‘Food Glorious Food’ with Matthew Evans | Galloway Springs Farm

Cover photo Matthew Evans speaking in the Wool Shed at Galloway Springs

September 11, 2023 | Bibulman-Wadandi Noongar Country

From Margaret River, the Matthew Evans tour headed east to Galloways Springs Regenerative Farm 10 km south of Bridgetown. At 9.00 am owners, Raquel and Murray Johnson, began to warmly welcome over 40 guests and directed them up the hill to gather at the highest point on the farm. While enjoying the morning sunshine and spectacular views across the landscape and the surrounding misty valley, guests mingled over a complimentary coffee provided by barista Hayley Rubery, who operates Earlybirdie Coffee Van out of Bridgetown.

Around 10.00 am Murray called their guests together and welcomed everyone. He acknowledged the traditional owners of the Noongar land we were meeting on and that he is learning about what it means for his farm. Murray led the walking tour of Galloway Springs starting with the pasture-chicken enterprise that is owned and operated by their 21-year-old daughter, Emily.

Pasture Chicken

Emily experienced a 3-month internship with Jeff Pow at Southampton Homestead in Balingup to learn about pasture-chicken raising. She receives batches of 270, 1-day old Ross chicks, a common non-flying, meat-bird variety, and houses them in a temperature-controlled brooder for 4 weeks while they slowly acclimatise. At this point, the chicks are transferred to mobile tractors that house 45 chickens each. She moves the tractors daily until the birds are 8-12 weeks old and ready for slaughter, typically 2-4 kg. The meat is sold as whole-chickens or processed into different cuts. Even the chicken frames are sold to make bone broth. She also keeps the feet to sell to a pet-food business, while the liver is used to make pâté and the hearts are dehydrated for dog treats. The remaining carcass blood, feathers and offal is used to make compost which ultimately returns nutrients to the soil.

Their mobile tractors are essentially hoop houses that are easily built from a kit and can be refitted as a shade or greenhouse when not being used for chickens. Emily explained there are many benefits of pasture-raised chickens. The chickens get fresh pasture every day to browse and eat the insects they find by scratching the soil. This diet combined with a supplementary fermented grain mix is excellent to grow healthy chickens and this is reflected in their exceptional taste. Moving the tractors results in high-manure deposits and the scratching causes a surface level soil disturbance making the manure available to soil microbes which improves the pasture over time. Emily has recently expanded her operation to include layer birds. The pasture-raised layer birds look obviously different to the heavy meat birds. She explained that pullets start to lay eggs around 22 weeks of age and she sells them when they reach this age.

Garlic

Murray led us to their current garlic crop. He explained that they are trialling a new way to grow garlic this year to combat weeds by planting the seed garlic through holes in plain cardboard which is laid down in 30-metre rolls (approx. 60 cm wide). Normally growing organic garlic requires intensive labour, sometime 20-35 hours per week, to remove unwanted weeds. The idea with the cardboard is to suppress weed growth while allowing the garlic to grow through the holes. Eventually the carboard degrades adding carbon to the soil, which is an added benefit. Although this year’s harvest is not ready until mid-November, Murray said the garlic, planted in early April is growing as expected; the weeds have been successfully suppressed and it has saved them hundreds of hours of labour. By early September the cardboard was clearly starting to break down. The success of the harvest this year will determine how much they scale up their operation for next year.

Matthew Evans and guests overlooking garlic production at Galloway Springs

Murray mentioned that the paddock where Emily’s pasture-chickens are was where last year’s garlic was grown. Since the harvest the paddock had been grazed several times with his one herd of sheep, cattle and alpaca’s and then left to recover. Matthew Evans commented it was amazing how healthy the pasture was. There was very little capeweed and plenty of clover among the grass pasture which is highly desirable as it adds nitrogen to the soil. Murray added he likes to graze his sheep, cattle and now chickens through the paddocks. He explained the regenerative cycle this way: “the more animal types that impact the pasture the healthier the soil will be. Healthier soil grows healthier plants that animals feed on and this improves their health resulting in healthier manure that further improves soil health.” It’s a positive cycle.

Vegetable garden

Before leaving the top of their farm, we stopped to admire one of the vegetable gardens at Galloway Springs operated by permaculture practitioner, Jesse Humphries. Although somewhat ‘messy’ as many of the plants had gone to seed, her garden beds were full of life and included a diverse array of herbs and vegetables. Murray remarked that Jesse had been operating for about 4 years and at the start they could hardly get a shovel into the soil. Murray demonstrated that now a shovel goes in with relative ease and he removed a spade full of soil for all to see what is happening beneath the surface. Matthew pointed out several things. There was 10-15 cm of topsoil with great crumb structure and it was teeming with life such as slaters, worms and other insects. At the top of this food chain, these insects feed on smaller organisms and their presence indicates the soil has lots of biological life. Plant roots went down to an orange clay level. Fungal mycelium was abundant and clearly visible at the soil surface. This soil is alive and healthy and that accounts for the abundance of plant life in Jesse’s garden.

Our tour ended at their recently renovated wool-shed that had the look and feel of an English barn and picture-perfect for a country-style ‘wedding.’ Before lunch we heard from Matthew.

Matthew is a chef by trade and owns and operates a 70-acre farm near Cygnet, Tasmania. He shared jokingly that his entire career was motivated by gluttony; he wanted to eat good food and plenty of it. He learned to cook from his Mum and working as a chef, he learned first-hand the ways that restaurants avoid discarding food that is on the way out. He shared one experience as a cold-entrée chef where he learned how to ‘refresh’ oysters to serve the next day. Of course, even this process has its limits so when the oysters were too old to ‘refresh’ they were passed to another chef who specialised in hot entrees and would then prepare dishes like Oyster Mornay or Kilpatrick. Matthew came to the realisation that you can eat much better food at home.

“Fridges aren’t hospitals. Food doesn’t get better in a fridge.”

He then went to work as a restaurant critic. It was during this period he experienced tasting a lot of food. Once, he tried milk his friend had purchased at a nearby local IGA that was much more appetising than what he’d had at one of Sydney’s poshest restaurants. His curiosity was aroused. Why does some food taste better than others? He came to the conclusion that the taste is the expression of the farmer and how they treat the soil.

Matthew first bought a 22-acre farm in Tasmania. He created a market garden and threw everything at it. Since Europeans style farming began thousands of years ago, about 40% of all agricultural land has been abandoned. Sixteen civilisations have collapsed because they destroyed their land. Matthew admitted he’d done the same thing. His land went backyards in a few short years and he realised he needed to do things differently. As a consequence, he became interested in soil.

Healthy soil as he discovered is ‘alive,’ a living breathing organism. It is teeming with microscopic and macroscopic life – 1 teaspoon of healthy soil contains 10 billion biological organisms, more than there are people on the planet. His soil, on the other hand, was close to dead and he started to wonder what the biology does in soil.

Plants roots are amazing and can penetrate soil very efficiently with pressure at their root tips up to 100 psi (pounds per square inch), though they can’t penetrate very far. However, fungal hyphae which have a strong relationship with plant roots, can travel long distances to acquire nutrients. Bacteria can solubilise rock and convert elements like phosphorous into a form that plants can digest. The hyphae then transport these essential nutrients to plants via their roots. Plants send out a chemical signal that they need a specific nutrient and bacteria and hyphae bring that nutrient to the plant. The question is what does the bacteria and fungi get in return for providing this service?

The answer lies with photosynthesis and it is what Matthew said, ‘blew his mind.’ All life requires sugar for energy. We cannot make our own food. Only plants and algae can make sugar. We rely on plants to make our food (sugar). Photosynthesis converts water and carbon dioxide with sunlight into sugar (carbohydrate) and oxygen. Most of the sugar the plant keeps for itself, however, on average about 30% of sugar and up to 100,000 other plant metabolites exude or dribble out of the plant roots into soil to feed and communicate with the fungi and bacteria. It is a beautiful system of underground trade between plants and microbes that is not very well understood. Right now about 98% of what is in soil is unknown. A market gardener once said to Matthew:

“Growing plants isn’t rocket science, it is way more complex than that.”

Matthew finished up with a focus on flavour. Lots of communication and interaction occurs between living plants and healthy soil. Not much happens in dead soil. The more communication between a plant and the biology in healthy soil the more inherent the flavour and complexity in your food. 98% of our food comes from land plants. “We get quantity and quality of food from soil. How we look after soil affects the pleasure at the dining table.“

It was the perfect segue into our 5-course degustation meal prepared by Raquel and her grower community of friends.

The Meal

Matthew Evans with Raquel Johnson at Galloway Springs

Raquel Johnson introduced the feast we were about to enjoy by sharing that she was excited to incorporate Matthew’s story with their own at Galloway Springs. She highlighted two points from Matthew’s talk. The first was about eating well and not fancy. Raquel confessed she’d had moments in the past few weeks thinking, ‘will our food be good enough for all the beautiful foodies in the room?’ She continued, “we thought of you all while we cooked and put a lot of love into the food. I hope you taste the love. That is what we’re sharing with you today. At Galloway Springs with the food we produce our focus is on soil, taste and nutrition. All of these people that have come here today came into our lives because of their interest in these things too. Bringing people together with interest in your own health, the environment and your community. Building friendships over healthy, nutritious food. This is what we share with you today at Galloway Springs.”

All in readiness for ‘The Meal’ in the Wool Shed at Galloway Springs

The First Course – Olives

The Kalamata and Manzanillo whole olives and oil were provided by Jonathon and Fiona Willis from Fontecolombo, Bridgetown. The Dukka was provided by Chris Fishwick, The Pickled Wife from Manjimup and the sourdough was provided by Lucy Wiles in Pemberton.

Fiona briefly described their picturesque 8.5 acre organic (non-certified) small farm with an olive grove of 60 trees located 4.5 km from Bridgetown. They purchased Fontecolombo in 2016 where they grow 5 varieties of olives – Kalamata, Mission, Leccino, Pendolito and Manzanillo. They preserve about 100 kg of their olives each year and the rest are used to produce oil. She mentioned small producers can process their olives using their press at the end of their own pressings. She shared that their pickling process takes over 1 year first using 10% brine and then 3% brine. Fiona revealed some interesting facts about olives. One that stood out is that pure olive oil should leave a peppery taste and feel at the back of the throat. An oil that doesn’t produce this experience may not be 100% pure olive oil.

The Second Course – Soup

Chicken bone broth was produced in house by Galloway Springs. The herbs were provided by Quinn McLachlan, a permaculture market gardener and ‘Friend of Galloway’ from Galloway Springs.

Quinn shared his interest started with health and fitness that over time morphed into remedial therapies. He developed an interest in nutrition for performance, health and wellbeing and mental health especially. His interest in the link between the gut microbiome and the brain for physical and mental health led to an active interest in soil biology. He moved to Bridgetown in 2021 to take up Mandala-style permaculture gardening at Galloway Springs. He focuses on the interactions and complexities between plants and soil, as Matthew detailed in his presentation, and consequently the human community. Quinn shared we need to eat a diversity of plants to get the same diversity that is found in soil biology. It may be beneficial to our health to eat a variety of foods from a variety of places to avoid eating too many foods that may be deficient in something we need.

The Third Course – Pasta

Homemade Gnocchi and tomato sauce were provided by Daniel and Diana Iacopetta from Yornup.

Daniel shared that he and his wife Diana are first generation Italians born in Australia. Diana’s family comes from the Campania region near Naples, and has used wood-ovens to make bread for over 1000 years. Daniel’s family hails from the Calabria region north of Sicily. For Daniel growing up everything was about food. He shared his experiences on his grandparent’s farm and growing food wherever he has lived. From making pork sausages, which was a 3-day event involving slaughter, cleaning, hanging meat and finally making the sausages on day 3, to cooking and eating, Daniel fondly shared his memories. Food and family are inseparable in Italian culture.

Matthew shared his family comes from Wales and their culture is not preserved like it is in Italy. Welsh people would never criticise food for fear of never being invited back. Daniel and Diana shared that Italians love the theatre of food and each family makes each dish slightly differently. Culturally, they are comfortable to criticise each other’s family’s ways of cooking. Ultimately, the conversation is about how to make the food better.

While we waited for Daniela and Diana to finish cooking the gnocchi fresh for the table, Matthew invited impromptu questions from the attendees.

What do you think about rotating crops to prevent disease?

Nature likes diversity and soil likes diversity. Planting multi-species helps kick-start the biology and more species seem to do better. Bacteria can quorum sense – a term to explain that bacteria can ‘count’ to determine their numbers. When they reach a critical number, they explode into action. The diversity of biology helps prevent disease.

What have you noticed in your travels?

There are many benefits to treating soil well. For instance, the pasture on our farm turns browns six weeks later than our neighbours. On average it takes 1000 years to grow an inch of topsoil, however, it can be grown much quicker than that if we get the process right. I’m very optimistic for poorer farms in particular as they have a lot of upside if we start to manage soil better. Soil diversity will help retain water and prevent desertification.

What do you think about composting?

Compost can be made two ways. Static piles take longer to compost but help to form fungal hyphae and they may contain longer forms of carbon exudates that are better for soil. Biology needs oxygen and Johnson-Su bioreactors and rotating piles are quicker and help get oxygen into the compost. Both are wonderful for soil.

The Fourth Course – Chicken Salad

Roast chicken was provided by Emily from Galloway Springs. Salad greens were from Ben and Selena Golding in Catterick. Gooseberries, flowers and pesto were from Jesse at Galloway Springs. Sheep cheese was provided by Cambrey Cheese, Nannup. Organic walnuts were from Omega Walnuts in Manjimup. The vinaigrette was by Rosie Gray from Balingup and the Herb Mayonnaise was made by John Bergamaschi aka Gusto, Bridgetown.

Wine by Sunnyhurst Winery, Bridgetown

Before dessert, Geoff Herbert and Marie-Pierre Dussault from Sunnyhurst took to the stage and briefly shared their journey. Geoff is from WA and Marie-Pierre is French-Canadian. They met in Egypt many years ago and moved to Onslow in north-west WA. Geoff is a passionate cook and their life revolves around food. They used to religiously watch Matthew’s TV series, The Gourmet Farmer. After 12 years of visiting family in Bridgetown for Christmas every year they decided they’d had enough of Onslow’s hot weather and began looking to purchase something in the food industry in the region. The opportunity to purchase Sunnyhurst came up and they bought it with the agreement that Geoff will grow the grapes and Marie will make the wine. They’ve been here about 7 years and produce organic (non-certified) wines. They also keep 7 beehives. All the pressings from the wine making get composted and returned to the vines. They plan to start interrow planting between the vines with about 16 species to increase plant diversity.

Sunnyhurst provided a delightful Rosé for the Olives course and a full-bodied Shiraz to accompany the Gnocchi course.

Fifth Course – Dessert

Pavlova meringue was prepared by Raquel from Galloway Springs. The passionfruit curd was by Willarra Gold from Manjimup, the cream was from Banister Downs Dairy in Northcliffe and the lemon and Yuzu Gelato was by Hound and Hunter Fine Foods in Manjimup.

With the finish of dessert, the day concluded with a final thank you from Raquel and Matthew. The experience was a real Tour de Force – insightful, informative and magnificently capped off with a scrumptious 5-course meal that showcased many of the amazing and tasty foods being produced in the region. A truly memorable day that gave incredible value for the $140 ticket. Attendees experienced the deep love Raquel spoke of.

The 2023 Matthew Evans Regional WA Tour is funded by the Western Australian Government’s Agriculture Climate Resilience Fund, supported by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in a collaboration between Perth NRM, RegenWA, the Institute of Regenerative Leadership, Certified Organic Biodynamic WA, Gathered Organics, Loose Produce, Merredin & Districts Farm Improvement Group, Wheatbelt NRM, Northern Agricultural Catchments Council, Midwest Food Industries Alliance and Galloway Springs.