In many ways our journey began a few years ago, as newlyweds, in the backyard. Lying back on the grass, watching, listening, feeling the transformation that takes place when a plan is made, soil is tilled and enriched, seeds are sowed, weeds are pulled, food scraps are composted and then sprouts emerge, flowers turn to fruit, beans lengthen, tomatoes redden... transformation, and also lessons in patience, discipline, frustration and gratitude. With care and determination we saw our Australian backyard flourish, and later we watched our French backyard grow too - literally with our hands to the ground. We saw how organic gardening, composting and recycling enhanced the "nature" around our homes, and in turn our minds and bodies.
Our interest in regenerative farming, though, has grown much more gradually. We first came across American farmer-revolutionary, Joel Salatin of Polyface farms - and were inspired by his biomimicry model for raising livestock that simultaneously restores or "redeems" the ground and grasses. This was in stark contrast to what we knew about many mainstream farming and mass food production practices around the globe. It got us thinking about how we could fit into the picture, beyond buying from sustainable farmers and producers. We dreamed about one day starting a smallholding that could meet most of our family's food needs. Surplus could go to friends and family, initially, and maybe one day, could be sold. But we were living overseas at the time and had no idea how to start. We returned to Australia in late May 2013. We were staying in Melbourne for a week and were keen to take one of the Taranaki farm tours. We decided on a whim (i.e. the night before the 'grasshopper' tour) to make the 55-minute drive from Melbourne to Woodend to check it out.
At Taranaki farm cattle, chickens, goats, pigs, plants (and all manner of worms, insects and creatures of the ground) are allowed to roam, forage, peck, stomp, graze, mud-bathe, scratch, screech, oink and moo... in short a place where animals are given the dignity to behave as they are meant to, and we all benefit as a result. The soil especially.
Needless to say, we soon fell in love with the place. At the end of the tour we chatted to Ben about our dream to pursue something similar, and later applied for the Spring internship. We are thrilled that we were accepted! And while we are entirely new to raising animals, or indeed farming at all - we have seen and tasted the fruits and frustrations of putting our hand to the ground. We know it will be hard and rewarding work...
Hand to Ground suggests how our physical limbs embrace the earth below us in an intentional and gentle way. It also speaks of the passion humankind can have for the natural world that nourishes and sustains us. The intricacies, patterns, and beauty of nature, and the intrinsic health of natural systems confirm our faith in a magnificent Creator who cares about this earth. This is where our sense of stewardship comes in - that in return for enjoying and benefitting from nature's harvest we can offer responsible management and intentional care.
A lofty, idealistic goal? Yes, but one we could all pursue considering our changing climate, finite resources and global inequality. We all have a part to play - in the way we shop, consume, recycle, eat, vote, learn, support and share. We aren't exactly sure what this means for our family in the long-term. But for the present we are serious about learning how we can make a small difference with our hands.
Hand to Ground will explore our journey in thoughtful, sustainable organic living. We will enjoy good food and relationships along the way!
We look forward to sharing our journey with you.
Blessings, Alex, Emily & Reuben