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Trentham
Victoria
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Food For Thought

This blog is written by Justin Walsh for the Trentham Food Hub. All guest posts will be labelled with contributing authors. Enjoy!

Food and Memory

Justin Walsh

Last week I went to the 'Open Beta Launch Party' for the Open Food Network (OFN), which was hosted at Nest coworking space in Thornbury to celebrate another milestone in that project and acknowledge their crowd funding partners.

The night included a great band, a demonstration of the sign-up process for OFN (which is really quick and easy) and a live cross to Terra Madre where Kirsten from the OFN team and Daniel from FarmHack told us what they're up to. Even with all this excitement, I reckon the centrepiece of the evening was a fantastic 'pot luck' dinner with plates of food that the guests brought to share. Having just organised a dinner for 100 people with a bunch of chefs I thought this was a well-chosen format!

 Rather than simply ask people to "bring a plate" they asked for a plate with a story, which was fitting given the nature of the event and the philosophy behind the OFN. this request was at once more challenging, more interesting and more satisfying than picking up a chocolate cake from the supermarket en route.

I'm quite fond of the idiom "they have a lot on their plate", maybe it's because I like the idea of comparing life to food or maybe it's because, being the glutton that I am, I can relate to that overwhelming feeling of dishing up too much dinner and wondering how on earth I'm going to eat it all (and why on earth did I over-commit myself when I'm fully aware of my limitations).

In any case, when responding to the catering brief I began thinking abiut my plate and my story. I began thinking about my connection to food and and how I could manifest that in a tasty morsel to share with my fellow guests.

One of my earliest memories involving food is sitting in my grandparents' backyard downing a glass of cordial and a couple of gingernut biscuits. My grandmother, Eileen, always had a packet of Arnotts Gingernut biscuits in her pantry, which is kind of funny because she had red hair and apparently her nickname in primary school was "gingernut", which she hated. Obviously her love of the biscuits outweighed any negative connotations to the name. I was very close to my grandparents and spent a lot of time with them when I was very young while my parents were working long hours. No matter how I was feeling or what had happened at school I always knew Gran would have a delicious gingernut and a cup of tea for me.

Eileen died the morning after my 18th birthday party, exactly half way through the summer break between finishing year 12 and starting uni. An awful lot has changed in my life since then but I still love a good gingernut biscuit and whenever I take a fresh batch out of the oven I conjure up those wonderful memories of my gingernut Gran and her endless tin of biscuits.

For me, food is intrinsically linked to people - people I care about. My best food memories involve some of my favorite people and they're memories I created with them. They might not have been the healthiest, most organic or most local thing on the table but I couldn't think of anything better than a plate of gingernuts to take to the OFN party and I couldn't think of a better story to share. 

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Preparing my contribution to the dinner really got me thinking about how we attach memories to food and how our memory prompts us to make particular choices or see things in a particular way. I have a few other thoughts on this but I think I'll leave it here and save some for another day.

Cheers, Justin.  

Recap: The 2014 Growers, Cookers & Eaters Dinner

Justin Walsh

The crowd at Trentham Food Hub's 2014 Growers, Cookers & Eaters dinner

What a night! As they say, our 2014 GCE Dinner has been run and won. The winners were our guests who enjoyed some of the best local, seasonal food available, fantastic entertainment and an all-round sensational evening.

We were delighted to yet again sell out completely with a full house of 100 diners, most of whom were from the local area. As the night wore on the positive feedback started flooding in and it was overwhelming to have so many people tell us it was the best night out they'd had in a long time (one patron remarked that it was "like a wedding reception on steroids", we've decided to take this as a compliment). It was also fantastic to hear people tell us they'd just met neighbours they didn't even know they had!

From the start, the primary outcome for the Growers, Cookers & Eaters dinner has always been foster positive relationships with our local community and with our local food. I think we can safely say that this outcome was achieved well and truly with the third installment of this great event. We also raised a few dollars Which will be put towards our next project - an online ordering service, regular local produce market and commercial distribution pilot in collaboration with local chefs.

The idea of putting together a meal with dishes from multiple local chefs, focusing on seasonal and locally available produce, was quite an ambitious undertaking. Nothing like this has been done before in our community. This kind of ambition is what we are striving to demonstrate and encourage through the Trentham Food Hub, and there are a few other things on our drawing board that haven't been attempted before. Fair food is a serious business and we're not here to do things by halves.

Guests plating up La Bonta's hand-made gnocchi with smoked trout and cannellini beans in a light saffron sauce at Trentham Food Hub's 2014 Growers, Cookers & Eaters Dinner

At the start of the evening, I gave an opening address which sums up why we organised the Growers, Cookers & Eaters Dinner, and largely, why we're putting so much energy into the Trentham Food Hub. Here it is:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen!

Welcome to the third annual Trentham Growers, Cookers & Eaters Dinner! Thank you for joining us tonight and supporting local food, I guarantee we’re in for a real treat.

My name is Justin Walsh, I’m the coordinator of the Trentham Food Hub and this event we’re putting on tonight. It’s a pleasure to see so many delightful faces in the room and I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work that’s brought you all here.

The Growers Cookers & Eaters Dinner is run every year as a partnership between the Trentham Food Hub and the Trentham Sustainability Group. There are about 15 volunteers from these two organisations who have contributed in one way or another, from the very early planning to tying up loose ends this afternoon and packing up early tomorrow morning.

In particular I’d like to thank my wife Christine Walsh, Tim & Deri-Anne Wyatt, Glenda Holmes, Sam Rixon, Thomas Walsh, my parents Tim & Belinda Walsh, Sebastian Klein, Madeleine Sutton, Josephine Reid, Mary Oliver, Liz Burns, Courtney Radcliffe and Sarah Frazer.

You can’t really have a dinner without a cook. Fortunately we are in a region abundant with talented, experienced and generous chefs and restaurateurs. It may have been a bit cheeky of me to ask chefs in busy restaurants to voluntarily cook a meal for 100 people, but I did it anyway because that’s the kind of beatnik rabble-rouser I am. Luckily they didn’t think it was too cheeky and happily obliged!

So it’s with great pleasure that I acknowledge our partners in cuisine:

From Spade to Blade Catering and Slow Food Central Highlands, Gary Thomas
From RedBeard Historic Bakery, Al & John Reid
From The Cosmopolitan Hotel, Gavin Draper, Bryn Carney and manager Rod Hughes
From The Plough, Mark Mills
From The Grande Hotel, Andrew Dennis and managers Ian & Jodie
From La Bonta, Tim Austin
From The Village Larder, Marika Oost

And last but by no means least, our Chef de Cuisine this evening, Tim Wyatt. Tim also happens to run Angelica Organic Farm with his wife Deri-Anne and they’ve come from a farmers market in Melbourne which saw them get out of bed at 4am this morning. Tim also volunteered most of Thursday to deliver vegetables from 3 farms to the various restaurants involved in tonight’s dinner.

It’s very important that I acknowledge all the farmers that have produced the food we’re about to enjoy. It takes a fair amount of resilience, conviction and innovation to be a farmer. It’s a pleasure to work with these inspiring people and a few of them are here this evening so track them down and shake the hand that feeds you.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, Matt Wilkinson, Phillip & Lea, Banyandah Estate, Annie Smithers, Verde Provedores and RedBeard Bakery all donated wonderful items for our raffle this evening. I urge you to buy a ticket if you haven’t already. If you have bought a ticket, I urge you to buy another one.

RedBeard Bakery also donated all their produce for the dinner this evening, as they did last year. John and Al are huge supporters of the Trentham Food Hub and if you’re staying in the area tonight you could do a lot worse than dropping into RedBeard for breakfast tomorrow.

I’d like to acknowledge and thank Hepburn Wind for their sponsorship of this event. Hepburn Wind are a Daylesford-based co-operative that own and operate Australia’s first community owned wind farm. They are trailblazers in the community enterprise and renewable energy space, and I dare say there are one or two members of the Hepburn Wind co-operative in the room this evening.

I’d also like to thank Trentham & Districts Community Bank for their support of the Trentham Food Hub and our projects. The bank in Trentham is another community enterprise that demonstrates the capacity of people power. A successful campaign by the local community returned banking services to the town for the first time in 15 years and within the first few years of operation they had already begun reinvesting in the community.

The achievements of these two organisations form a kind of blueprint for what we hope to achieve through the Trentham Food Hub. Arguably, food is more fundamental to sustaining life than energy or money. And just as our financial institutions and power companies have come into question for their selfish and unethical practices, so has the global industrial food system that dominates our choice in what we feed ourselves and our families.

It’s this questioning that has driven organisations like Slow Food, La Via Campesina and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, who have established Fair Food Week as a platform to discuss and promote the new food economy in Australia. The Fair Food Economy. The 2007 Nyeleni Declaration sets out the following global definition of Food Sovereignty:

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers and users.

Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal - fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just incomes to all peoples as well as the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food.

Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social and economic classes and generations.

It is these ideals that underpin Fair Food Week and the work of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. In the national and global context, these are the ideals with which we align the Trentham Growers, Cookers and Eaters Dinner, and the vision of the Trentham Food Hub.

The Trentham Food Hub is an emerging community enterprise. We aim to support a thriving and inclusive local food economy by working with producers to address the gaps in their resources.

We know that global supply chains aren’t based on the interests of small Victorian communities.

We know that our farmers can get a better return for their work and we know that good, clean, fair food can also be affordable.

We think a healthy food system should underpin rural communities and we think local ownership of the food system is imperative to the long term prosperity of these communities.

The Trentham Food Hub is the vehicle we’ve created to drive this change in our community.

We run the annual Growers, Cookers & Eaters Dinner, we’ve held a number of other events such as forums, panel discussions and film nights, and we run a successful monthly produce exchange at the Trentham Farmers Market.

We’re in the process of setting up an online store with the Open Food Network which will help local producers reach more customers and help more customers reach local food. We have a number of research and education initiatives in the pipeline to build and safeguard the knowledge base in our community around food and farming. We have a vision for a thriving and inclusive local food economy.

We’re seeking sustainable funding and investment in various projects at the moment, and there are lots of opportunities for capable and passionate people to join our group of volunteers and help lead the charge. If any of this interests you, get in touch with me via our website, email or social media. We’d love to hear from you.

As I walked around the room I heard lots of conversation and more often than not that conversation was about food and farming. This event has become a highlight of the annual calendar in our area and I'm thrilled that we have created this opportunity for people to taste our fine local produce at its best - the kind of produce you simply can't find in a supermarket - and to talk about it with old and new friends.

If you'd like a punter's perspective on the dinner, check out this blog post from Kenny Weir of Consider The Sauce, who made the trek out from Melbourne and was glad he did.

38-hour sous vide Sidonia Hills scotch fillet with lightly roasted vegetables and braised fennel - A stand out dish from The Cosmopolitan Hotel at Trentham Food Hub's 2014 Growers, Cookers & Eaters Dinner

Planting the seed

Justin Walsh

We eat every day, most of us at least three times, but how much do we really think about our food? We certainly couldn't survive without it, but how many of us think about our relationship to it beyond "I'm hungry" or "that's delicious"? How often do we consider where our food comes from or what really happened before we put it in our shopping basket?

I'm willing to bet that most of us would benefit from paying a bit more attention to our food, myself included. I don't see myself as a preacher and I'm not an expert by any means, but I do find it useful to hear others' thoughts on this topic so I thought it might be useful to offer mine. 

A blog is also a good way to continue or expand on the threads of conversation that emerge from our local community events and various other happenings. We held a Food Forum in Trentham back in June 2013, which underpinned the subsequent work for the Trentham Food Hub. One of the comments that emerge from that forum was "it's impossible to cover everything at once", and since then I've been thinking of ways to fill the gaps between these discussions and discoveries so we don't (a) feel the need to cover everything at once, or (b) cover the same ground in future discussions.

For me, at least, this is a way to construct the narrative of the Trentham Food Hub and the local food system it supports. It's a way to expand our local food discourse and position it within the national and international discourse surrounding the future of food.

Hopefully you'll see guest posts from other contributors and hopefully we'll hear back from you in the comments section, but at the very least I hope this process will allow us to record and 'flesh out' our collective understanding of what we want for our food system and what a Food Hub means for our community.

Justin Walsh.