-like, drumsticks pumping. Four weeks until the eggs start rolling in!

First steps

First steps

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El Ranchito de las Gallinas Urbanas


Now that the chickens have turned their first yard into bare earth, peppered with a few unwanted orange peels, I’ve finally assembled the second yard, complete with its own dedicated coop door. After some nervous glances through the new door, the most brazen of the chickens strode out to caper in the long grass, soon to be followed by her companions. Now the first chook yard will be planted out with green manure crops, and over the summer will become a dedicated plot for maize, tomatoes and a few other delicacies. Once the crop is over, the chickens can then be shunted back in to clean up the remains and scratch it back into the soil.

The girls gather in preparation for the premiere of their new yard

The girls gather in preparation for the premiere of their new yard

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