There’s something immensely satisfying about a hard day’s farm work. To wrench weeds from the earth as the energising sun warms your back, to awaken muscles in your body as you prepare the life-giving soil for planting and to gently harvest fresh produce from the ground with your bare hands is definitely good for the soul. And at the end of the day, when you turn off the bedside lamp and notice that your hands are still stained from the day’s toil, your body rests easily – worn yet immensely satisfied.
This farm stuff is all new to me. You see, for the best part of the last 20 years I have worked in an office environment. Sometimes I had my own office (luxe!), sometimes there was no outside view and other times I faced a cubicle. I did this Monday to Friday for 40 hours a week for nearly two decades. And for a very long time I valued being part of an office culture – the politics, the banter, the challenges, the friendships and sometimes even the stresses. But right now, it’s not for me. I am taking a sabbatical from the routine and the security of working nine to five to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the office water cooler.
And so, for the past three weeks, I have seized the opportunity to spend time working on an organic farm in a beautiful valley of the Byron Bay hinterland. Three Springs Farm is a veritable cornucopia and I feel blessed to be experiencing its abundance. My daily commute to this little piece of paradise is twice as long as my previous journey but I am ever so thankful for the space that allows me time to be still with my own thoughts or time to stream the French news on demand and polish up my comprehension – something I have not done for a long time! The scenery on this daily commute is soothing and each day when I arrive at ‘the office’ the curious cows greet me at the farm gate eager to welcome the rookie.
The farm is a busy place where I have relished the hours getting down and dirty while clearing weeds; planting out new crops; laying mulch; delicately hand picking kaffir lime leaves, chillis and betel leaves (see a delicious recipe using betel leaves below); trimming turmeric, galangal, ginger and lemongrass and packing the produce for sale just hours out of the ground. Like most jobs, the work can be repetitive, but it’s never monotonous. Every day is different and there is a sense of community that takes over when we all gather in the farm shed to prepare the day’s harvest; chatting about something being broadcast on the radio or enjoying the youthful exuberance and creative ideas of the younger farm workers. We’ve even had a few snakes call by looking for somewhere warm to sleep for the Winter. Sorry, no room at the inn for you guys! There is never a dull moment.
Having spent time working in the food manufacturing industry I am savouring the opportunity to experience another facet of food production, only this time I get to wear gumboots and old jeans and I don’t need to iron – my clothes or my hair! As I see it, both as a consumer and as a farm worker, the future looks strong for enterprises such as Three Springs Farm. These smaller, dedicated farms and the distribution networks that support them are fulfilling the needs of consumers interested in the current ‘paddock to plate’ movement, the availability of organic options and the increasing importance of food provenance. We need to encourage and support these farmers. I know I won’t be able to buy a dried up piece of supermarket ginger ever again!
So this week I’m back in ‘the office’. I will get dirt under my nails and up my nose and my hands will be stained yellow for a few days following the turmeric harvest. But right now I would not have it any other way. This farming business is immensely satisfying – it’s absolute food for the soul.
So here is a recipe I tried last week using fresh, organic Betel Leaves handpicked at Three Springs Farm. I have tasted a few Betel Leaf dishes in Thailand where they are known as ‘Miang’, both ready made in restaurants and as street food where the leaves and fillings are sold in plastic bags ready to assemble. ‘Miang’ are like little bites of sweet, sour, salty and spicy and they look beautiful when laid out on a plate ready to be folded up and devoured. The sticky caramel filling in this recipe gives the ‘Miang’ a great foundation and while the protein is scallops you could substitute fried tofu, prawns or even beef strips. If you can’t access Betel Leaves, you could use trimmed iceberg lettuce leaves like a san choy bow.
Caramelised Scallop Miang (Betel Leaves) http://bit.ly/1KvLdmg
- 2/3 cup shredded coconut, toasted
- ½ cup roasted peanuts, crushed
- 2 tablespoons chilli jam (I used Maleny Cuisine Chilli Jam)
- 1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
- ¼ cup sweet chilli sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- ¼ cup water
- Peanut or Rice Bran Oil for cooking the scallops (I used Brookfarm Lime and Chilli Infused Macadamia Oil)
- 20 scallops minus the roe
- 20 betel leaves
- Fried asian shallots, coriander leaves and shredded kaffir lime leaves to serve
Place coconut, peanuts, chilli jam, fish sauce, sugar, chilli sauce, lime juice and ¼ cup water in a saucepan over low heat. Cook stirring for 2-3 minutes or until thick and reduced. Cool slightly.
Brush a large fry pan with your chosen oil and place over a medium-high heat. Cook the scallops in batches for 30 seconds each side or until golden on the outside but opaque in the centre. (Mine did not really ‘caramelise’ just make sure you don’t overcook them!)
Place 1 heaped teaspoon of the crunchy caramel sauce on each betel leaf, top with a scallop and garnish with friend Asian shallots, a coriander leaf and shredded kaffir lime leaf. Serve immediately.
To eat the ‘Miang’, take a prepared leaf, fold the leaf edges around the filling and nom, nom, nom.