Watch out, Melbourne’s inner north strikes again! I promise you, I don’t intentionally focus on this small part of Melbourne but I am continuously drawn back there .. what can I say – there must be something in the soil!
This week our interview is with David Hole and Rachel Badlan, the wonderful owners and gardeners at Lorne Street Garden. David and Rachel, and their family moved to Fawkner and literally stumbled upon a wonderful family house with a veggie patch and fruit trees to boot albeit a little neglected! They have made wonderful progress bringing this garden back to its full glory and enjoying their own produce in the process.
The photo supplied by David get me so excited about this coming season – hope everyone is enjoying their broad beans! Also be sure to check out the Lorne Street Garden‘s blog to watch their journey.
Tell us a bit about your background – where did you grow up, what did you study, and what path led you to what you are doing now?
DH – I’m flattered that you have found the time to pay attention to what we are doing. Originally we came over from the south coast of the UK (Dorset) 10 years ago. My wife Rachel is Australian and we decided to have a go at a new life. My personal background is in IT, (as is my day job). I’ve never formally studied anything through to completion aside from professional qualifications, it’s all a far cry from urban farming. Rachel is the more environmental one of us, she studied environmental science in the UK and is currently completing her PhD in Atmospheric Dynamics at Melbourne uni.
I’ve always loved food, and love the process of cooking and creating. My late father in the UK, probably being inspired by “the good life” from the 70’s always grew runner beans and tomatoes every year with mixed success. I have early memories of helping planting the beans and picking them when ready and it’s something I am working towards now with our child.
Reflecting back on the UK, I’ve always found it disappointing to see the people lose their connection with food, despite all the great chefs. As much as sometimes we hear people complain about the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, I think we are a far way from the UK situation where children are confused as to what vegetable chips come from!
Why did you decide to make Fawkner your home?
DH – It was all a bit disorganised and accidental. We were renting in North Fitzroy with our young daughter (now 7ish) and Jack Russell. The landlord decided that he was going to sell and we had to move on. We concluded that we had enough in savings to start to look at putting down roots (after 8 years of renting we were sick of it). One of our criteria for buying a house was enough space to grow vegetables. We realised we had to look “further out”, Preston etc to have any space at all. We quickly discovered we were priced out of the market but noticed Fawkner on google maps. Lornestreetgarden is actually the first and only place we looked at, it ticked all the boxes. We were fantastically lucky. Aside from the space we needed to play with, we also have multiple established trees, 4 x plum, 4 mystery grapevines, 2 x fig, 1 walnut, 1 almond, 1 quince, and 1 loquat! The previous owners clearly thought how we did, and we were duty bound to continue.
What have been some of your highlights about your journey towards a more simplier living?
DH – I think the biggest highlight was clearing out the already established veg bed in the back garden. By the time we moved in, it was fully overgrown with dandelion and parsley near to waist hight. It took about a week in 35c+ heat to clear it all out, but from then on, the addiction started.
Another highlight was finally realising that we really don’t need to buy vegetables any more. We have been largely self-sufficient in vegetables for quite some time now. We’ve been able to eat well and seasonally in 2013, and hope to carry this on. About the only thing we still buy is potatoes, but they are not central to our diet.
Also, opening my first bottle of home made plum wine was great, albeit perhaps a bit weak. I have 30 bottles from the 2013 vintage to “enjoy”.
Out of all of the lessons you have learnt so far, and there have been many, what had you wished you had known before you had embarked on this journey?
DH – Cracked clay is hard work, and dreadful for potatoes. The ones we managed to grow were tiny and not worth the effort. We put in a fortune in seed potatoes of many types, and were very disappointed. For potatoes we are now using an apple crate on the nature strip. In hindsight I probably also should have invested in a small cultivator from the start, but at least I am now fitter after all the digging!
Also as we discovered this year, too many brassicas can be a bad thing. We had far too many to be able to cope with. Especially with the heirloom varieties, once the central head is cut down, you end up with more and more growth. Also brassicas take up an enormous amount of space, but they are amazing plants to see growing in the back garden.
And despite being unfashionable – your local Bunnings is your friend. We source all seeds from Diggers, but having a nearby Bunnings is a god send, especially when your $90 ebay greenhouse is falling down after the past weeks storms and you need tape to rebuild it.
We have been privileged to profile a few households in Melbourne suburbs on the quest for living a lighter lifestyle – do you feel part of a greater movement? Do you feel your actions of living a different way from ‘the norm’ as a form of activism?
DH – I would like to feel that we are part of a great movement towards a positive change. If we look at the upcoming challenges that we face as a society, I think it’s fair to say that if we bring a lot of things closer to home, we can make a more positive difference. If we don’t need to be reliant on supermarkets and distribution centres as much, we can reduce pollution. Also, growing some food yourself helps to save some money.
I watched a documentary that mentioned the fall of the Soviet Union, and how Cuba responded by encouraging (ordering?) it’s population to start to grow on all available roof space. I’m not advocating a government mandate by any means, but perhaps it’s a sign of what can be achieved if we bring a few more essentials to the local community?
I’m not sure if my actions are a form of activism, but I would like to think that in some small way passers by take time to look and feel somewhat inspired. I’ve always been inspired by stories of Italian and Greek migrants being self-sufficient, and it’s such a shame to see gardens paved over with concrete.
Friends in the UK who I speak to and show what we have done for some for some reason think we live on a farm. When I explain it’s just a suburban house 12km from the CBD, they think we are drop out hippies…
Why did you decide to reclaim your curb?
DH – There were a few reasons. Firstly, we wanted to have a bit more space to grow on, we have already dug up all of our front garden, and quite a bit of the back. Secondly, we live opposite a school, and we thought it would be something curious for the kids to look at. Thirdly, after realising that it was our responsibility to mow the nature strip, we decided we would put it to good use!
What is currently growing on your curb?
DH – It’s a work in progress, currently we have installed 2 large apple crates, one with blue moon potatoes and the other with some mystery heirloom tomatoes.
What are your hopes and dreams for your curbside – and the rest of your lighter living journey?
DH – We want to install an additional crate and some stage and dig out the rest of the grass (less mowing) We could perhaps look at planting out broccoli and other large plants for winter. The council seem happy with what we are doing. For the future, who knows, perhaps we could encourage neighbours to try the same? Also perhaps Rachel can yarn bomb the apple crates to add some colour.
– Most inspiring food activist
DH – I’m relatively new to this, and perhaps I should not name anyone. I think anyone that is inspired enough to have a go deserves credit. If I was to name someone, I would say Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for all his work in the UK.
– Most inspiring public garden
DH – Can I count CERES and Collingwood Children’s farm as a public garden? Looking at what both have managed to achieve in remarkable. I would love to see something similar here in Fawkner. We have quite a bit of vacant land around Merri creek that would potentially be usable.
– Most inspiring food project
DH – Anything that we have cooked that has been exclusively grow from home, or including ingredients that are bartered / traded with willing participants.