Remember the self-sufficiency movement of the ’80s? That was my teenage dream, one that sadly never materialised, so the chance to meet a modern-day guru of sustainability got me super-excited.
You may have heard or even watched River Cottage UK, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but did you know there was a highly successful Australian version of the show that has now spawned a sustainable food movement for city folks?
Today I was blessed to meet the host of River Cottage Australia Paul West, who spoke of the benefits of growing and cooking fresh, wholesome food and about Grow it Local. It is a grassroots movement that’s connecting communities across Australia, through urban farming, irrespective of the size of the land on which you live.
Paul’s message:- you can make a difference to the planet and to your own nutrition by growing your own food, minimising waste and connecting with other producers in your area.
Paul was a chef who trained at a hatted restaurant, but 16-hour days with no time to cook for himself left him thinking there was more to life. For a time he was a WWOOFer – a ‘willing worker on organic farms’ – on a Tasmanian property.
Required to work four hours in return for board and accommodation on the farm, he was inspired by the farmer’s good health and lifestyle to work over 8 hours each day. When Fearnley-Whittingstall was looking for a host of a new TV production, “River Cottage Australia”, Paul got the job.
Ten years after the first of four seasons of River Cottage Australia aired on Australian TV, Paul West is still that cheeky, charming, affable guy.
Paul’s not just promoting a gardening and recipe book, Homegrown, he thinks that a lot of problems could be ameliorated if people took time to grow their own bit of food (even a balcony garden), minimise waste, cook stuff from scratch and connect with the family and friends.
It is true that our fondest memories are often associated with family, friends and food, and sharing a meal together.
Many people who watch River Cottage Australia live in cities, and I want to show everyone that what I did on River Cottage is totally achievable in the backyard or on the balcony,” he says.Paul West
My small but productive garden at the Home by the Sea sits on soil that is salty clay, remnants from a mangrove swamp in years past. That is not conducive to growing food crops.
With some help from worm castings and compost from garden scraps, we have feasted on home-grown lemons, strawberries, tomatoes, asparagus, choko and cucumber, as well as loads of herbs from chives to dill, parsley to basil and thyme. Paul’s presentation spurns me on to grow even more in my small space, and add more rosemary plants to the front garden and those so far untapped areas on street verges.
Connecting with others growers in my local area means I can swap ideas and excess produce for our mutual benefit.
Paul’s book Homegrown covers many of the River cottage measures he used himself. Ones that are easily transferable for anyone to become more sustainable through a year of cooking, growing and eating. With planting notes, garden projects and recipes, anyone can share a River cottage experience, no matter how small their home or community is.
Who wouldn’t want food that is fresh, tasty and more nutritious than ever before?
Paul structures simple recipes around produce from each season and includes Zucchini fennel pizza, Homemade tomato sauce, Pumpkin and beef curry, Ginger beer, and delicious salads with basic ingredients sourced from your own veggie patch. There’s info on composting, maintenance, when to prune, DIY seed-raising mix, chicken feeder and pen, and encouraging bees (and pollination) via plantings.
Confession time: I admit to sounding starstruck at meeting a self-sufficiency hero. I’ve never followed celebrities at all, nor wished to do so. Thus, I was surprised I was ever so excited to meet this guy. He was just as he appears on TV: super cool, genuinely affable and kind-hearted. The sort of person you’d love to live next door to. And his message is a positive one that cares for the planet and for our health and that resonates with me.
If you were wondering, I did buy the book and Paul signed it! [Happy dance!]