A Whole Larder Love
| February 18, 2014
Picture this: after a busy day of work and the drawn out commute home, you lazily walk barefoot into the back garden as the sun starts slipping low in the sky. You’re yet to decide what you will make for dinner, but as you cast an eye over the veggie patch you snap a plump cucumber from its vine, brush off a couple of rusty coloured beetroots as you pry them from the earth. A meal slowly comes together, your harvest still pulsing with life in your hands.
It all sounds rather romantic, doesn’t it? Even city dwellers are falling fast for the idea of growing your own, with edible gardens popping up all over, in inner-city yards, balconies, and even the odd sunny windowsill. For some though, this is more than a spot of therapeutic gardening, it is serious business, a means for survival even. But what does it actually mean to live off the land?
Rohan Anderson is a modern day hunter-gatherer. A few years back he gave up his desk job and comfortable salary in exchange for a more simple life. He now provides for his family only on what he can hunt, gather and grow, chronicling this quest for self-sufficiency on his blog Whole Larder Love, which is an extension of his book by the same name.
His strong connection with the land is one that has roots in his days growing up on a small farm just outside of Gippsland, where he spent summers netting yabbies and tending to his mother’s veggie patch. He now lives in an old school house with his partner Kate and their daughters, on a the rolling hills of a property near Ballarat.
Rohan is quick to point out that their lifestyle is more self-reliant rather than self-sufficient, as pantry staples like flour, salt, sugar, butter and milk are still bought from the store. His reason for going down this road is simple – he could no longer justify buying stuff that he could grow himself. He says,
I wanted to feed my kids stuff that I raised from seed and nurtured and cooked. Real food. There is something really satisfying about providing for yourself and your family.
For Rohan, this is a way of life that demands significant individual input. His existence is now one that hums along to nature’s rhythm, following the cycles of the seasons. He plans what he and his family will eat months in advance, trying to figure out the right quantities and factoring in the many potential variables, such as failed crops and pest attacks.
At the first hint of Spring, Rohan rouses himself into action. Turning the garden beds, folding manure through the soil, embedding the first seedlings, reinforcing fencing and mending pipes. There is only a small window for growing in these cold, southern regions of Australia, and what Rohan cultivates in the coming months will be needed to get his family through a whole year.
Summer is when the garden is at its most generous. Beneath the unrelenting sun Rohan works his hardest, tending to his crops, relieving them of their fruits. Plant life is in such an abundance that Rohan and his family eat very little meat, save for a few trout and some eel. Apples, pears and lemons hang heavy in their trees. Corn so fresh and juicy that he peels and eats it straight from the stalk.
The veggies sort of ripen in waves. One week it’s zucchini. The next tomatoes. Oh man, I cannot tell you how exciting it is when tomatoes come in. It’s the best time of the year….Every time a new veggie comes in it’s our favourite. Last week we were all like “eggplant is the best,” but then this week we are like “nothing will ever beat the tomato.
As Summer’s fever breaks and the relief of Autumn settles in, the garden growth slows and the season can be measured by the jars and preserves filling up the pantry – sweets peaches, plum jam, capsicum chutney and chilli salsa picante. A heavy fog hangs over the paddocks and the last of the crops become encrusted by frost. Only then does Rohan rest.
This is what it means to yield to Mother Nature’s ways, to fall into step and follow her lead with blind trust. And it’s not always easy, things do not always go to plan. After all, Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress.
“We live in a tough climate with both very harsh winters and summers. Water is our biggest issue. Right now, I’m away on the coast with Kate and our girls, and there’s a heat wave sweeping through Victoria. I have a guy working basically full-time just to water the plants.”
Then there are pests. Last Spring Rohan blogged about being at war with bush rats and possums. He came out one morning and found that most of his crops planted during the winter had been destroyed.
It seems these beasts have a grudge with me. Maybe they’re the reincarnation of people I’ve pissed off in a previous life. Whatever the case may be, they’ve decimated all of my peas, broccoli, mizuna, rocket, sorrel, onions and even a bunch of garlic. I’ve netted, set traps, baited, you name it…I wouldn’t mind so much if it was just an ornamental garden, but this is our tucker. This is our supermarket.
And sometimes it’s as simple as having a bad season. A few years back an underwhelming Summer left Rohan without not much more than a kilo of tomatoes, forcing his family to pare back and rely on very simple meals. Not that any of this deters him. If anything, it stubbornly spurs him onwards.
Rohan gets just as much a kick out of cooking and eating as he does hunting and gathering. He describes his style as “peasant” inspired and his blog is speckled with hearty, rustic dishes such as smoked garlic shakouska with goose egg and hot nettle and potato soup.
This is not fancy stuff. During winter I’ll do up a big batch of breakfast beans with whatever veg we have – garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and some chorizo or bacon if there is some on hand. Plus a little passata, pepper and chilli. It’s so cold here in Winter that I can just leave it on the hob all week and reheat it in the morning. I’ll add stuff to it too, so it changes as the week goes on.
Despite its challenges, Rohan wants it to be known that maintaining a little veggie patch is not actually hard work if realistically approached. His advice is to not just go and rip out the whole garden, but rather start small and keep it simple. Plant just a couple of tomato bushes and see how you go. Then build up your range from there.
“Grab a seed and pop it into the ground and just see what happens,” he says.