Tasmanian Chef and television show River Cottage Australia host Paul West believes that a meaningful and happy life is one built around food and community. But for many Aussie urbanites, most of the food we eat is grown and/or produced far away from our homes and there’s limited knowledge about how exactly it arrived to our dinner tables. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Paul’s newly-released book, “The Edible Garden Cookbook and Growing Guide” is a crash course in growing and cooking your own food – from practical gardening advice, guides on how to build a garden, composting and chook keeping, plus an A-Z of the easiest veggies to grow in the city. It also includes over 50 family-friendly recipes as well as easy foodie activities to try with your friends and family, including pickling, brewing beer or whipping up a batch of sausages.
Plant Life Balance sat down to have a chat with Paul about the book, his top tips for an aspiring urban produce grower, and what growing food does for the soul.
They call you a man of many trades, and now a book, The Edible Garden! What inspired this particular creation?
After my experiences with River Cottage Australia,I wanted to write a book that could help people celebrate the principles of people, place and produce no matter where they live. And seeing as though Australia is one of the world’s most urbanised nations (nearly 90% of our population live within a township of 1000 people or more), I particularly wanted to write a book that looked at and celebrated the holism of food in people’s backyards.
Top tips for gardening in small spaces?
Start small and be very thoughtful with your plant choices. Grow things that provide an abundant harvest with a small footprint and are high value if you were to buy the equivalent from the supermarket. Herbs and “cut and come again” leafy greens are the perfect place to start when space is a limiting factor.
What are your top tips for growing herbs indoors?
Sunlight food and water. If you can make sure that your herbs get sufficient amounts of these then you can’t go wrong.
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Here's a little photographic sequence from #theediblegardencookbook stepping through building a super basic wicking bed using bits and pieces of upcycled materials! There's stacks of cheap little DIY projects in the book, and if I can build them, anyone can!!! Rememeber I'm in Melbourne too, talking at the Wheeler Centre tomorrow night. Come and say gday!
In your opinion, what is it about connecting with community and food that is so important?
Nothing in this world exists in total isolation, and human beings have evolved as a social creature, we thrive, especially mentally and emotionally when we have a dynamic community life built around strong relationships. I feel that food is the ultimate vessel for fostering those relationships, the dinner table is the perfect place to simultaneously nourish ourselves and our relationships with the people that we care about
What is your go-to food for when you’re hosting your friends/community?
A big cut of tough meat, like a shoulder or leg, slow-cooked with stacks of simple, single ingredient-led, vegetable-based sides.
You’ve been involved in all areas of food production – from woofing to cooking up a storm. Where have you found your biggest lessons?
Growing food has been one of my biggest teachers. It has really forced me to slow down, relinquish a bit of control and to have optimism for the future.
Do you have a favourite indoor-plant and why?
Any culinary herb that will survive on my kitchen window sill, thyme is a particular favourite though.
If you could spend the day farming with anyone in the world, who would it be?
American farmer and writer, Wendell Berry. He possesses an amazing intellect and to walk the land with him, while discussing humanity, nature, food growing and the beautiful and complex relationships between the three would be a dream come true. One day of that would fill my heart and mind for a very long time.
If I had a time machine, I’d love to travel back to any corner of Australia pre-colonisation. To walk with the first nations people of this land, to hear the stories and songs and to have even the smallest fraction of their understanding and love for country would be mind-blowing.
The Edible Garden Cookbook & Growing Guide,Paul West
Pan Macmillan Australia, paperback, $39.99
Available now from Pan Macmillan Australia
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