This week I got hold of a copy ofLove, Sweat and Passion (warning: interesting results when Googling), Jillian Staton's book was written over a year as she followed the fortunes of seven South Gippsland farming families producing olives, eggs, milk, cheese, wine, venison, lamb and beef. The story starts in Spring 2015 which I remember with a shudder; rainfall in South Gippsland was at its lowest since the 1930s and the hills were so bare and dry it already looked like the end of a bad summer. As the season worsened and farmers carted in water to keep their stock alive Jillian considered putting the book on hold waiting for a "normal" South Gippsland season. But watching the families just getting on with their lives Jillian decided to keep writing.
Love, Sweat and Passion is a coffee table book and at first glance Uri Fogel's photos make it all seem idyllic, but if you read the text the day-to-day reality for the farmers comes to the surface. Droughts are brutally simple - the grass stops growing forcing the sale of animals and the purchase of feed and water for all the farmers who have stock, meanwhile a local abattoir closes leaving deer farmers, Jill & Michael Vella, with no local meat processor (and no income) and then to top it off while the drought is still on, Murray Goulburn cuts the milk price paid to dairy farmers, Gillian & Graeme Nicoll, to below the cost of production.
Malabar Farm. Pic: Uri Vogel
South Gippsland was once very conservative farming country but now a changing climate and population is also changing the relationship between farmers and land. Again and again through her year Jillian witnesses moves away from chemicals. Trees are planted to shelter animals and protect creeks. "Waste" of all kinds is returned to regenerate soils; whey from Prom Country Cheese is fed back to the sheep, at Golden Creek olive prunings are mulched instead of burnt and at Montrose Dairy water is recycled and effluent spread to build pastures instead of being tipped into the creek.
Jillian also notes the way people working with animals, both domestic and wild, is changing. It may seem unthinkable to anyone who has ever watched a wedge-tail eagle wheel around sky that not so long ago they were considered vermin and shot by farmers in their thousands. At Ruby Hills Organic Eggs big white maremma dogs guard the chickens and at Malabar Farm alpacas protect lambs from eagles and foxes. This used to be a novelty but these days locals don't even give the dogs or alpacas a second glance. Meanwhile, over at Waratah Hills Winery and Golden Creek Olives instead of shooting and poisoning "pest birds" every year they delicately put out a combined 26.5 kilometres of bird netting to protect the grapes and olives.
There's no rhyme nor reason to how the people Jillian writes about have come to the land. Farming calls city people in mid-career with no agricultural knowledge, the same as it calls those who've been raised to take over the family farm. Some of them have money or family behind them, others do it by their bootstraps. But in the end Jillian reminds us that by farming, by putting their faith in nature they're all living a more precarious, more vulnerable life than the rest of us and perhaps for it they're all a little more alive.
Love, Sweat and Passion by Jillian Staton & Jenny O'Sullivan with pictures by Uri Vogel is a self-published labour of love and of course printed in Australia. You'll find it in South Gippsland bookshops or you can get one by emailing Jillian
Golden Creek Olives. Pic: Uri Vogel
No Box Left Behind Campaign
This is week two of our "No Cardboard Box Left Behind Campaign". where we'll be asking you seven times (that's right seven - apparently it's a thing) to help us cut down on one of Fair Food's biggest energy users - cardboard boxes (it's true). The response has been promising so far but we must do more to save as many of those trees and water and kilowatts of energy that go into the tens of thousands of Fair Food cardboard boxes we send out each year. You can get involved by simply flat-packing your cardboard boxes and leaving them out at your food host or your house for our drivers to pick up (same goes for all the eskys and frozen water bottles, just don't flat-pack them). We'll reuse or recycle all the cardboard etc you return and like John Farnham said, "This time, we know we all can stand together,
With the power to be powerful,
Believing, we can make it better........"