Are you one of those people?
… who lives for the first stone fruit, for cherries around your ears and dark red plums and too many apricots (not that that’s a thing)?
… who buys a peach from every shop all through summer: hoping, tasting, being disappointed. Walking away with (variously passive aggressive) mutterings like Peaches These Days Are Not What They Used to Be?
….who remembers that one plum Mum and Dad used to grow, and wishes you could taste it again?
If that sounds like you, I’d like to introduce you to the farmer my eldest daughter calls ‘The Fruit Santa‘, AKA ‘Mummy’s Fren Ant‘, aka Ant Wilson from Tellurian Fruit Gardens. Ant is an excellent human being, a dedicated Warrior for Good Fruit, and one of few people I’ve ever met who might be able to sustain a conversation on peach varieties for longer than I can. (We’ve never actually managed to find out).
Ant has taken over stewardship of a diverse orchard, and started a ‘CSA’ or ‘Community Supported Agriculture’ system to make the heritage fruit tree farm ecologically and socially sustainable into the future. What that means for our family is a weekly delivery of fruit, whatever is good on the farm. Alongside that delivery comes a story: what the birds are trying to eat, how to cook the new plum we haven’t seen before, what it’s like to try to net acres of trees on a hot day.
A CSA, if you’ve not met one before, is essentially buying a share in a farm for a season. When a CSA is working well, the farmer knows they will have enough money to live on and keep working the farm, and the members know they will have whatever is delicious, all season long. We share in Ant’s trials and his triumphs: we curse thieving kangaroos from afar; we thrill with joy when he lets us know he’s bringing us a riotous crop of rich plums and golden yellow peaches – or that there are extra cherries this week.
Starting with the first Empress and Earlat cherries (I can’t wait, they are so close!); ending in blood plums, pears and sweet-tart Pink Lady apples, there’s often enough in our big box to make fruit wines, beers and liqueurs (and ice creams, crumbles and jam, too!). In short, it’s the best ways I know for those of us who are city-bound, to eat well while sustaining farmers like Ant who are working – in many cases, fighting – to keep their farms and heritage varieties afloat.
What’s your favourite fruit memory?
‘In my mind’s eye, I can still see the little blue plastic bowls that my mum used to serve fruit salad in when I was a toddler. It’s a memory that reminds me of a happy childhood.’
What drew you to farming?
‘I felt disempowered by a food system that was shrouded in mystery and that I could not participate in or have ownership over. I wanted to better understand where my food comes from, and to prove to myself that it can be grown ethically.’
Could you tell us a little bit about your farm?
‘Tellurian Fruit Gardens is a certified organic fruit orchard situated at the foot of Leanganook (Mt Alexander). We sell our fruit mostly through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and accredited farmers’ markets, plus our farm shop and ‘pick-your-own’ days during summer school holidays and some wholesale. We are a member of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op.’
What do you enjoy most about your life now?
‘Feeling truly embedded in my local environment and living most of my life outside. I also love how much food (and even services) I get through a barter economy!’
What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
‘Not judging myself too harshly. It’s challenging not to be too critical of my produce and I often stress about whether all my CSA members and other customers are satisfied. I have to remind myself that I’m a good farmer, doing the best I can to produce nutritious and tasty food in ethical and ecologically-sound ways.’
What’s one thing you wish your customers (or potential customers) knew?
‘That buying food directly from a grower builds ‘food sovereignty’ and is key in addressing human, animal and environmental injustices worldwide (e.g climate change). Also, that shopping at supermarkets is the antithesis of this. I’m excited that many of the people that eat my fruit already know this (probably because I bang on about it!).’
What do you most like to drink, and when?
‘I love drinking my own kombucha and jun because it’s way better than the commercial stuff, I enjoy my own homemade plum wine because it was the first (successful) wine I made, and I also love drinking the various alcoholic beverages that I get from Anne in exchange for fruit! So good.’
What’s the mark of a perfect piece of stone fruit?
‘It’s different for every variety and is also very subjective. Some people like sweet, some like sour, some like soft and others firm. Different varieties lend themselves to different tastes but personally I like them soft and sweet.
My mouth waters when I see a heritage variety peach (like ‘Wiggins’) with a few little bruises because I know it’s going to be bursting with juice and flavour. It’s actually quite challenging to sell fruit that is ready to eat at the point of sale. Most often it will need further ripening (or else to be handled very gently).’
How can people get the best out of the fruit they buy from you?
‘Through our CSA of course! You get a weekly share of the farm’s produce and there’s loads of benefits to the eater, the farmer and the community. CSA is more than the food. It’s a solidarity economy based on a set of guiding principles that strengthens communities and makes farms more resilient.’
Do you have a favourite recipe to share?
‘I have a sweet tooth so I love to pop a jar of preserved apricots and pour them into an oven dish. I then mix about 3/4 cups of flour, 3/4 cups of almond meal, 1 cup oats, 200g melted butter (which is probably way too much), 3/4 cup honey (you can use sugar but I prefer honey because I can get it locally and it gives a richer taste) in a bowl, pour it on top and bake uncovered for 40mins. Hot fruit crumble on a cold winters’ night – sometimes it’s good to be bad!’
Personally, I love to make Peach Grappa from Ant’s mid season yellow peaches. Here’s the recipe: and if you’re nowhere near Ant, why not have a look for a dedicated fruit farmer near you? I guarantee your booze, and your summer eating, will be better for it.