Friday, 16 December 2016

Sustainable Living weekend workshop at Hazelcombe farm

A few months back we headed up to the Totnes Valley to attend the Sustainable Living Weekend Workshop at Hazelcombe Farm, run by Dan Power and Nicole Schmid Power.  The Totnes Valley is 40 km north east of Mudgee - all in all a 950 km drive from our home in Melbourne.  At times we didn't think we'd get there - torrential rain and flooded roads meant we had to take an alternative route, so when we finally arrived at the farm we were pretty happy!

Hazelcombe Farm holds sustainable weekend workshops a couple of times a year.  Experienced people with a wide range of skills come to share their knowledge - from blacksmithing, green woodworking, scything, horse-drawn ploughing to food related workshops on bread making, fermenting, cheese making and sessions on biodynamics, soil health and beekeeping - the list of things on offer over the course of the weekend is a good one. We'd been wanting to go for some time.  

The shed, which housed the kitchen, dining area and many of the talks and workshops

Dan and Nicole are the people behind Sycthes Australia and, as we have a scythe, getting some hands-on experience in the correct scything technique was definitely on our list of things to do. First thing in the morning I joined Dan's scything group and after some expert instruction, spent an enjoyable time practising my technique in the orchard.  I can't say I'm a very fast scyther (is that a word?)  but at least I now have a better idea of how to go about it.

Another highlight on the schedule were the fermented food workshops held by Christine Corner of Crave Natural. As someone with fructose malabsorption, my interest in fermented foods stemmed primarily from their reputed health benefits and I was keen to learn the basics from an expert.  Christine and her family grow the organic produce used in her products on the family farm, Broombee in Mudgee.  In the sessions we covered the making of saukerkraut, kombucha and keffir.  According to, "Sauerkraut contains high levels of dietary fibre, as well as significant levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and various B vitamins.  Furthermore it is a good source of iron, manganese, copper, sodium, magnesium and calcium, in addition to contributing a moderate amount of protein to your diet"  Sounds pretty good, huh? Hearing Christine talk about how she got into making fermented foods and the health benefits she experienced was really interesting. I was inspired to have a go and purchased a ceramic crockpot from Dan and Nicole to take home with me to make my own sauerkraut.

Christine making sauerkraut

One of the traditional skills that really fascinates both Mr PragSust and I is green woodworking. Roy Davi, the Leura Bodger, had set up his bush pole lathe at the farm and was at work, turning out sauerkraut mashers, honey drizzlers and other items during the course of the weekend.
Roy at his pole lathe

Turning out a sauerkraut masher

He was very happy to let people have a go on his shave horse and pole lathe and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours learning the basics of green wood turning with him. Roy is a lovely bloke and a very patient teacher - I could have spent the whole day watching and learning from him.

On the shave horse

Learning to use the pole lathe

While we enjoyed fine weather over the weekend, due to all the torrential rain in the weeks leading up to the workshop, as the weekend progressed things got more than a little muddy at the farm. Muddy enough for the original campsite to be under water and a second option sorted quickly before the guests started arriving on the Friday. Muddy enough for cars to get bogged in the driveway and in the paddocks. One of the real highlights of the weekend was Queenie the draught horse - star of the horse-drawn ploughing sessions - and her owner Donnie pulling a bogged 4wd truck out of the mud with what appeared to be a great deal of ease. Accompanied by small children chanting "Go Queenie go!", everybody stopped what they were doing as we all watched Donnie and Queenie calmly pulling the truck out of the mud. Lots of cheering ensued and Queenie became the well-deserved hero of the day.

The food provided throughout the course of the weekend was terrific. Nicole, Christine and their helpers did an amazing job of feeding a big group of people, many of which were vegetarians like me. The food was absolutely delicious.

Food preparation underway in the kitchen

Full details regarding Hazelcombe Farm and the sustainable workshop we attended can be found here. Big thanks to Dan and Nicole for hosting such an enjoyable event!

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