Did you know that small garlic farms are popping up in the Yarra Valley, at Keilor and at Bundoora and that some of the garlic farmers are Nillumbik residents including from Eltham?
All this is thanks to Farm Incubator, a not-for-profit organisation that gets passionate people, who are interested in farming, into their own mini garlic farms. During the year-long Pop-up Garlic Farm Program, participants learn about soils, cultivation, pests, diseases, and even marketing, ⎼ everything they need as start-up farmers.
In 2022, Eltham resident Dania Margerison was sponsored by Local Food Connect to be a pop-up garlic farmer. Dania was hosted by Siobhan Simpson at her property Wild Wren Farm in the Dandenong Ranges. Siobhan gave several rows of her market garden to Dania who grew her crop of garlic with Siobhan as a mentor and friend.
Dania is a teacher and mother who has always had an interest in growing food. Having successfully grown her crop of several rows of different varieties of garlic, she can see a future for herself in some kind of farming.
“I would love to co-farm with other people,” she says.
The Farm Incubator project comes at a time when there is growing concern about the importance of sustainable cities and sustainable food production. Many people want to get their hands in the soil and know where their food comes from.
Farm Incubator’s mission is to “offer a risk free and supported environment” in which would- be farmers can build “knowledge, skills and networks”.
The Program provides participants with workshops, farm tours, land access, 500 garlic seeds, water, mulch and compost, as well as a handbook for growing, a budget planner, free lunches, new contacts and finally, a crop of garlic to sell.
The pop-up garlic farmers for 2023 are Vicky Ellmore and Lynn-eva Bottomley, both sponsored by Local Food Connect and both farming on land in Bundoora.
Lynn-eva, who used to own the Organic Fix store in Eltham, says it was contact with farmers through her business that sparked her interest in farming. It also showed her the threats to food security that can come from changing weather patterns and emergencies like the Covid pandemic. Sometimes, she says, “It was hard to source large quantities of produce”.
When she saw the call out for people interested in participating in the program through the Local Food Connect newsletter, (localfoodconnect.org.au), she saw her opportunity to learn how to farm.
Lynn-eva believes that one of the strengths of the Pop-up Garlic Program is that it focuses on growing one type of food, so that she can gain a thorough understanding of the plant’s requirements. Already she has learnt that garlic is best grown on mounded soil and that it is important to keep it free of weeds.
The next Food Incubator workshop she and Vicky will attend will focus on soil and will involve hands-on sampling and testing.
Lynn-eva says she is looking forward to harvesting her ‘fabulous locally grown garlic’ at the end of the year.
“I hope to sell some, and donate some of the crop, and I hope my crop will inspire other people to have a go at growing food. I’m also hoping to get involved in a community farm in the future to assist with the growing and to share my knowledge with others”.
As Dania Margerison says, “Community is a big part of this program. A big part of the experience has been learning from everyone. It has made farming accessible to me, as has the use of the land”.
Perhaps in the future, through programs such as this, Eltham will have a thriving community of food growers, in which skills are developed and knowledge about farming is preserved for the coming generations.