On a recent holiday to Victoria’s King Valley I braved the farm gate.
As my travelling companion and I drove through the rich agricultural landscape nestled at the foothills of the dramatic Victorian Alps, we commented on the hand made signs advertising freshly picked black berries, raspberries and cherries. I longed to stop and practice my New Year’s resolution of buying local. I would be able to savour my purchases without feeling guilty that they had clocked up thousands of food miles to get to me. It did occur to me that I had clocked up 600 kilometres to get to them, but that was me, not the food, so I put the thought aside.
But as the signs at the edge of the road continued to whiz past I held back. Why wasn’t I stopping?
Was it fear? I had made another New Year’s resolution; to foster a healthy self confidence at all times. And here I was, barely a week into the New Year, and the God of Resolutions was already testing my resolve. I determined that at the next black texta cardboard sign, I would calmly indicate to the traffic behind me that I wasn’t going to rush through this stunning landscape without tasting all it had to offer. No I wasn’t just a tourist; I was a traveller, an adventurer.
And so it came to be that I turned in at the next farm gate. It had a sign proclaiming cherries, honey and home made jam. I was quite excited, and almost forgot to check for snakes, as I stepped out of the car trying to look like I regularly purchased produce directly from the primary producer.
This farm gate was exactly what I had hoped for. Boxes of fresh fruit, vied with jars of honey and home made jam, for my attention. The only thing missing was fresh scones, cream and a cup of tea. And prices. The items sat prettily on the table but there were no prices. I picked up one of the jars labelled “Geoff’s Plum Jam” hoping to find a price list underneath it. And there it was.
Home Made Plum Jam $11
$11! For a jar of jam! You must be kidding! I was grateful that my travelling companion had remained in the car.
But the part of me that really did want to promote this sort of rustic enterprise rallied by calculating the hours of labour that must have gone into making that jam. Beginning with growing the plum trees; it takes years to grow healthy, productive plum trees.
Had they used pesticide? I preferred my food to be pesticide free. No mention of pesticide on the label but that was no guarantee. Perhaps I could ask the jam maker if he appeared.
I thought about the work required to pick the fruit, and boil it up in huge pots on the kitchen stove, the washing and sterilising of the jars.
That’s when it crossed my mind to wonder if the jars had been thoroughly sterilised. No mention of botulism on the label but that was no guarantee.
The labels were quite pretty, each one hand written and illustrated with the fruit they contained. That must have taken hours. No mention of ingredients on the label though. But what could be in plum jam but plumbs, and sugar. I wondered what the sugar content was.
And how long would this jar of home made plumb jam last in the fridge once opened? There was no use by date on the label. Never mind, nothing lasted very long in the fridge in our household, so I put that concern out of my mind.
All in all, when I had tallied the effort that all those jars of preserved excess summer fruit represented, I realised that at $11 a jar, this jam was a bargain! So I picked up three jars.
By this time the farmer had made his way down the driveway, with a not exactly friendly attitude I must say. Perhaps I had disturbed him brushing garlic, or grafting fruit trees. He asked me how many cherries I wanted. Cherries? I’d been so busy reading the labels on the jam that I hadn’t even looked at the cherries yet. I had no idea how much they were or what the going rate for cherries was. In fact I suddenly realised I didn’t even like cherries, but I found myself saying, “I’m not sure, maybe 200 grams, yes, 200 grams would be great, Thanks.” After all that was how much ham I asked for at the deli, should work for cherries too. But no.
“Ten dollars a kilo. I don’t sell less than half a kilo otherwise it doesn’t cover my overheads.”
Through the open door of the house I heard the overheads roar. As he too heard the crowd in the stadium, I knew my farmer was thinking that even a sale of several kilos of cherries wouldn’t be worth missing the next wicket.
That helped me make my decision. I’d buy a whole kilo! A bargain really, when I calculated that my only overheads were the cost of 600 kilometres worth of petrol at $1.60 a litre.
So loaded down with home made jam and cherries, I got back in the car, and waving goodbye to my newly found friend, got back on the road, rather pleased with myself for having braved the farm gate. Now I would no longer be a novice. Next time I would know what to expect and perhaps I could even enter into a little bargaining. Next time would be much easier. Next time I was on holidays in these parts, that is.