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36 reasons to grow your own food

Posted by Trevor Flinn

An account of the day on the Marshman’s farm, which began with a funeral, ended with butchery, and in between involved: a revelatory trip to the tip, a conversation with Carmel the grader driver and her dog Smokey, attending an apron fashion parade at the Grass Patch Primary School and the chance meeting of a distant relative who was working on the old Grass Patch homestead.  

Grave for Russ the dorper sheepGrave for Russ the dorper sheep

I awoke before dawn, checked on my four-legged patient (a young male dorper sheep), but quickly realised that a miracle had not happened, and that he was not long for this world. 

The dorper breed of sheep is incredibly tough and can sometimes bounce back from the brink of death; but this time it looked like the grim reaper was about to claim another charge ... and there was nothing anyone could do to avoid it ... not even challenging him to a game of chess* ... although I’m sure young Alby would have given Death a run for his money ... but more on Alby’s chess skills later. 

After ‘Russ’** the dorper passed away, I went for a little jog down the drive to the dam and and I was suddenly struck by an idea – a fountain, of course!  Why not get Elliot to transform the pump, which is permanently set up there, into some kind of water feature. That would be sure to impress anyone driving up to the house, particularly if back-lit by colored light. 

On the jog back to the house I passed a line of round hay bales and thought: maybe Elliot could maneuver these using a tractor and create a tower. Not just any old tower but an epic, grassy version of the Tower of Babel! 

Bacon and eggs for breakfast, cooked by Elliot, and a lovely cup of tea made by Anneka. What a way to start the day! The three Marshman kids were busily preparing for school, but there was no worries about missing the bus, because their mum, Aneka, was the bus driver. 

I briefly visited the white, meat chooks and gave them a pile of lovely lush weeds, picked fresh from the path around Aneka’s marvellously set up veggie garden. The chooks also got a big bucket of milk thanks to Latte the cow and quickly gobbled it down. I took the opportunity to document the process – being as it was their last supper.

I returned to my little cottage and did a bit of yoga. I was mid Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward bow or wheel pose) when Elliot called in with a list of requirements for the lighting system we are working on using a couple of large, square, empty herbaside drums. I immediately emailed through the list to Dewi (David) Hyde (my new friend and local photographer who lives north east of Esperance) who was due to visit the farm the following day to continue documenting the ‘process’. 

He very kindly agreed not only to collect $146 worth of electrical fittings and wiring from the good people at LED Esperance, but also collect my mail from the post office and a selection of face paints in order to transform the Marshman kids into their power animals.  

Phone reception in this part of the world is patchy, which has its pros and cons, but the WiFi is tiptop! Thanks to the phenomenon that is internet banking I was able to deposit the required amount into the the LED Esperance bank account and we were cooking with gas.

After a cup of coffee I took off with The Marshman’s Hilux, together with one of the sturdiest tandem trailers I have ever seen, and headed to one of the Marshman’s other properties to check out a large pile of gnarled and ancient mallee roots and to visit an old tip, located in a dried up water hole on the edge of one of their many wheat paddocks.

It was time to go shopping!

I had only driven halfway to the other property when I noticed a massive grader slowly heading towards me, leveling out the corrugated, gravel road. I immediately started filming what I saw using my trusty (but now outdated) iPhone 4. As I approached the grader I discovered that not only was the driver a lady (not that common in my experience) but she had travelling with her a small grey poodle. I paused in the middle of the road (no need to worry about oncoming traffic in this part of the world) with the engine running, hopped out of the Hilux and wandered over for a chat. 

I quickly learned that the grader driver’s name was Carmel, and her four-legged companion was called Smokey. Carmel was busy fixing the roads, which each year deteriorate into a corrugated, pot-holed nightmare. During our brief chat I discovered that she used to drive machinery for the mining industry, but had recently moved back to Esperance and taken up the grading role. I told her what I was up to and invited her along to the Twig on Sunday night. She had also recently run into Elliot, so knew where to go. I told her I was off to look through a tip. I could tell she would have liked to have joined me for a bit of a squiz, but she still had a fair bit of road to grade so we each went our separate ways.

At the Marshman’s other property I soon collected a heap of amazing bits of mallee root. How anyone could bring themselves to burn any of the beautifully twisted lumps of wood, which I piled in the trailer, I will never know. I’d probably get to the point of hypothermia before setting fire to one of these beauties. 

Afterwards I wandered over to the old tip and came across a wonderful selection of materials that were just perfect for what I was planning to create. I dragged two large metal pipes through the paddock and left them beside the road to collect on my way past. I also salvaged a few old bottles, two old poison drums and a couple of varieties of succulents.   

Back in the Hilux I hot-footed it back to the Marshman’s place, pausing long enough beside Carmel and Smokey to hear her yell “I see you’ve got a trailer full of junk!” I immediately retorted “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!” We both laughed and I headed on to the Marshman’s house. 

Back at the house I parked the Hilux and was met by Elliot and his father-in-law Ivan Starcevich. I said  hello and couldn’t hide my excitement about my trailer full of goodies. I’m not sure what Ivan made of my treasures. Elliot told me that he had left a sandwich made up for me in the fridge. I woofed it down and a few minutes later piled into Ivan’s flash 4WD, with Elliot and the three of us headed off along Tom Starcevich Road, turned onto the highway and soon arrived at the Grass Patch Primary School. 

Today was Special Assembly Day, which meant that parents and friends were invited to attend and see what the kids had been up to. Each student had the opportunity to speak and present various pieces of work – one of which was an informative group presentation about healthy eating, digestion and exercise.

The highlight of the assembly was a fashion parade of aprons produced in the lead-up to the Stephanie Alexander program that was about to be rolled out. The event was emceed by their design and technology (or something like that) teacher who individually described what each student was wearing and how they had gone about designing it. The students took great delight in parading around and showing the appreciative audience their practical and elaborately coloured aprons.

The assembly concluded and we headed back to Ivan’s car, but before heading back to the farm we stopped to check on the progress of the restoration of one of Grass Patch’s oldest buildings: a beautiful rendered stone, two-room homestead, with hardwood floorboards and two fire places. The two blokes working on the building knew Ivan and Elliot well and a bit of shyacking went back and forth between all four of them. 

I was surprised to hear Ivan refer to one of the blokes as ‘Flinny’, a nickname I am only too familiar with. It seems that I had run into a fellow Flinn! (but more probably a ‘Flynn’) What are the chances of that?

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to killing, dunking, plucking, gutting, washing and bagging the Marshman’s 36 meat chooks. Two more of Aneka’s relations turned up to help out. 

The whole process was well organised and every bird was treated with great care and respect. Obviously blood was spilt and 36 hearts stopped, but what resulted was a freezer full of home-grown chicken, that is far more ethically produced than anything you can pick up at your local supermarket. Food for thought.***

Afterwards we all enjoyed a beautiful meal of lasagna, salad and a couple of beers. 

* I’m making a reference to Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 classic film, The Seventh Seal, in which a knight (Max Von Sydow) wanders around the place battling Death (Bengt Ekerot) over a game of chess. Quite a slow film but incredibly beautifully shot and well worth a look if you are into existential ideas and all that jazz. 

** As in Lazarus – an attempt to name him back to life. 

*** For anyone wishing to look further into the wonderful world of DIY food growing. I recommend a recent documentary called Fresh. It’s a real eye opener in terms of the way factory farming has transformed the way we now interact with the food we consume.

**** For anyone wishing to see more images such as “the sturdiest tandem trailer I have ever seen”, “Carmel the grader-driver and her dog Smokey”  and many others, go on to Instagram and follow @inlikeme. I am constantly adding new, and hopefully interesting, images from the farm.

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