If you were passing through Gerringong this time last month, you might have caught a glimpse of what, on first glance, looked like a cult descending on the quiet seaside township. Laden with home-cured meats, freshly harvested vegetables, just-baked bread and local raw milk, 200 people converged on the Gerringong Town Hall with uncontestable chipperness. In reality, it was more like a clan gathering, with far-flung members of the tribe heeding the summons, relinquishing broadfork, plough, knife and wooden spoon for a weekend of discussion and feasting.
I’m talking about the second annual Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering, a melding of minds aimed at identifying problems and solutions in the small-scale Australian agriculture community. Want to know how to raise pigs? Chickens? Goats? We’ve got you covered. Your carrots look like they belong in a Salvador Dali painting? Let’s talk soil health. Maybe you want to trade stories about fermenting projects, wild seaweed harvesting, or your second-generation sourdough culture. Or the convoluted mess of agriculture legislation has you down (join the club). Or you’d like the pattern of that kickass crochet vest. It’s a one-stop co-op of knowledge, wit, and unparalleled generosity.
The weekend was split into discussion sessions sandwiched between impressive potluck feasts, culminating in a massive dinner hosted by Fiona and Adam at Buena Vista. I attended the Market Gardening and Business Structures discussions, both of which were lively, information-dense conversations between farmers of all kinds. I think that’s what makes Deep Winter so unique – it’s big, but it’s so, so friendly and inclusive. It really is a conversation.A cheery catch up about drip lines, silage tarps, lease holdings. What everyone is up to, and why. What worked and what didn’t? No soapboxes in sight.
Australia’s small-scale farmers are a seriously impressive bunch. For most of the year, it’s head-down-butt-up, working away in our respective small enterprises, with a bit of dabbling on social media to stay connected with the tribe. That’s the nature of what we do; in eschewing the homogeneity of modern society, we open up what feels like a parallel plane of existence, one that can often feel lonely. We don’t see ourselves in the faces of our peers in the street. People react strangely when they hear you’re university educated “but throwing it away to be a farmer.” It’s lonely because most consumerist aspects of society lose their lustre (I get excited about a shopping trip to Vinnies, guys).
That’s why Deep Winter is so important. It’s about the tribe, the affirmations of a life lived to your specifications – living simply, abundantly, and producing food for local communities – in a society that doesn’t necessarily see inherent value in the process. It’s beyond inspiring to talk with experienced farmers, who are continually generous with their time and hard-earned knowledge of crops, animals, business structures – you name it. And to see a crop of young farmers, people my age, reaching for broadfork and sewing needle, dumpster diving, creating food hubs, diverting restaurant waste to community compost schemes? I can’t tell you how much that means to me, when most of my peer group has moved away to the city, to government jobs and decent superannuation. When I’m working on my own, hauling substrate, turning compost, teaching myself business skills. Deep Winter lets me know I’m not alone. There are other people who have chosen to step onto this parallel plane. Lots of them, in fact. And they’re rad.
It’s a revelation.
For me, Deep Winter is a re-alignment of body and spirit, encouragement to strive for greater self-sufficiency and community, and a source of deep peace. The tribe is strong. The tribe is well. The tribe can change Australia.
Thanks so much to the ridiculously talented and good-looking organisers: looking at you Kirsten from Milkwood Permaculture, Fiona, Adam and Linda from Buena Vista Farm, Fraser and Kirsti from Old Mill Road, Tammi from Jonai Farm and AFSA President, plus dozens of other people who worked their butts off to secure local funding, erect marquees, smoke chickens in converted filing cabinets, forage for weeds, and drive hundreds of kilometres to make this happen.
Check out the photos on Instagram (#deepwinteragrarians), join the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) today (http://www.australianfoodsovereigntyalliance.org), listen to Justin Russell’s ‘Studio Rustica’ podcast to hear from some trailblazing Australian farmers (including Fraser from Old Mill Road, Paulette from Provenance Growers and Robin from Transition Farm) and get farming/hug a farmer/buy from a farmer/help a farmer do their taxes.
See you next year.