When the dream you bought isn’t what you hoped for

Sometimes I have this realization that I’m a schmuck. This sounds like a light hearted bit of self- deprecation but seriously, I am a schmuck.
How quickly I put up that white flag and admitted defeat in the cherry farming game. I feel quite ashamed of myself, leaving the problem in Damien’s court as I have. At the same time I feel it was the only possible option. I can spot a nervous breakdown miles away, and already I know that if I had to back up after each of the wild storms which are part of our new normal, I’d be a basket case.
I’ve heard from the previous farmer who owned the farm how he’s never seen storms like these that we’re getting all too frequently now. The last storms that hit us just over a month ago brought down one of our massive gum trees over on the river side of the property. It also brought down every panel of netting except one. Damien hasn’t even finished the repairs from the last big storm. To me this is the very definition of futility, and I haven’t the resilience to cope with that.
I re-read the post from a year ago when we were working out here on the farm together. Now Damo sets off for the farm in the mornings and I remain at home in bed happily ensconced in my academic world. The farm which we hoped would unite us now separates us for most of our days. I want us to refocus on what our farm dream was really about and see how we can work our way back to that.

Bye bye winter update

It’s been a LONG time between posts and that reflects where I’m at with cherry farming really. I’ve kind of worked out that I have neither the skill set, the resilience nor the time to be a cherry farmer. So, post harvest I really backed right off and turned my focus to staring my PhD instead.

Damo has continued to plug away at it and I am constantly amazed at his resilience. Last month we had a mini cyclone come through which lasted the best part of a week. It has left our bird nets torn and tattered over the majority of the orchard. I can barely look at it without feeling ill at the amount of work that lies ahead. So I rarely look at it. Mainly now I go to the farm just to take the girls horse riding. I only go out once every couple of weeks to work. I’ve done some pruning of root stock in the Simones and lateral branches in the Sambas, but nothing like I was doing this time last year. And I’ll admit to feeling much happier as a result of not feeling chained to the farm.

Yesterday I roamed about there for a few hours while the girls rode, doing nothing much but tidying up bits and bobs. But farm work enters into you as if by osmosis and so this morning I found myself awake before 6 wondering how I could mend the massive tear in the net above row 25 without use of the cherry picker (which Damien is using to put new net up over the Sambas). The short answer is I can’t fix the net. I don’t have the skill set, nor the spare cherry picker to do it. But being honest here, even if we had a spare cherry picker sitting right under that gaping 30 metre long tear I wouldn’t actually want to repair that net. I would hate every minute of the job and manage to stitch myself into a state of depression. That is what I find being on a farm with constant visible workload does to me. Whenever I’m there I see the endless work that lies ahead. Maybe it’s different on different types of farms. But that’s how I experience cherry farming. I take my hat off to Damien who just keeps plugging away at it. I am in awe that the elements haven’t yet defeated him. In less than a year we have had two major storms come through – the most recent with the power to uproot massive eucalypts on our farm and carry half our causeway off in its torrent. To me the struggle to keep bird netting intact is futile.

I feel pretty pissweak to not be able to continually rise up to the challenges the farm throws at us. But that’s how it is. I’m just trying to psyche myself up for the harvest in January when I’ll need to be there.

In the meantime one thing I can do is use our everyday spending to support local farmers. I’ve had the privilege of gaining insight into just how hard it is to produce food. I think consumers don’t have a full enough understanding of this. Maybe if they did I think they’d support better prices for farmers.

A couple of other quick mentions:
Already, although it’s still winter (just) and supposedly the quiet time for a cherry farmer, Damo is pretty much tied to the farm to the degree that he can’t even get away for a week. Michael asked him if he’d walk the overland track with a mate of his. He told me how much he would love to go. I asked if he could leave the cherries for that long. “I guess that answers it” he replied. (He’s not going). I think it’s important to remember these small things, because they are some of the qualitative impacts of the farm on our life. Damo has been yearning to walk the overland track again for ages.

Likewise I want very much to spend a few weeks up on the Sunny Coast towards Christmas since there’s a family reunion and Nana turns 90, but I haven’t booked it yet. It feels too indulgent since I’m aware that the work demands of the farm will be so high then. But no. I have just now decided that this family business is too important for the girls and me to miss. So we will go.

And somewhere sometime the conversation about the farm needs to address the question of whether it is helping us live the life we want to share together. That’s probably one of the most important questions for us to consider.

Harvest time has been and gone

It feels so strange to be writing about our cherry harvest now that it’s all over – like I’ve arrived at the ball game just as the players are piling back on to the bus after the final touchdown. One minute (or actually for excruciating hours on end, day after day after day) we were protecting our crop from the evil curse of the starling flocks and then in the blink of an eye every cherry was gone, destined for cherry lovers everywhere.

Well not everywhere – but certainly to the good burghers of Launceston and greater Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales, and our best cherries made the overseas journey to China and Taiwan. How excitement!

We picked the 10 rows of Simones in 5 days between January 13 and 18 with one rest day to give the packing shed time to catch up on our enormous first two days’ harvest when we picked nearly a tonne per day with 5 pickers. Five days later we backed up to harvest the 22 rows of Sweethearts over the following 6 days. They were not such great picking due to the damage inflicted by the starlings – basically too many cherries had been attacked, making messy work for the pickers as they worked around the sticky damaged cherries to get to the good ones. Overall I’m estimating that we picked between 6 and 7 tonnes, but we won’t know until all of the reconciliation is done with the packing shed.

The daily routine of the harvest was steady – the pickers started at 6.30 (or 5.30 on days where high temps were forecast), so I had to be at the orchard around half an hour after they started to collect their first lugs (tubs of cherries) and take them for weighing in at the packing shed so they could be chilled in the ice bath and go straight into the cold room. We had a great bunch of international pickers – three French Canadians, two French people and one Aussie girl. They were a team of dynamos, barely pausing for a break from their early start until they finished around 3pm each day. Our gun picker picked 32 lugs in one day – each lug holds an average of 11kg of cherries – so he hauled in around 350kg on his own. What an awesome feat! There was a great camaraderie amongst the pickers, and I loved hearing their soft French singing as I passed by to collect their lugs.

My best moments during the harvest were those spent carrying a full load of cherries on the back of the quad bike for the 400 metre journey down the road to the packing shed. Sometimes people would drive past and wave or smile, or follow me down the dirt lane to the packing shed. One day a man brought his two young daughters over to watch ‘the farmer’ unloading the cherries. They asked me what I was doing and I explained a little about it. I wondered if they too might want to be farmers one day. If I can do it, anyone can! Half a dozen rounds of cherry drop offs and lugs replaced and readied for the next day and I could be home in the mid afternoon.

However, I was more likely to be doing the rounds of local sales of our ‘seconds’ – cherries that were good, but not good enough for exporting or sending to the Sydney and Melbourne markets. We didn’t know we had a supply of seconds until day 3 of the harvesting when the packer’s wife asked me what we were going to do with the growing stack of seconds. ‘Doesn’t the pig farmer come and collect those for us?’ I asked. ‘No’, she replied, ‘that’s just your jam cherries he takes away’ (meaning the rubbish ones). I counted the stacks of 5kg boxes. We had 53 of them, that’s 165kg of seconds with more coming off the packing line as I stood there wondering how on earth we would get rid of them all before they went off.

The long and short of it is that with a little driving around town with boxes of our seconds, showing our wares to the kind and enthusiastic small retailers of Launceston, we were able to build up immediately a loyal local clientelle. These stores have called us every few days to drop another box or two in, totalling around 12 to 15 boxes per week from us each week during the season from mid January until now. I’m eternally grateful that they were willing to look at our cherries, give them a try, stock them and support them with ‘local Windermere cherries’ emblazoned on their shop windows. The most wonderful news is that our cherries are truly the best quality cherries I’ve ever encountered, with a shelf life far beyond what I’ve expected. They are crisp and firm, juicy and sweet all at once and the Sweethearts have an additional tang to their flavour which makes it even more interesting to my palate.

Damien also managed to get some wholesale sales happening which took care of a dozen trays at a time. That was a great relief (considering that at one stage I was desperate enough to want to ship a bulk load of cherries to mum and dad in Queensland to sell to their golf and cricket friends…). So all’s well that ends well. I hope it ends well. We haven’t received our payments yet from the interstate and international buyers. That will be when we sit down and work out whether the sleepless nights and the endless days of work throughout December and January were actually worth all of the effort. Stay tuned.

Ready, Steady, Start Planning for Tassievore 2014 – March is the month!

Support your local Tassie farmers this March with the Tassievore Eat Local Challenge!

Tassievore Eat Local Challenge

Ready, Steady, Start Planning for Tassievore 2014 - March is the month!

Join us in 2014 to support the amazing bounty that Tasmania has to offer. Being a Tassievore is all about supporting our local growers and businesses and reconnecting with our food supply. Each week in March we will set a mini-challenge for you to take part in. Or you can just try to choose more Tasmanian during March (and hopefully beyond). This is a fun and delicious challenge, so get ready!

Keep in touch on facebook and register for our newsletter.

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Tassievore Eat Local Challenge this March

As newbie farmers, we love initiatives like this which support Tassie farmers…. we’re just a little sad that our cherry season will be over. It would be a treat seeing cherries on Tassievore tables!! Thanks to Urban Farming Tasmania for sharing the love!

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The Tassievore Challenge is on again this March for 1 month. We challenge you to eat more local Tasmanian produce, buy more Tasmanian products and visit Tasmanian business.  There will be prizes and activities throughout the month so keep in contact through the website and facebook. There are 4 key challenges:

Week 1 Try something new!

Week 2 Support Tassie business

Week 3 Eat Tassie fruit and veg

Week 4 Host a local feast with friends and family

Go on, get involved, give it a go!

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Not as easy as I thought this would be

It’s mid December, blowing a gale, and I’m trying to pull together two bits of torn bird net which the wind keeps ripping from my hands. I’m trying to mend some of the hundreds of holes in our nets which starlings come through every day to eat our crop ahead of the harvest due to start in a few weeks.

It really sucks that I can’t tie knots. I sew bits of net up and then later notice the orange rope flapping about in the wind again, tormenting me. This farmering life is much harder than I thought it would be. And I’m recognizing that my skill set doesn’t exactly align with the farming task.

Damien has endless time, talent, patience ad grit for these endless jobs like mending massive tears in netting, but I so don’t! And this endless crappy weather which is now encroaching into our summer is really getting old. I’m still wearing a puffy jacket for chrissake!!

Beyond the blue

There’s a huge expanse of blue sky above me as I stand here amongst cherry trees awash with blossom. Nice to see the sky again after so much rain over the past fortnight. But I’m not enjoying this view much at all. What I should be seeing when I look up is bird netting. Last Wednesday’s storm has torn gaping holes in the net. There’s three massive sections ripped apart, blown over into adjacent fields and even shredded where the storm’s fury hit hardest.

I’m a little thrown by it – flummoxed about what to do next. The repairs are beyond anything I can mend – hell I struggle to sew up a hem on a school uniform. How can I possibly fix a hole the size of a basketball court in a net meters above my head?

That’s what I’m pondering as I take in this beautiful blue sky and listen to the busy hum of bees at work pollinating the crop.

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