By Diego Bonetto
An artist, a farmers and a scientist walk into a bar…
Last week a loose congregation of artists, farmers, academics, scientists, amateur actors and community members launched a two years long program of speculative works on land: An artist, a farmer and a scientist walk into a bar…
The launch happened in Bingara, a small country town strategically positioned between Armidale, Tamworth and Inverell in the New England region of NSW.
Bingara and its community is one of the magnetic poles for the project, the second pole being Kandos, in Mid Western NSW.
For the evening the local amateur theatre group, the North West Theatre Company, staged a play (aptly) titled An artist, a Farmer and a Scientist walk into a bar… , where jokes and common misunderstandings were used to break the ice, laugh at each other’s cultural bubbles and open up discussion about common goals. The ‘serious comedy’ was written, directed and acted by Rick Hutton, the uber-producer in Bingara and co-director of The Living Classroom. You can watch a short clip at this link:
For the evening we also treated our guests to a two-part feast.
On one side of the table there was organic meat from renowned regenerative farmer, Glenn Morris, and on the other side we presented a feast of weeds.
The feast was a collaborative effort of the Friends of Touriandi - a local community organisation - as the main hands behind the kitchen stoves, Marnee Fox as a menu and presentation designer and myself as a forager.
A Feast of Weeds
Now, imagine a room filled with the most diverse congregation, from regenerative farming super stars and huge landholders, to conventional farmers, politicians, and local retirees, mixed in with a motley crew of artists from the city, change makers from the country and various soil health and agricultural science experts.
The conversations where deep, unexpected and enriching.
For this catering event I wanted to present an argument, in food form.
Something that when served at the table, would act a conversation starter. And it did.
People loved the collaborative recipes that came out of extensively negotiated resolutions, that took advantage of outstanding local skills, whatever resource was available in a severely dry environment (part of the area is in drought and the land looks very bare at the moment) and misconceptions about what constitutes a proper meal.
We came up with:
Nettle focaccia; cumbungi and sowthistle slaw; saltbush chips; roasted pumpkin and sauted dandelion salad; sowthistle and mallow salsa verde; and an outstanding display of country baking skills with the desert spread.
Believe it or not, people loved it.
There was a lot of coming to terms with misconceptions on the night. We all opened up to new possibilities, new language and flavours, while cementing existing conversations and rejoicing in collaborative effort hypes.
I personally was in awe of the commitment displayed from such a small community, who could master all skills needed to present a professional production in a matter of six weeks.
We harvested plants from The Living Classroom, a local education and conference hub, The River House, a local Bed and Breakfast with an outstanding permaculture garden, and the local green corridor along the Gwydir River.
Why serve weeds to farmers?
Because we have plenty of them, they are edible, they have a long history of uses from all over the world, and can potentially become an alternative income for farmers.
Diversification of income is one of the most important steps towards resilience and recovery, and economic returns are important in order to enable bio diverse farming environments.
Do you have weeds? Let’s sell them.
One of the projects that was launched on the night is wildfood.store, a business case for a cooperatively run weed bus, from Kandos and neighbouring towns to the headquarters of a distribution company, at Flemington Markets.
The chefs want wild edible produce
The farmer has the plants
We train for packaging
We collect when ready
We deliver to Flemington Markets
The distributor gets the produce to give to the chefs
The chefs get the produce
The by-products of all of this exchange, conversation, negotiation, training and delivery are stories. The stories of farmers on the land, environmental realities, lifestyle shifts and consumer awareness will be collected and fed into the project via social media channels and will act as cement for the separated communities of country towns and inner city consumers. The stories will foster understanding and empathy.
When you know the story of the food you are eating it tastes different.
Wildfood.store aims to serve the taste of stories. We will connect the land where the produce grows with the consumer via the stories the plants carry.
As a cultural maker this is what interests me, but the wildfood.store can be an economically viable project with potential employment capacity building in the rural communities of NSW.
Keep track of the project as it unfolds here>>
Get the recipes from here>
See more images here>