The never-ending story of farmers, grocery makers, Food Hosts and goings on at the CERES Fair Food warehouse.
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Fair Food welcomes you in 2017

It's been two weeks since we closed for the Christmas break but it feels much longer. Wherever we may have been, whatever we have done, whatever has happened to us, it's time to come back to the everyday.  Back to our roles as workers, students, volunteers, community members.  And, unless they have been truly rotten, this is the moment to look back and be thankful for the time we've just spent with our families and friends, for these times are truly special and we never know when things will change.

For the last three years, in an effort to combat the seasonal tsunami of wine, ham and chocolate covered comestibles, over 300 people have joined in our post-holiday Unglut Your Gut Challenge (see below for details).  It's a month-long internal journey with a Soul Strength Ferment and a Lo Bros Kombucha reward at the end.  Which is all good, but the reward's not really the reward if you know what I mean.  Because if, at the end of this month, all we achieve is an increase in the diversity of our microbiomes and emerge healthier, less bloated and bleary then that will be reward enough.   

We're making our first delivery for 2017 this Tuesday the 10th January, the order deadline for Tuesday and Wednesday deliveries is midnight Sunday 10th (which is tonight). 

Want to take the challenge?  

There’s three very important steps (you have to do all of these or you don't get the fermented goodies)
Step 1.  Place your first order before 11pm on Tuesday January 24th 

Step 2.  Activate the challenge with your FIRST order by entering the code GUT2017 in the promo box at checkout 

Step 3   Order for 4 CONSECUTIVE WEEKS (Orders need to be $30 or more and we’ll deliver a 250g bottle of Soul Strength Ferments Sauerkraut (various flavours) and a Lo Bros Kombucha 330ml (also various flavours).

 Fair Food's first delivery back in 2017 is Tuesday, January 10th - Find the webshop here



Summer Reading Bonus: Cabbage Heart of Darkness - the final chapter

Last summer you may or may not have read the first four parts of the Cabbage Hearts of Darkness series a search for meaning on a journey to find The Giant Cabbage of Berastagi in Northern Sumatra - you can catch up here if you didn't. It's been a long time coming but finally the last chapter has been finished - sorry it's hard finding meaning in a large fibreglass brassica. 

The Giant Cabbage of Berastagi 

The road from Lake Toba to Berastagi winds up out of a steep volcanic crater like one of those deep fried potato spirals you can buy at festivals these days.  We head for the top of the lake stopping at Sipisopiso, the highest waterfall in Indonesia.  Ishmael, our driver, pays the entry fee and nudges his van past the crowds shopping and eating at souvenir shacks and makeshift food stalls.  We park and our sons sprint over to the viewing area.  From a cave in the rock wall an underground river explodes and makes its bum clenching 120 metre plunge down to a misty green pool.  We listen to the roar and watch the tumbling, tumbling water hypnotised.  

After a while my focus pulls back and in front of me spilling down the slope, enveloping the undergrowth like a thigh deep plastic glacier is a mass of drink bottles and polystyrene pot noodle bowls.  I’m gutted at how people could do something so disrespectful somewhere so beautiful?  The thought that this would never happen in Australia fills me with the kind of delicious righteousness I imagine gets Pauline Hanson out of bed in the morning.  But then I picture landfills overflowing with old chip packets and water bottles tucked just out of sight of Uluru and Bondi Beach and Flemington and everywhere else and I feel as sheepish as a sharehouse tenant busted post-party attempting to jam a burnt-out couch under the house.
Ishmael’s van speeds out over the Karo plateau.  Passing muddy utes filled with farm workers  everywhere around us in beautifully hand dug chocolaty rows are crops of asparagus, corn, potatoes, bananas, mandarins, passionfruit, pineapples but most of all cabbages.  We pass tall cavernous wooden store houses stacked full of more cabbages.  Trucks speed by packed dizzyingly high with cabbages under canvas tarps bound for Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.  At 1300 metres above sea level, with a temperature sitting permanently between 14-30C and regular rains even in the dry season, the Karo plateau is a market gardener’s Shangri La. 

Berastagi’s main tourist attractions are Mount Sinabung and Mount Sibayak, both active volcanoes.  Nobody we meet seems to have heard about the town’s giant cabbage.  Instead everybody excitedly tells us Berastagi is overdue for an eruption and that the whole place could go up at any minute.   Ishmael asks the boys if they want to boil some eggs in a real volcano.  Their eyes light up like it’s the best thing anyone has ever thought of ever and a couple of hours later we’re standing beside a bubbling pool in the sulphury crater of Mount Sibayak.   

While the boys eat their boiled eggs Ishmael points out the brown mushroom cloud erupting out of Mt Sinabung in the distance. Ishmael tells us about 2014 when Mt Sinabung erupted and hot ash travelling at 75km an hour burnt out the eyes and lungs of 16 people trying to make their escape.  Ishmael shows me photos on his phone - bodies lay beside scooters covered in a blanket of ash.  The people look so peaceful and so terribly white.

We climb down the mountain to the hot pools below.  In a hot pool I sit next to Karl, a Swede who works as an accountant for a multi-national flavours and fragrances company in Singapore.   As our kids splash around we try a copi luak the local specialty coffee.  Copi luak is made from beans eaten and passed by wild civet cats.  Karl tells me the demand for copi luak is such that farmers have taken to keeping wild civet cats in cages and force feeding them coffee beans. My heart sinks and I look up at the volcano above and wouldn’t blame it if it erupted and wiped the land clean of us copi luak drinkers. 

The next morning out my window Berastagi is covered like snow in a sprinkling of white volcanic ash. The lingering crotch rot I picked up in Lake Toba has flared, it smells sulphury, like the water from hot pools.  Like Mt Sinabung I seem to be on the verge of erupting.  At the hospital, the doctor does a double take at my fissured skin. Without looking away he makes a call.  I don’t understand what he says but from the sudden appearance of a colleague I surmise it’s something along the lines of, “You really have to see this”.  The doctors examine me, wincing, taking sharp intakes of breath.  I walk bowlegged out of the hospital loaded up with antibiotics and special soap.
Ishmael collects me and we go to a market garden on the edge of town.  We talk to Mary, a farmer whose great grandfather was the man who first planted cabbage in Berastagi in the 60’s.  She tells me he made a small fortune supplying Kuala Lumpur with cabbage and bought the first motor scooter in the area.  I ask her if she knows anything about the town’s giant cabbage.  She shrugs disinterestedly and says she knows nothing.

At the local government tourism office we ask about the Giant Cabbage.  They know nothing either. Old timers are dragged out of back offices but everybody has the same blank look.  Many phone calls later we learn the Giant Cabbage was originally part of a quartet of giant produce examples that included a giant orange, a giant pineapple and a giant passionfruit.  These fruit and veg edifices were gifted to the town from the local water company - a thank you to local farmers for their business.  Later when Ishmael points out the giant orange it’s covered in so much grime it looks like an oversize blackened tennis ball on top of a power pylon.  The giant passionfruit and pineapple we discover were badly vandalised and taken down.

From the tourism office I decide to walk to The Giant Cabbage.  Even in the town every spare bit of ground is filled with vegetables.  Front yards are immaculate mini-market gardens enough to make an urban farmer’s heart soar.  Walking up the road the sky darkens, moody lightning and thunder claps directly over my head.  The rain breaks and the street turns into a brown river.  Walking through rapids in my thongs is almost impossible, with every dragging step the fissures in my crotch sear with pain, it feels like my legs might just tear off. I find refuge from the torrent on someone’s front porch.
Then as suddenly as it starts the rain stops.  The river parts and I step out on the street and there steaming in the distance under a patch of breaking clouds is The Giant Cabbage of Berastagi.  I approach the great green head; it sits atop a brown marble column, its outer leaves peeled back.  The Giant Cabbage is big but only big like a delivery van or a single car garage not monumental like the Sphinx or the Big Merino.  Sitting in the middle of a tiny roundabout, cars and scooters wind their way obliviously around it, faded show posters and public notices peel off its plinth.  

I scratch myself and understand now why the locals barely give it a second thought.  In another time maybe the Giant Cabbage would be a monument giving thanks to the earth that grew it, a reminder to brassica worshippers that we are part of land and the cycles of life. Instead here it sits, an unwanted civic present built with utility company profits, a reminder maybe that more cabbages mean more new scooters?
But maybe in a town where at any time the volcano could burn your family’s eyes and lungs out perhaps the Giant Cabbage is a cheap distraction, a sleight of hand, just one more thing we’ve built to lull ourselves into thinking we can control our lives, something to fool ourselves about our own mortality.  

And for some reason a picture of my four year old son in his red water wings jumping off a diving board into Lake Toba comes to mind.  His little body hangs in the air above the watery abyss, so brave, so fragile.  At times the picture fills me with such a helpless, creeping dread that I know I too would do anything - build a cabbage no matter how large or absurd if it helped me believe I could keep him safe.  

Welcome back and have a great week



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