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Joel dusted off his design degree to contribute a logo to the gathering.

Each winter since 2015, aspiring and established small-scale and regenerative farmers and their supporters and allies have gathered somewhere in Australia as part of the Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering to share ideas and inspiration for their projects and enterprises. In June 2019, this convergence drifted westwards to be held in Willunga, South Australia, and we were delighted to participate.

150 aspiring and established regenerative farmers, growers and their friends gathered in Willunga, SA, for the Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering.

The tone for the convergence was set with a keynote from former CSIRO microbiologist and climate scientist Walter Jehne, who spoke on the role and responsibility of rebuilding soil carbon and water cycles through agriculture and land management. Through his inspiring presentation, Jehne drew on indigenous land management as described in the work of Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe to also establish a precedent for the capacity of Australian soils to hold significant amounts of carbon and water.

Walter Jehne, in full flight.

Some of these arguments are alluded to in the convergence declaration:

Over two days in June 2019, 150 small- and medium-scale, mostly young farmers, farm and food workers, educators, and other allies came together from across Australia to meet on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people, who have cared for this land and maintained biodiversity through careful observation, cultivation, and judicious use of fire…

At the fifth annual Deep Winter Agrarians gathering in Willunga, South Australia, we celebrated the opportunity to meet each other to continue weaving relationships, alliances, and solidarity. We strengthened our commitment to grow and distribute food in ethical and ecologically-sound ways, and to assert our collective right to democratically participate in food and agriculture systems.

The weekend was rightly framed and founded on considerations of soil and climate, with a stirring address from climate scientist and soil microbiologist Walter Jehne … Walter called for a dramatic draw down of carbon – and assured us we can do that simply and naturally by fostering the fungi in our soils that digest carbon. Only with rapid transitions away from the destructive practices of over-tilling, over-grazing, and feckless application of agrichemicals can we regenerate the wasteland we have created.

Healthy soils are the primary reservoirs for Australia’s scarce water resources, with the potential to hold far more water than they currently do. The solution is to build the soil carbon sponge – we must urgently increase the carbon in our soils to improve its capacity to hold water, and the most obvious and clear pathway to that solution is through agroecological practices…

There is a paucity of nutritional integrity in food grown in what are essentially hydroponic conditions – fast-growing annuals in tilled soil with regular application of fertilisers. Methods of growing food without tilling are not commonly understood nor practiced. The agrarians in Willunga assert our interest and aims to work to reduce tillage and maintain biomass and healthy mycorrhizal fungi that nurture the roots and ultimately the nutritional integrity of the food we grow…

Some farmers at Deep Winter have already experienced the extremities of our changing climate, suffering such severe water scarcity that they can no longer farm. We re-affirm our commitment to draw down carbon and strengthen the soil carbon sponge on our farms to both mitigate and adapt to climate change, and canvassed ideas to diversify business models and focus on growing biodiverse and resilient species and breeds of plants and animals…

We live in challenging times, and the need for action on climate change has never been more urgent. The ever-growing movement of agroecological farmers embedded in the communities we feed is up to this challenge, and we need everyone to support our efforts to farm responsibly. We call on all of you to pledge to act – one simple action everyone can take is to buy one thing from a farm with a face this week and every week.

Walter Jehne’s recent paper “Regenerate Earth“, and “Restoring water cycles to naturally cool climates and reverse global warming” provide an overview of much of the material described in his keynote. Likewise, this video from a previous presentation also provides a taste:

With Walter Jehne’s words as the backdrop, the gathering went on to explore the theme of “Scale and Viability” in food and farming enterprises through both formal, facilitated sessions and impromptu discussion groups, bookended by tours to a number of local farms including Nomad Farms, Falkai Farms, Village Greens of Willunga Creek, the Ngeringa market garden and The Food Forest.

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Here are some of our personal highlights:

  • Inspiration to focus on rebuilding soil carbon and in-soil water storage through grazing and thoughtful land management from Walter Jehne,
  • Being inspired to think about an egg enterprise after seeing the impressive chook caravans built from scratch at Falkai Farm and listening to a panel discussion of several egg producers who have developed their businesses in very different ways
  • Seeing a highly productive regenerative grazing project in full swing at Nomad Farms and learning more about scale and viability of chicken and quail farming
  • Listening to a valuable discussion about the best ways of marketing to different markets – restaurants, supermarkets and farmers markets
  • Hearing the amazing journey of Emily and Chris who run Small World Bakery, their online sales model and attempts to grow their own heritage grains and bring their product full circle
  • Renewing acquaintances or making new ones with other aspiring regenerative farmers and growers, including a few more on the Fleurieu!

Annemarie Brookman of The Food Forest permaculture farm and Costa Georgiadis, of Gardening Australia fame.

One project we’re working on is to develop a directory of aspiring and established regenerative food and farming enterprises to allow others to connect with others with similar location or aspiration. You can participate by filling out this short survey. We’ll then plot the submissions on an online map and see what happens!

Joel’s “Agrarian Tools” illustration, created for the “Scale and Viability” theme. See if you can name them all!

Thanks to Nat of Village Greens of Willunga Creek and Ella of Little Bunyip for all their hard work in leading the organisation of this year’s Deep Winter, and everyone who helped make it happen. The full declaration can viewed online via the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance.