We are calling out to communities, businesses and farmers to continue to support bushfire affected organic farmers. ORICoop continues to walk with these farmers – and we need your help! You can register to volunteer for the upcoming ‘Organic Farm Blitz’, with a farm close to you. You can also contact us to coordinate an event, make seedpods, plant &/or grow seedlings or build native animal boxes. And we will ensure they get to your nearest bushfire affected farmers! EAST GIPPSLAND VOLUNTEERS You can join Chris & Christine from Blue Sky Organics, to assist them to plant trees, weed, and lend a hand in East Gippsland, not far from Bruthen over the coming months. And to assist with the planting of their 2021 crop in the Autumn (April & May). You can complete an Expression of interest HERE to register your interest directly with Blue Sky Organics in East Gippsland, and make sure you include when you are available over the coming months. Chris & Christine will be in touch with those that register directly. During time in East Gippsland last February a few keen volunteers rallied to assist Soorya from Ontos Organics sort and process his garlic crop after he and his family were burnt out in January last year. Soorya runs a mixed organic farm, incorporating garlic, heritage seed and goats on their family farm. You can assist Ontos Organics farm, and learn about heritage seed and garlic harvesting by REGISTERING HERE. Work required includes weeding, sorting, processing and their ongoing recovery work. It may be that you can help both Blue Sky and Ontos Organics over a weekend or visit to the wonderful Gipplsand Lakes region. BEGA VALLEY – NSW VOLUNTEERS Kaye & Gregg Saarinen of Saarinen Organics, from the Bega Valley were tragically burnt out over Black Summer. They grow organic herbs, and make lovely organic face and hand creams and salves from these products. They also utilise full solar in their processing, a unique and truly carbon neutral business model! They have much to rebuild – and are calling out for teams of 5-10 people to assist them to restore their fencing and rebuild their garden area over the coming months. If you are interested, you can complete an Expression of Interest HERE with Saarinen Organics farm located in the Bega Valley, and include when you are available. MID NORTH COAST – NSW VOLUNTEERS Plateau Organics (near Wingham) are situated on the Mid North Coast in NSW, a stunning certified organic farm high on the plateau. One of the leading certified organic avocado and citrus producers in the region. We are keen to rally a small team of helpers to assist them in their rebuild, as they were devastated by fires on two seperate fire events last year. The work includes clearing around the trees, mulching and fertilising. This farm is remote, beautiful – and worth the time to experience such a plateau! Self contained accommodation is required for any interested volunteers and 4wd for access only. (or you can contact owners for further opportunities) You can complete an Expression of Interest HERE directly with Plateau Organics (located in NSW) Ideally they are looking for 1 or 2 keen singles or couples for 3-4 days between February & April, for mulching of trees, pruning and bushfire recovery of the fruit orchard. BRAIDWOOD (Sthn NSW) VOLUNTEERS Christina and John from PRANA produce need help to clean up wood after the fires, weeding and clearing areas that were bushfire affected. Ideally people that have their own tools (gloves, secateurs, even a wheelbarrow) and are keen to offer their hands and hard work for a day or two! A Saturday or Sunday in March would be fantastic. Happy with a few keen people or even a group of 20 could be of use. Lunch included.
You can complete an Expression of Interest HERE for Prana Produce (near Braidwood) If there is not a farm in your area included – but you are keen to be involved, you can register your interest via our Volunteer Register HERE. There will be more Organic Farm Blitz opportunities over the coming months and will notify all those registered first. We are also considering having some city based events – where you can plant seeds, make seed bombs or native animal boxes. Contact us if you are interested to be a host or fundraising champion! Over the past year the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal has continued to support these farmers along their recovery journey. With donated inputs, professional organic farm advisory, soil tests, donations of trees, coordinating online zoom calls between affected farmers, and enabling the farmers to share their stories, we are incredibly grateful for the time we have spent with each of the farmers. And to all the businesses that have offered financial, personal and physical support. We want to give a huge shout out to the following supporters of the Organic Farmers Bushfires Appeal, that have donated towards the ongoing recovery of many of these farmers.
Dr Bronner – including their most recent appeal over January/February 2021
CERES – dedicating $5/box last Summer and providing facilities to process the garlic
BCCM – Bushfire Appeal grant funds to further extend the appeal
Eva Perroni – for her ongoing storytelling capacity for these farmers
Jade Miles – for hosting our zoom connect meets for our farmers
And …. our Bushfire Committee (Antony, Hugh, Christine & Carolyn) that have steered this ship through the seas!
ORICoop is pleased to continue working with many businesses across different steps of the bushfire appeal. We are calling for sponsors interested to support these Organic Farm Blitz projects as per above. Any donations can be tax deductible, thanks to the generous support from Australian Mutuals Foundation (select bushfire appeal)Your business can get involved by:-
Sending a team to a farm for a team building weekend (teams of 3 – 20 welcome)
Donating/sponsoring the food required for each weekend (organic of course)
Any other suggestions contact us at email@example.com – and show your support for these courageous farmers! We honour and celebrate these farmers, for their courage, resilience and digging deep over the past year. We encourage you to remember and reach out to them. Buy some of their product or volunteer a weekend with your workplace to lend a hand.ORICoop Bushfire Committee
On Thursday afternoon the cars began arriving at Christine and Chris Watts’ Paynesville farm. Parking in an empty horse paddock, people lay out tents and swags, pull on work shirts and boots and introduce themselves. All of us have been drawn here by the desire to help out after the fires. Among the twelve volunteers is a young economist, a retired nurseryman, an arborist, a nurse and two organic farmers – who themselves had been burnt out three years previously.
At 6.30am the next morning, Penny, our volunteer coordinator gets us out of bed for a briefing. Under a makeshift shade beside drying racks filled with Creole, Silverskin and enormous fist-sized Russian Garlic, Penny explains that over the next three days we will be trimming and cleaning more than a ton of garlic. And so we make a start – clipping stems, talking, snipping roots, talking, rubbing off skins, talking.
CERES Fair Food has been buying Blue Sky Organics garlic since Chris and Christine’s daughter Madeline harvested their first crop as an eighteen year old ten years ago. The Watts family business grow their garlic up on their Murrindal River flats property north of Buchan Caves.
On New Years Eve the fire went through their farm. It was a week before Chris and Christine were allowed back in, escorted by police. When they got to the farm they couldn’t believe what they saw; everything had burned bar their drying garlic, a historic cottage and their tractor. With the fire continuing to flare in the surrounding bush they decided to bring the garlic back to their place near Paynesville for cleaning.
That lunchtime, our economist also our volunteer cook, has prepared an amazing spread from an abundance of food donated by farmers and organic businesses. Everyone wants to help; there’s milk from Schulz Dairy, bread from Dench and Loafer, eggs from Zanker Farm, apples from Hazeldean, veg from Peninsula Organics and Timbarra, bananas from Organic Growers Group even a delicious biriyani from Crofters restaurant. As we eat Christine Watts confesses they haven’t been cooking much lately – being adrenalised for a month has left the family in a collective brain-fog that manifests in inertia, forgetting and bursts of anger.
Early the next morning we drive up the Buchan Road to the Watts’ farm in Murrindal to collect two more trailer loads of garlic. Everything is normal until we hit Sarsfield, 19kms outside of Bairnsdale. Houses have disappeared leaving ghostly white concrete stumps. You can feel the panic from the hastily cut trees – dropped and shoved aside. We follow a truck loaded with round bales through kilometres of blackened forest. Already epicormic leaves are sprouting from eucalypt trunks but so many more seem too burned to come back. Recent rains have painted farm paddocks bright green. The contrast with the black trees gives everything an oddly benign feel.
We pass burnt houses here while others stand untouched and I recall lines from my old friend Pete Auty’s Black Saturday poem…
I don’t understand. Why this and not that?
Why burn on the ridges and not on the flat?
The little pink cottage surrounded by black,
The mud-brick houses reduced to wrack.
At the Watts’ farm the fire has burnt the bush on the ridges surrounding the property. But the grass has come back making the burnt-out hay baler sitting on its rusty wheel rims just a few meters from the garlic racks seem completely incongruous. We load the garlic stems and a kookaburra’s call builds and fills the river valley below us. Chris says when they first returned to the farm it was silent. But now the birds are coming back. Later on the way home we see a lyrebird scampering across the road and our spirits lift.
Back in Paynesville the news isn’t good; the Russian garlic we’ve begun cleaning seems to have been cracked by the fire’s heat. Christine hopes it’s just a bad batch but as the day progresses it becomes clear that 90% of the crop is affected. Most of these bulbs were to be sold as seed. Christine doesn’t know if they will be viable now. Everybody feels the strain and works on.
By dinner though we are sharing food and smiling once again. We eat and tell stories and later over ice cream, organiser Carolyn Suggate, explains that the most powerful part of the Appeal is the deepening of our relationships with each other, with our farmers, our food and our land. When I leave the following day I feel like I have been here a couple of weeks – the openness of Christine and Chris, the way shared manual work brings strangers together the opportunity to help, to learn, to appreciate and to bare witness is a privilege.