Jack Frost

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Mr Frost has been visiting us a bit lately and while the kids love the sprinkling of white flakes over the back lawn and watching the ice melt slowly, it makes Tim and I very nervous.

Growing avocados trees in our climate has many benefits in terms of producing great quality fruit and lack of pests and diseases, but it also comes with risks, one of them being frosts. Frosts are not an avocado tree’s friend and they are one of our tree’s biggest threats, so this time of year is always a little bit anxious for us. There’s lots of checking of the weather forecasts, frost fan maintenance and seaweed sprays.

To protect the trees from frost as much as we can we have big frost fans which soar 11m into the sky. They have 2 large blades which are 5 ½ metres in diameter. The blades spin like helicopter blades and rotate around on their axis to move the air and to stop the frost from settling on the trees. We have three fans, each one covers a 6 ha radius.

The fans are set on a temperature sensor and they automatically come on when it gets below 0C. It’s all very techno these days and Tim has a special program on his phone so that he can see a satellite image of the orchard and each fan with the temperature reading at each fan and he gets alerts to tell him when each fan comes on or if there are any problems with them.

Basically the fans work really well as long as there is warmer air at the top of the tower. The fans work by mixing the warm air up higher which is generally about 4 or 5 degrees warmer than on the ground and pushing it downwards. As long as these conditions are right and the frost fans do their job, the big avocado trees can tolerate down to about -4C and the baby trees down to about -2C.

If the trees get frosted, it’s pretty serious. A severe frost can cause damage to the fruit on the tree and if it’s severe enough it can also cause the fruit to drop off.

If the frosts are late in winter it can also affect the emerging flower buds which will reduce the fruit set for the following season.

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                                                                  Fixing the frost fan 

Last week we had a bit of bad luck to go with a pretty bad frost. First of all we had ants in one of the fan’s control panels, which meant we couldn’t set the temperature properly. Then Tim fixed that and the same fan “did a clutch”. Not great when a -2 frost was forecast for that night and there was no chance of getting the frost fan mechanics up to fix it in time. It ended up getting down to -3.3 that night. Luckily it was the fan that covers the highest part of the sand hill and the mature trees and we seem to have mostly got a way with it. We have had some fruit drop and some fruit damage but at this stage it looks like the flower buds are OK as they are not really emerging yet. So it’s not too bad, thankfully.

Managing frosts is just one of the many risks we have to manage on the farm and although it can be stressful, to us it’s just part of running the business. If you’re a famer you know there are risks and it’s about managing them as best you can. People often say “why would you be a farmer, when you have no control over the weather” and I always think, “well, that’s just part of the challenge”. All business have risks, all business face challenges and you can’t control everything and that’s the fun of it!

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The season is upon us…

I am so looking forward to starting this season again. We’ve had a lovely off-season and have been busy with maintenance of the orchard and lots of planning for avos and houses!

It’s been nice to have some catch up time. On the work front I’ve been working on my time management; prioritising and planning for the next season; getting the website up-to-date; researching dips and other products; and working out how we can market the avo oil better. But it’s also been nice to have lots of lovely family time and just hang out with the kids.

Tim

Wayne

Motorbike

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Tim’s been busy in the orchard still getting things up to date and maintaining everything. The place just looks fantastic. We’re going to plant some more trees later in the year too, just replacement ones. We had to pull some of the original trees out as they were dying and not producing much. It was quite sad to see them go but it’s also going to be lovely to have more new babies. We left a couple of rows of the originals as we couldn’t part with all of them.

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The old Farm House that we will move into

We’ve also been getting ready for the reno on the farm house. Mum is building a new house on the farm and it’s this super cool sustainable design from LifeHouse Design architects. It should be finished in about a month and then we are going to renovate the farm house a bit and move in there. We’re going to do a kitchen reno so I’ve been very busy choosing bench tops and tiles and ovens and it’s been heaps of fun! I love interior design and it is so lovely to be able to work on doing our own place. I cannot wait to move out the farm and get stuck into everything. I am imagining a beautiful kitchen garden, chooks, lots of cooking for friends and family and lots of laughing. The kids are going to love it too, they are so ready to be out there running around and jumping on the hay bales. Tim has made a start on their new cubby house in the trees and they are really ready to be out and about at the farm.

We’ve got a couple of exciting things coming up for later in the year too. Our Reed avos and the Avo Oil are finalists again in the Delicious Produce Awards which is very exciting – 4 year in a row! We’re also off to Peru in September for the World Avocado Congress which should be pretty awesome.

I can’t wait to send out avocados to everyone again this year for you all to enjoy and I’ll keep you up to date with our moves to the farm.

Here are some of my favourite kitchen inspiration ideas for our new kitchen at the farm, would love to hear what you think and who you look to for inspiration.

Timber Island

Kip and Co kitchen

 

 

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So, I joined the CWA…

Barham CWA

This month, the Barham branch of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) re-formed.

There were over 35 women in attendance and ten apologies for the first meeting which, in our small town, is pretty amazing. The CWA is a community group of women of all ages, across all different groups in our society and it’s lovely.

There has been an incredible amount of interest in the new CWA. So many women are really excited about it and there were women as young as 30 at the first meeting. It’s got me thinking a lot about what the appeal is for women; why is it so popular? It’s also made me think about feminism and equality.

Why have women embraced the re-establishment of the CWA and flocked to the meetings in droves? What is it that excites me about the CWA?

I think there are a number of reasons. For me, it felt like it would be a lovely opportunity to come together with other women and do good things — I was particularly attracted to the opportunity to raise awareness about mental health and suicide in our community and also just to work with a group of community-focused people. I also love the idea of preserving the old school skills of making scones and knitting and I’d really love to learn how to make a sponge properly!

There is something about the CWA that resonates with women in our community. Maybe it’s because of the history of it and that we all remember our grandmothers being involved in it or maybe it’s the appeal of an women-only group?

I was recently out for dinner with our local NSW MP Adrian Piccoli and a group of local business people. We talked about many things but we also got talking about the re-formation of the CWA and this lead to a discussion about equal rights and women’s equality. Adrian’s wife is actually the President of Soroptomists International in Griffith.

It was put to me during this discussion by one guest that the CWA might been seen as backwards with phrases like “sitting around baking scones is so old fashioned” and “what does the CWA do anyway, bake cakes?” bandied about. It seems that some people around town were also surprised that many young women were joining this seemingly antiquated group. I must admit that I had considered this myself when the CWA was forming, I wondered it if was anti-feminist and old fashioned. Does it send the right message?

Here’s the conclusion that I’ve come to…

The CWA is amazing. Their aim is to “improve the conditions for women and children and make life better for families, especially those living in rural and remote Australia”. Their “old-fashioned” scone baking last year raised over $80,000 at the Royal Melbourne Show. They made 72,500 ‘trauma bears’ for kids undergoing procedures in hospitals. They send packages to women in East Timor to help them after childbirth and they raise loads of money for different causes every year.

Last year they raised awareness of the domestic violence against women and this year it’s mental health and suicide, a cause particularly close to my heart. The CWA is the largest women’s organisation in Australia with a membership of over 22,000 in over 1,200 branches around the country and they have representatives on over 12 boards nationally including: Consumers Telecommunications Network, Telstra Consumer Council, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Consumer Consultative Committee and Australian Communications Industry Forum. The CWA has a long history of achievements and helping to connect women around Australia and to improve the quality of life for women, particularly in rural areas.

In The Age recently there was this great article written by Annabel Crabb entitled “Feminsm, like humanity is messy and imperfect”. This article really resonated with me. Annabel states that sometimes she does things that she’s frightened Germaine Greer will find out about like “wearing high heels”. I love this comment. I think perhaps this is a bit like the CWA for me. I am a strong women who believes very strongly in equal rights, of course! But, it’s OK for me to want to bake scones too isn’t it? It’s OK if I want to wear high heels but also Blundstones? Isn’t it OK for me just to do what I want? Isn’t that where we want to get to?

In her piece, Annabel Crabb says that she was “bothered that women are more than 50% of the population and more than 60% of university graduates but only 3% of chief executives…it bothers me that one women per week gets killed by her male partner and it bothers me that ‘working Mum’ is a phrase used all the time but you never hear ‘working Dad’.” I couldn’t agree more.

Getting together with awesome women to do good things like raise awareness about suicide prevention makes me feel good. So does making scones. The CWA is a friendship group for women of all ages, it’s a group that focuses on kindness to all and on helping others. To me that’s pretty cool.

I’ll be sticking with the CWA. I’ll continue to run my business with my husband. I’ll also be looking after the kids and running the household. I’ll be doing an online business course and presenting when I’m asked to. I’ll be getting involved with the community and trying to do as many positive things as I can to contribute to making life awesome for everyone in our community because that’s what I want to do.

It was International Women’s Day last Sunday so let’s celebrate being a woman. Bake a scone, run a company, look after your kids, run a marathon, join the CWA! Do whatever you like!

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Managing the Heat

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On any farm there are a number of risks involved with growing a crop. We have a few big risks that we need to mitigate to grow our avocados including frost, wind and heat.

At this time of year our biggest risk is the heat. Avocados are a tropical fruit so they like the hot – but only humid heat, not dry.

The climate in Barham sees hot, and often very dry, summers so we have to use a number of techniques to ensure our trees do not suffer too much damage. Sometimes, even with the management techniques, we will get loss of fruit or damage to the trees.

There are things we do on an ongoing basis like managing the watering of the trees. We manage our water use very carefully with a special water monitoring system to ensure the water is at just the right depth at all times so that the roots can get the right amount of water. We also manage the nutrition of the trees to ensure the trees are really healthy at all times.

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When we know really hot weather is coming we use seaweed sprays and we also have a cooling system that we turn on when it gets above 35 degrees. Basically it’s sprinklers on top of tall poles on every second row of trees. The sprinklers just put out a very fine mist, which cools the trees down but doesn’t make them too wet. It just makes the environment in the trees nice and humid like it would be in the tropics. The overhead sprinkler system is essential for growing avocados in our climate. We turn the system on when it gets above 35 and then there is a lot of going round the trees and checking that there are no pipe blow outs or blockages in the trees as it’s critical that they keep going.

One of the most critical times for heat impact on the trees is during January. This year we have been really lucky with the weather; we had a hot dry Spring, but January has been relatively cool.

The trees have a fruit drop in January when they spit off some of their fruit and if it’s really hot at this time then they will spit off more. Last year we had 5 days over 45 degrees which meant we lost a lot of fruit so this year we have been much happier with the cooler temps. There might still be some really hot weather in February but at least we’ve got this far. The fruit set is still looking good for next year and we are past one of our challenges for this year so fingers crossed there’ll be lots of yummy avos for you all next season!

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The New Year

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A big Happy New Year to all!

There’s something really special about the start of the new year. I love that feeling of new beginnings and the anticipation of what’s in store for the year ahead. It kind of feels like hitting the reset button to me. It’s a chance to just regroup and take stock and think about where we are in life, before we head on in to a whole new year.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what my priorities are and the juggle of family and business and how to make it all work smoothly for everyone. I’ll be trying to do less and focus more (not easy for one with a busy head) and just trying to find that happy place. My sister wrote a really good blog post about this recently if you want to check it out here.

This year will be another big one for us. We are going to be moving out of town and onto the farm – into the house where I grew up. Mum has still been living in the farmhouse since we moved home but her new house is just about finished. She’s building a really cool house with a sustainable design by Lifehouse Design architects in Castlemaine which should be finished by late April. We cannot wait to get out there. It will be so lovely for the kids to grow up on the farm and so great for Tim in terms of management as there is always something that needs doing out there so this will be much easier for him.

I’m also going to be trialling a new avocado dip! We’ll be taking it to farmers’ markets and giving away free samples to get feedback from people so look out for that one.

Our oldest daughter Daisy, is also going to be starting school which is so exciting. She can’t wait and it is going to be so much fun seeing her learn and grow.

I’ll also be trying to keep everyone updated as much as possible with happenings on the farm and fun things we are up to. If anyone has any requests of things they’d like to see or something they’d like more information on then please do let me know.

I hope you’ve had a chance to stop and think about where you are and what’s happening with your life and what your priorities are for the year ahead.

Here’s to a fabulous year filled with lots of great moments and lots of fun!

 

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Avocado Varieties

6 Reed

With Christmas just around the corner we are so excited to get back into it and pick our premium variety of avocados: the Reed! It’s been a really funny season for us this year in terms of when each variety has been ready for picking. The Reed is the last of the main four varieties that we grow on the farm and it’s our absolute favourite.

We actually have seven different varieties of avocados that we grow on the farm: Hass, Reed, Bacon, Fuerte, Wurtz, Gwen, and Ryan. Worldwide there are more than 500 types, with about 75 varieties grown in Australia. Of our seven types, we only harvest four for commercial sale (Bacon, Fuerte, Hass and Reed) because we’ve only got about five trees for each of the other varieties and we’ve got about 1,500 Hass trees, 800 Reed, 50 Fuerte and 20 Bacon (this paragraph has way more numbers in it than my usual blogs but avocado data is ‘cool’ data, right?!)

The main variety that you will see in Australia now is, of course, the Hass. This is mainly because the industry organisation Australian Avocados has focused on promoting the Hass because it’s the most robust and the easiest of all of the avos to tell when it’s ripe because it darkens in colour. This year our Hass were ready earlier than usual and we picked them all quickly so we could give the trees a rest before the next season’s fruit starts to form. It also meant that we were able to capitalise on higher market prices before a glut of New Zealand fruit entered the market.

With around 800 trees, the Reed is our second biggest variety in terms of volume. It’s not just our favourite, everyone who tastes them falls for them, too.  They look so impressive with their big emu egg-like shape and on the inside they offer a beautiful, creamy flesh. The Reed trees are taller and thinner than the other varieties and sometime their branches get so heavy that they can break off under the weight before they are ready for harvest.

If you haven’t tried one of our Reeds then grab some for Christmas, they make such a special ingredient to fresh, summer meals. We’re positive you’ll love them as much as we do!

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Pollination

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The life cycle of an avocado is something that I find really fascinating and often when we tell people how it all works they find it really interesting, too. So, over the next year I’ll take you through the life of the avo.

Our avocados hang on the tree for around 12 months, a much longer period than avocados grown in tropical areas. This is because our cooler Winters result in a slower maturation period.

There are a few really key things that happen in that 12-month period. This post is all about pollination which is the first and most important step in the life of the avocado.

In our region, pollination for the Hass variety occurs from mid-October to mid-November. Basically what happens is bees and other insects take pollen from the male flowers, which they drop on the female flowers and pollinate them which then produces a little fruit, but there is quite a lot to getting that process of events to occur.

Did you know that avocados trees actually have male and female flowers on the one plant? A lot of people think you need to have two avocado trees planted together to get fruit, but this is not the case, it will increase your chances of getting fruit if you have a pair but it is not essential. A fully grown avocado tree can have over 2 million flowers. But, the tricky bit is getting the right conditions for female flowers to open. The males open easily (surprise, surprise) but to get the female flowers to open we need to have 3 nights in a row over 10ºC. This year we have had lots of lovely warm weather and high overnight temps which we love for getting those girls active!

Female flowers open in the morning and close early in the afternoon. Male flowers open around midday and close late afternoon. So there is not much of a window for the bee to go to a male flower first to collect the pollen and then to a female flower to pollinate it. This is why it is a good idea to have pollinator trees which are of a different variety and flower in reverse (male in the morning and female in the afternoon). This means you have both male and female flowers open at the same time close by to each other, kind of like a dating service…

The other thing that is really great for pollination is a thunderstorm. Apparently it send the trees a bit crazy and male and females start opening all over the place, which is great for increased chances of pollination.

We get extra bee hives in every year so that we can make sure we have every chance of getting those flowers pollinated. Interestingly new research is showing that some flowers are opening and some pollination is occurring at nighttime by other insects and not just bees. Which is good for us because the bees tend to like the next door neighbour’s oranges better than our avocados anyway!

Once the pollen is taken from the male to the female flowers — all going well — the females will set fruit and after a few days to a week we will see little fruit appearing. I love walking round the orchard and seeing all the new little babies on the trees and watching them grow in to beautiful big avocados.

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The Red Gum Food Group

A couple of weeks ago we had one of those weekends that just make you feel good.

On 20/21 September the Red Gum Food Group (RGFG) hosted our local federal MP Sussan Ley for a special dinner cooked by 2013 MasterChef winner Emma Dean. It was the most fabulous night, a real credit to our volunteers and to the amazing produce from our area. To me, this was a really great example of how awesome our food group and our region is.

The Red Gum Food Group (RGFG) was formed in 2011 when a group of us got together for a Sunday lunch to talk about what we could do to develop our region’s food culture and build the recognition of it as a ‘food destination’. We live in a highly productive area with a diverse range of agricultural production and we wanted to promote this and build on it.

Over the past three years the RGFG has been working hard to develop a sustainable economy for our region around food. This year saw Loz and Lach Mathers of Bundarra Berkshires host their inaugural Hogfest event coinciding with our annual RGFG Q&A night, the farmers’ market has been gaining momentum, and our individual producers have been going from strength to strength.

There were a couple of major drivers for us setting up the RGFG.

The first part was that we wanted local people to appreciate, and be able to easily enjoy, what was grown locally. We wanted local farmers to be respected for their amazing produce and regain a sense of pride in what they do by reconnecting them with the consumer.

Before Tim and I moved back to the farm, our avocados could not be bought locally anywhere except the butcher shop. The guy who transported our avocados to Melbourne also used to do the fruit and veg buying for the local supermarkets. He would take our avocados to Melbourne, drop them off then go to another agent and buy avocados and bring them back up here. The same thing would happen with the oranges. We grow a lot of oranges around here and at one point locals could even sell their oranges while the local supermarkets were selling Californian ones!!!

The second key driver for the establishment of the RGFG was that we saw an opportunity to promote our area as a tourist destination based around food. This was really to link in with and build on the work done by the Backroads Trail team. We looked to areas like Daylesford and Orange and thought, “We can do that, too”. We are in the heart of the Murray Darling Basin, the food bowl of Australia, we produce all this wonderful food and there’s a real opportunity to promote it.

So the farmers’ market was established and we set up the incorporated Red Gum Food Group.

Over the past 3 years, we’ve held events and workshops and organised events like the ‘World’s Longest Lunch’ on the verandah of the Koondrook Pub. In three years, as a group of volunteers we’ve achieved a great deal and it’s been a fantastic community collective to be part of.

The work of the RGFG is really important, as agriculture is at the centre of our communities. The group is a vehicle for reconnecting with urban areas so that we can promote agriculture and it’s importance. It’s almost like it’s putting the fun back in to farming. The hope is that this will encourage more young people to once again see farming as a viable and exciting career and lifestyle option.

Next on the agenda for the RGFG is the “Producers’ Picnic” on March 28 next year. This is a really great event that highlights our local produce. It’s a picnic-style event right on the banks of the Murray with a local music act, the Kurlew Brothers. There’s a selection of food stalls from our local producers and beer and wine from Restdown Wines. The first one in 2012 was a huge success and we’re sure this one will be even better!

The Red Gum Food Group is a community organisation that is all about improving the quality of life for our community and promoting our region. I can’t wait to see what happens in our area over the next five to ten years, there are so many good things happening and so many positive and inspiring people getting around.

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Baby Spring Rabbit Ravioli with In-Season Avocado

Our dear friend Rohan Anderson of Whole Larder Love made this delicious rabbit ravioli recipe using some of our avos and we decided it was too delicious not to share!

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If you have a keen eye, you’ll see the rabbits getting all frisky at the end of winter. They bounce around one another in a flirtatious frenzied ritual. They spring and fly into the air with acrobatic fervour. Sometimes they chase one another from one side of their patch to the other. I could sit and watch them for ages, but more often than not I have something more pressing to do with my time. The result of this annual mating display is obvious; many baby rabbits.

Unending baby rabbits in fact. The cycle is as predictable as the mad north winds of spring. Without fail, the new generation rabbits rise out of their labyrinth of warrens into the world of grassy fields. This generation is weird, they communicate mostly by social media and prefer text to conversation, and seem to take way more selfies than the previous generation.

I cannot deny that there is some element of cuteness to this new batch of rabbits, but the underlying fact is that the species is introduced to Australia, it’s a feral pest species. They cause a lot of damage to crops and the warrens wreak havoc with the erodible Australian soils. When I decided to stop buying supermarket chicken because I’d discovered how said birds where raised, I turned to hunting rabbits as an alternative white meat, and I’ve been hunting them ever since. You’d think I’d have tired of them by now, but it’s the opposite. They’re still very much a joy to hunt, a joy to cook, and a pleasure to eat.

When I was a full blooded bogan I used to visit a Italian style pasta chain restaurant that’s relatively famous in Australia. I often ordered a pasta that had chicken and avocado creamy sauce. It was delicious, but I’m pretty sure the ingredients wouldn’t fit my current view of the world. I’m not sure anything is organic, local or ethically raised. I haven’t eaten there for well over a decade.

With the old favourite meal in mind I came up with the idea for this dinner. What better than combining in season avocados from the guys up at Barham and the tender meat of young new season rabbits. Seems like an interesting twist on the old meal I once ordered with my blind robotic eyes, with a new approach influenced by the new version of Rohan.

I use baby rabbits because the meat is the best quailty, it’s tender and delicious. And before you get on your high horse about me eating baby rabbits, please remember these guys grow up to be adult rabbits. And just like humans, the adults are the ones that do all the environmental damage.

Now I know we have serious issues in the world. Issues that have split the community in two. This dish represents one of those major issues. Apparently it’s very wrong (culinary speaking) for me to have avocados in a hot dish. Seems ok to me, but apparently it’s a big no no. The kids and I didn’t seem to be that concerned as we devoured the meal for dinner. If my kids eat it, I’m happy. If it’s works for you in life, just do it. No one is your boss but yourself. Well that’s how I live anyway.

With everything I cook I make an effort to source good local stuff. If I can’t make it myself, I look for the local option. To be honest, it doesn’t take much effort. Well I don’t think it does. It’s easy to say I’m too time poor. I believe that’s a state of mind. You’re only as busy as you allow yourself to be.

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What I used:

  • 2 x wild baby spring rabbits
  • 2 x Barham Avocados avos
  • Full milk cream (I use inglenook dairy)
  • Pecorino (Australian made is really good)
  • 300gm fresh ricotta
  • Handful of soft spring thyme from the garden
  • 300gm plain organic flour
  • 4 large eggs from the backyard chooks
  • chilli powder (I blitz my dried backyard chills to make the powder)
  • 2 x lemons from mums lemon tree
  • Murray River Salt
  • Foraged Mountain Pepper Berry

What I do:

First step is to shoot the bunnies. They are a bit smaller in size, so you have to have your .22 accurately sighted in, and take your time with the shoot. A head shot is what you want.

After they’re skinned and gutted, I wash them, then poach them very gently for about two hours until the meat starts to fall off the frame.

Process the meat from the bones, allow to cool then pop into a tub and straight to the fridge. I did the poaching and processing the day before, I did have intentions of cooking this meal the day prior but got distracted with a broken chainsaw.

Blitz the cooked rabbit meat in the food processor, then pop it in a large mixing bowl, then add the ricotta, about half a cup of grated pecorrino and the leaves from the very soft fresh thyme. Mix well. This is the stuffing for the ravioli, so don’t eat too much of it when you mix it.

To make the pasta I mix 3 large eggs (leave one egg aside) with 300gm plain flour in a large mixing bowl. I know I probably should be using ’00’ Farina flour but the organic plain flour from the grocery store is fine enough to make pasta with, and it’s Australian made.

Using an expensive kitchen mixing device (my hands) I mix and twirl the egg around in the flour with clean fingers, mixing and mulching until a dough has formed. I treat the dough like a stress ball, squishing it and further mixing the two ingredients until it’s silky smooth. The trick I use when making pasta is to rip the dough in half and stick it back together, if it holds together it’s done. I then wrap it in cling film and rest it for an hour.

I use a hand crank pasta maker. Read the instructions of your pasta maker to make massive strips of flat pasta.

Beat the remaining egg in a bowl and grab a small pastry brush.

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Then start filling the pasta with the stuffing. Form a little amount of the filling onto one side of the pasta that sits flat on the table. You just make this stuff up, there are no rules here. The general idea is that you pop the filling on the pasta, use the brush with the egg wash on the pasta which will help seal the pasta as you fold it over the filling. Push out any air captured in the pocket of filling, then use a pasta cutter to cut out the pretty little gems.

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Pop a saucepan of salted water on the stove. While that’s heating up, cut out 1.5 of the avocados, and mash with a spoon in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze in the juice of a lemon, add a teaspoon of chilli powder, and a generous dollop of cream. For extra love grate in half a cup of the pecorino.

Cook the ravioli until al dente, remove from the hot water with a hand strainer and pop straight in to the mixing bowl with the mashed avocado. Toss and flip the ravioli and cover it with the creamy mashed avocado sauce.

Slide the ravioli onto a pretty plate. Drizzle over the best olive oil you have in the house. Squeeze over some lemon juice, crack some salt and wild pepper berry. Add a sprinkle of that beautiful red chilli powder a sprig of fresh thyme. And finally, to remind you that it’s ok to have avocado in pasta, slice out the last of the remaining avocado to sit proudly on top.

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Why ‘Community’ Matters

Recently I’ve been having a lot to do with our local government and a few weeks back I had to deliver a presentation.  I’ve done a lot of public speaking in my life and I don’t usually get nervous, but on this occasion I was wound up like your grandmother’s clock.

The presentation was about a project that we are working on and how we might work with the Council to achieve some of the dreams of the Red Gum Food Group. For three years the group has been working on developing a sustainable economy around food. Recently the Council have seen an opportunity in the same area. They started looking at applying for funding to get a restaurant and food hub off the ground. I’ve spent countless hours over the past two months working on this project and trying to form a relationship with the Council to work out how we can develop this project together.

I asked myself why do I care so much about this project? About this presentation? Why am I so deeply involved? Why do I care so much about this town and it’s future? Why do I try to get ALL my friends to move here?

George (my Uncle and mentor, really) sent me this article in The Age written by Tony Wright about the “Life judged by the kindness of strangers”.

When I read this it all clicked. He talks about “well-being” and how this is measured by the OECD by eight categories: health, safety, access to services, education, jobs, environment, income, safety, and civic engagement (defined as trust in government and participation in voting) – to calculate the regions offering the best circumstances in which a citizen might attain well-being. He goes on to say “But I have lived in plenty of other places, too, some of them not quite so salubrious or wealthy. And there was good reason to find, in every one of them, reasons to believe one was living in one of the best places anywhere.

He suggests that “a more reliable guide is something simpler: the people who surround us, and how their presence enriches us. It’s given the catch-all term “community”, “

And there you have it. I care about this town, this project and working with the Council to achieve great outcomes because I love my life and feel privileged to live in this community which I love and I appreciate so much. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived and travelled all over the world and experienced other places so I can fully appreciate what we have here. But mostly I think it’s about the day-to-day experiences and the people here that make this place so special and make it such a wonderful community.

It’s the fact that the kids can ride their bikes around the block and I know they are safe or that someone will watch out for them. It’s the people who put on Facebook that Moet (our black lab) is at the bottle shop (again) and can someone come and get her. It’s the guys at the supermarket looking after your newborn baby for you while you do your shopping and then carry your bags home for you. It’s the dear, dear friends who drop round casseroles when you have your third baby and then offer to take the big kids for a play. It’s the footy team that is the backbone of the community that gathers on a Saturday rain hail or shine.

It’s community members working together to raise money to build a boardwalk and then the Lion Club’s getting cranky because it’s too high, because they love their town and their river and their park and they want to make sure it’s preserved. It’s the blokes who erect massive signs on the bridge because their up in arms about the Murray Darling Basin Plan. It’s the awesome little community run pre-school and the ladies who run the op-shop.

It’s the loyalty people have to our avos that sees sales jump from four trays a week when ours are out of season to twenty when ours are in! It’s the swapping avos for pork or lamb or honey, or accounting advice. It’s organising the a massive outdoor event in a paddock and then when you get flooded out the whole town comes out of the woodwork to help you relocate. It’s the tennis club coming out to help pick the pumpkin crop that remains after your dad’s gone and your Mum can’t face it alone.

It’s all these things that make this community amazing. It’s this community that is worth preserving. It’s this community that makes me happy to spend countless hours ensuring that Council stays true to what we value and believe in here. It’s this community that makes my life fulfilled.

And all of that is why I’ve never been more nervous about a presentation in my life.

Unfortunately, things haven’t gone all that well with building our relationship with the local Council to date, but we won’t give up. We still have a vision of developing our town as a food destination and I really want to see our community build resilience to achieve great things and that means we have to keep trying to work together.

This stuff matters. Communities matter. I think in many places the sense of community is being lost. Tim and I are really passionate about being part of our community as a family and with our business. As Australia becomes more and more urbanised it’s the country communities that need to be cherished. I want to make sure that this community is here for my kids so that if they choose to live here they can have the same amazing quality of life that I have.

Look around you, think about the people you have in your life and think about what you can do to enrich their lives and make them feel part of your community.

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