Australia and America have a lot in common. Both countries were founded by British exiles, they’re both extremely young nations, and neither wants to lay claim to Mel Gibson. There are similarities from a farming perspective, as well, with fresh, local produce taking center stage in both countries.
Farmers’ markets can be found in both the U.S. and Australia, but there seems to be a major difference between the two. While small-scale American farmers seem to go out of their way to grow lesser-known varieties of common crops like tomatoes and carrots, the heirloom vegetable movement is just getting started in Australia.
At the Adelaide Showground Farmer’s Market (held every Sunday in Adelaide, South Australia), there are 86 different stalls to choose from and the longest lines are usually found at the Patlin Gardens stand. The fact that South Australians flock to the Patlin booth is a testament to the quality of the over 100 varieties that they’re growing on their farm near the Gawler River just north of Adelaide.
Farmer Pat D’Onofrio took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer our questions about heirloom varieties, Australian appetites, and why organic certification isn’t always worth it.
Who are you and what do you do?
We are Patlin Gardens. The Pat from Patlin is my name (my Italian name is Pasquale) and the Lin from Patlin is my wife’s name (her name is actually Lina). We are both of Italian background. I was born in Italy but Lina was born here in Australia. We grow vegetables of many kinds, bio-dynamically, without the use of any kind of chemical or pesticide.
Do you have a favorite crop?
Every crop is a favorite crop. In the winter when we harvest olives, that would be my favorite crop. In the summer, my favorite crop is tomato and basil. It’s with the seasons. I guess you can say I don’t have one favorite. I just love them all.
Are Australians used to seeing heirloom varieties?
No, definitely not. Only a small percentage.
What made you start growing heirloom produce like watermelon radishes?
Growing heirlooms came about because I was disappointed with tasteless vegetables that seed companies are always promoting, which only seem to highlight the looks, shelf life and uniformity of a vegetable — not the taste.
Do you plan to offer more heirloom varieties in the future?
Yes, as long as demand is there and we are able to source the seeds, we will try as many as there are available that suit our environment.
What can you do to get Australians to try vegetables they haven’t seen before?
We keep promoting, tasting, and educating. We believe it will eventually have a snowball effect on people that are interested in eating healthy.
What do you wish you could change about the way Australians eat?
Replace all the fast food ads with healthy eating ads and educate children at home and at school about organic vegetables.
Do you grow organic?
Yes: organic and biodynamic methods.
Is your farm certified organic?
No. We choose not to be certified as there are too many bodies controlling it. It is costly and open to misuse. If there was only one body controlling [certification], I might consider it.
What do you love about being a farmer?
I love the seasons and the wide range of endless challenges. When you see that a customer really enjoys and appreciates our vegetables, [it] is the best reward of all.