Embracing the industry's roots

Susan Parsons
Saffery and Patrick's Queen Street Growers produce by the Moruya River.
Saffery and Patrick's Queen Street Growers produce by the Moruya River. Photo: Tim Saffery

After working in restaurants since they were 15, Tim Saffery and his partner, Tobie Patrick, wanted to be involved in food at an earlier stage, as growers.

Saffery, who grew up in Canberra, had holidays at the south coast as a child and it was Moruya that lured the couple from restaurant work in Melbourne, where Saffery had been The Age young chef of the year in 2005.

As chefs at the River in Moruya since 2007, they bought locally grown produce when they could and developed strong friendships with some local growers. Among them are Michael Hulse, who grows organic potatoes, corn, beans and pumpkins on his land on the Deua River near Moruya, and Kirsti Wilkinson and Fraser Bayley, who have been growing organic crops for a decade at Turlinjah.

So, in early 2011, they took the plunge and sold their share of the River to their partner Pete Compton. Saffery started working one day a week with Hulse, helping with his crops and learning from him and from some of the older farmers in the district. In autumn last year, he did a three-month internship at Bayley and Wilkinson's Old Mill Road Biofarm to learn about small-scale farming.

Stuart Whitelaw, who owns the River building, was involved in setting up Sage - Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening Eurobodalla, committed to growing chemical-free produce and nurturing the land.

Saffery and Patrick decided to become part of this community and, early last year, they bought 2000 square metres next to Sage beside the river. This fertile land along the river flats was ploughed to level their small block and they are using organic methods to grow beetroot, lettuce, fennel, carrots, chard, onions, spring onions, shallots, rhubarb, asparagus and flowers. He uses rotation planting for each season's crops.

The river water is too brackish to use on the vegetables so they use town water, and Saffery makes organic "teas" to enrich the crops. He also raises worms in a bath and uses worm juice on the plants.

Then there are the couple's 35 chickens, mostly faverolles. They use the chickens to dig over the land and provide fertiliser for the beds. They gather the eggs for their own use.

Last April, they planted out three varieties of organic garlic - monaro purple, Italian white and Californian late. The cloves came from an organic supplier in Victoria. In November, a dozen friends, family and neighbours helped them lift the garlic corms. Saffery says it was awesome to dig their first crop and the couple served a noon meal, in the European way, to thank the workers.

The couple lives in Moruya Heads and have moved towards an organic diet. They continue to enjoy cooking for family and friends and also for Dutch and Canadian ''woofers'' (willing workers on organic farms), who have helped them at the Green Street farm in recent months.

Saffery and Patrick sell their produce at the Saturday Moruya Market in Riverside Park. Their Queen Street Growers stall (named for the location of their land) is by the river. Before there were supermarkets in Moruya, the area was covered with market gardens, they say, and many of the older residents are pleased to be able to buy fresh produce.

This year, they have been selling at the new trial Moruya Farmers' Market at the Riverside Park on Tuesdays (3-7.30pm). Sage sponsors the market, which includes live music and prepared food, as well as fresh produce.

They say the inaugural market, on New Year's Day, was a great success, but the January 8 market had to be cancelled because of the bushfires.

They also supply the River restaurant and the Rustic Pantry, a wholefood shop in the main street of Moruya.