Thinking green, by Caitlin

Thoughts and ideas on environmental topics from Caitlin Howlett, editor of Green Lifestyle.

More than a locavore in Mudgee

Thistle-Hill-Mudgee

Thistle Hill wines are low in preservatives, and their vines have never been sprayed with synthetic chemicals or pesticides since they were planted.

Mudgee_Farmers-market

Mudgee Farmer’s Market: Where you really do meet the farmer themselves, not like a lot of other markets where you won’t get to meet the actual farmer!

Mudgee_Gingle-Mill

Lovely young wine-makers from Gingle Mill winery, where you are asked to bring your own bottles. They girls say they get flagons and all sorts of interesting bottles.

Mudgee_Broombee

At Brombee organic certified wines, Barrie and Gwen are passionate about organics - they run a boutique winery where these gorgeous black-face Suffolk sheep are the maintenance team that graze amongst the vines as a fertilise dispersant and as a weed control.

Market-st-Cafe

Aaron Cole from Market Street Café in Mudgee has nurtured his trophy-winning sourdough yeast culture for two years.

Mudgee_Lowe

On various weekends during the year, winemaker David Lowe invites you to join his table. This Winemaker's Table is set down the middle of the winery and guests are expected to chip into the activities of the table – much as you would when dining in the home of a friend.

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By Caitlin Howlett G features and online writer

It’s hard to imagine a more quaint or wholesome country town. Tucked into the fertile hills of central west NSW, Mudgee showcases the best of what can be done with good, organic food - and I was all-too-happy to explore the delights of the region last weekend. But it’s not just about the organic food, or even the biodynamic wine. It’s about the locals themselves, and how proud they are of sharing their healthy local produce.

At the Mudgee Farmer's Markets you'll actually speak to the farmer directly and you can find out what it is that’s most important to you about the food you eat. Are you concerned about animal welfare, do you want low-preservative wine, or do you want fruit that is guaranteed free from pesticides? When you choose to purchase food because it fits with what's important to you, you're fostering pride that the good quality food is held in high esteem.

I’m always looking for organic certification on my products, but in Mudgee I learnt that there’s much more to it than a label. By talking with the Mudgee farmers, I discovered that there are often limitations, but that these farmers are doing their best to grow a product that is good for you and doesn't damage the environment. No farmer who is proud of their produce and their local area wants to degrade their farm so it can't go on to support future generations.

I would prefer all my fruit, vegetables and wine to be certified organic, for both the environment and my own health. But I'd also like my food to be grown locally with less food miles, however there isn't a nation-wide labelling scheme for that. I'm also one of the growing number of people who have realised that I don't get a terrible hangover after a bottle of low-preservative wine, compared to a bottle of 'regular' wine. Trine Karstrom at Botobolar Vineyard, Australia's first certified organic vineyard says that low preservative wines need to be drunk that night and can't be kept, but that suits me just fine!

If you eat meat, it's important to know that many pork, lamb and beef producers may not be able to go for organic certification because there mightn’t be any organically certified abbatoirs in the region. For farmers interested in the welfare of their stock, it might not be worth shipping the animals for six hours to be processed in an organic factory. Often it’s better for the animals, and the freshness of your produce, to ask how humanely the farmer treats the animals, and know that the abbatoir and butcher are local as well. I visited Ormiston Free Range Pork, where the phrase ‘happy as pigs in mud’ is very apt. The farmer, James Caspar, told us how he is trying to remove the disconnect with food at many conventional piggeries. While Ormiston pork is not certified organic, the pigs are free range and living in herds, the way they’re supposed to.

Aaron Cole from Market Street Café in Mudgee has nurtured his trophy-winning sourdough yeast culture for two years. He says he believes local produce is important because it’s about identity, sourcing most of his ingredients locally. Aaron also uses some of the lesser-used cuts of meat - including lambs brains, beef tongue and liver - saying that he recognises it's important to use all parts of the animal. He says he makes his food for the locals to enjoy, but that of course visitors are very welcome to come and enjoy it too! Meanwhile in Mudgee, in a tasty amalgamation of Middle Eastern-inspired food, Bechora Deeb, who learnt to cook in the high-end restaurants of Lebanon, creates wonderful dishes from local food – most of it organic or sourced from his own garden - at Deeb's Kitchen.

Perhaps you’ve never stopped to ask ‘what is good produce really about?’ because you’ve never actually spoken with a farmer – but in Mudgee, for both locals and visitors like myself, it’s all about getting back to where your food is made, talking to the farmer, and even getting involved in the process of making it. The environmental benefits of eating locally are well known, but it’s not just localising food that’s important. Locality is also central to identity, community and wellbeing.

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Local’s guide to getting the best out of Mudgee:

Mudgee Farmers Markets: Showcasing enthusiastic specialist food producers from the Mudgee Region, the monthly Farmers Market held on the third Saturday of each month from 8:30am – 12:30pm. www.mudgeefinefoods.com.au

Farm Walks: On the third Sunday of every month, (following the Saturday Farmers Markets) farm walks are held, where you can visit and experience a working farm to get down to the grass roots level of food production. One way to really get in touch with the farming process and become a farmer for the day. Soon, there’ll be the opportunity to pick your own strawberries, tomatoes and even chilli’s at the Clearview farm! $10 per person or $20 per family. www.mudgeefinefoods.com.au/farmwalks.php

Green Pedal Tours: Ross and Liz Mayberry view Green Pedal Tours as a great way to share their love of the region and their passion for cycling. Visitors to the region can enjoy a range of exciting tours, either guided or self guided tours. www.greenpedaltours.com.au

Mudgee is 3.5 hours drive from Sydney. Visit www.mudgeewine.com.au for more info.