Ground to Grub | Matthew Evans WA Tour Overview

Matthew Evans Regional WA Tour digs into soil health and quality food

Cover photo Matthew Evans speaking at Loose Produce

Renowned author and farmer, Matthew Evans, set out on an engaging speaking tour in a busy two-week jam-packed schedule across regional WA. Matthew’s high profile attracted over 1,000 people to hear him speak about the everyday importance of soil, referencing his 2021 publication of the same name.

A former chef and restaurant critic, who now owns and operates Fat Pig Farm in southern Tasmania, Evans is an accomplished author with more than a dozen books to his credit. His 2021 title, Soil, inspired Tim Overheu – Soil scientist and Director of Agriculture Resource Management and Assessment in the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) – to initiate Evans’ 12-day speaking tour of WA’s South West and Wheatbelt. The tour was funded by the State Government’s Agricultural Climate Resilience Fund and supported by DPIRD.

The tour kicked off with a small event in Perth at Victoria Park’s organic grocery store and café, Loose Produce, before heading to Margaret River where Matthew participated at the Regenerative Agriculture Conference 2023 and the subsequent Certified Organic Biodynamic Western Australia (COBWA)-co-hosted event at Gathered Organics.

Matthew then headed east to Galloway Springs in Bridgetown before journeying back to Perth and out to a Merredin and Districts Farm Improvement Group (MADFIG) event. He finished off his tour in Geraldton with several Midwest Food Industries Alliance events.

It was refreshing for event organisers to attract such a diverse group of people, ranging from conscientious urbanites, home gardeners, commercial market gardeners through to broadacre farmers enthusiastic to learn more about soil. In addition to talking in depth about soil, Matthew spoke on several other topics including his life-long passion for well grown, prepared and cooked food that took him on a journey to become a chef, restaurant critic, and eventually a farmer. In Geraldton, he shared his experience in agritourism and his learning from the farm-to-fork restaurant he ran with wife Sadie on their property, Fat Pig Farm.

Matthew kept his audience engaged and entertained while incorporating numerous interesting facts about soil including that:

  • on average, 9kg of topsoil is lost for every meal we eat, and;
  • in Australia we lose approximately 2.9 billion tonnes of topsoil annually that would fill an iron-ore train long enough to go round the equator 15 times.

He also shared many humorous stories about his childhood and early experience working in commercial kitchens before his transition to become a food writer, restaurant critic, and now a farmer.

We encourage you to read the in-depth coverage of each event, using the links below:

The three themes that attracted many people to the events were:

  • caring for soil health;
  • human health, and;
  • climate resilience.

Matthew was interviewed for a podcast on soil that be found here.

A week after the tour concluded and back home in Tasmania, Matthew was asked about his experience.

His key takeaways of the tour include:

  • Being impressed by Galloway Springs. It was obvious to Matthew that owners, Murray and Raquel Johnson, are successful in bringing their farm and community together. The day at Galloway Springs concluded with a 5-course degustation meal in their renovated wool shed. There was lots of love, respect and care for each other in the room. As Matthew shared “it was a beautiful moment that captured the abundance of the region and the great respect for the people that grew the food there.” Matthew’s words encapsulated the vision Murray and Raquel have for their farm: to grow and provide healthy and nutritious food that nurtures their community.
  • Noting that the Geraldton region has everything it needs to offer visitors something special, and locals can create amazing outcomes by working collectively. Matthew met a Syrian refugee chef who had come to Geraldton on a holiday from Darwin. Upon hearing the chef’s story, several locals were inspired to raise $70,000 to buy the chef a restaurant to cook local seafood. He believes the key to success is to create events that are fun for the locals and to celebrate what you have. Applaud local food on the menus in the restaurants and cafés, and be confident and proud about what you offer and the people will come.
  • There are interesting things happening all over Australia that are regionally distinct. Matthew’s advice is: “don’t do what others are doing unless you’re good at it too. If you’re good at lamb, do lamb. If you’re good at scones, do scones. People will come for the unique regional experience you can give that they can’t get anywhere else.”
  • Observing that Western Australians are really hungry for knowledge about soil, from farmers right through to consumers, perhaps more so than any other state, possibly because they have to deal with the unique climate and soil conditions. WA has very old and depleted soils and food producers understand you have to work carefully with what you’ve got. Growers are aware they’re losing soil organic matter and there are salinity problems that they need to overcome.
  • That for some people the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ is scary or too ‘woo woo’. Rather than a tighter definition of what regenerative agriculture is, perhaps we need a looser definition that doesn’t scare people off. “We need to approach people in a way that’s less threatening, one that focuses on the big picture and what is desirable for farmers. Do you want your farm to be here in 100 years? If so, how do we get there? How do we achieve this? It’s probably not by doing what we’re doing now,” he said.

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.