From city-slicker to farm and restaurant co-owner, Sadie Chrestman talks through the colourful life she and Matthew Evans have built at Fat Pig Farm.
By
Camellia Ling Aebischer

25 Sep 2019 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 24 Sep 2019 - 5:02 PM

Let’s start from the beginning – who first came up with the crazy idea of starting a farm in Tassie, and what was your first reaction?

Matthew had already made the decision to move to Tassie when we met. To buy a small piece of land, raise a couple of chooks, write, plant some veggies, maybe teach a cookery class or two. By the time I joined him in Tasmania he had several chooks, two sows, a boar, a couple of litters of slips (piglets), a milking cow and five sheep. So things were already out of control. I loved it.

I came from an office and I loved being outside. I would take our son, Hedley, into the milking shed with me in the mornings. He would sleep in his pram out of reach of our house cow, Maggie’s, long tongue. He learned to walk in amongst the chooks and later climb trees in the garden. Matthew and I made the decision to buy and move to Fat Pig Farm together. We had been running a market stall and long table lunches in all sorts of inconvenient locations and building a restaurant seemed a logical next step.

 

You’re often seen on-camera here and there on the tools or tending to a beehive. What are some of your favourite projects on the farm so far?

Oh the veggie garden! Our market garden is one and a half acres which is about one kilometre of garden beds, all tended by hand. We raise a diverse array of veggies and it’s here that you can really sense the seasons, how the different varieties interact, what insects are awake when and what they feed on, how the soil reacts to weather and moisture and temperature. I love it in all kinds of moods.

European honeybees do the heavy lifting when it comes to pollination.

From farm owner, to builder, to restauranteur, what does a typical day look like for Sadie Chrestman on Fat Pig Farm?

I’ve just taken over running the market garden from the fabulous Nadia Danti who is now swanning around farms on the mainland. Each week I go through the garden to come up with a harvest list for Matthew and Rob (who runs the kitchen with Matthew) and a list of jobs that need to be done.

At the moment, that’s mostly getting beds ready for spring. Pulling out the spent winter brassicas and putting in green manures.  Propagating the summer seedlings in the greenhouse.  Direct seeding carrots, beetroot, peas and broad beans. Making compost. Foliar spraying. After the frosts have finished we’ll plant out the tomatoes and cucumbers and zucchinis. The greenhouse will be filled with eggplant and peppers and melons; all the hot climate crops that are a bit touch and go outside.

Except for electricity (we’re 75% solar, 25% grid) everything we use on the farm has to be created, nurtured, reared, captured, stored or physically carried on to the property

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far across all farms?

All of it has been a massive learning curve. Luckily we started small with a domestic garden and a couple of pigs. It’s allowed us to learn as we grow. I think probably the biggest challenge was having a baby and learning to be a mother as well as a farmer all at the same time. I’m not very domestic and there is a lot of cleaning involved in raising a baby and running a farm. The veggie garden was my escape and I buried my hands in the soil and learned everything I could about growing vegetables.

How has life on the farm and experience living from the land shaped your idea of the future and your values?

Except for electricity (we’re 75% solar, 25% grid) everything we use on the farm has to be created, nurtured, reared, captured, stored or physically carried on to the property: rainwater, vegetables, meat, gas for cooking, wood for heating. And it has to be disposed of afterwards: either composted on the farm or taken to the tip, so we’ve become very aware of exactly what and how much a family wants and needs.

In lots of ways it’s much less than what we wanted in the city, and that’s really gratifying. (Although it may also be gratifying for readers to learn that our son would like more technology in his life than he currently gets, so not all of us are at peace with the simple life!) The other lovely thing about this way of living is that pretty much everything we buy is from our local community: gas, firewood, all the food we can’t grow (like flour, sugar, nuts chocolate, coffee etc), hair cuts, petrol, fencing wire. We buy pretty much all of it in the Huon Valley. We have chosen a bank that provides grants to local community projects and our website was designed in Hobart. We use Tasmanian printers where possible, all that kind of thing.

Although it may also be gratifying for readers to learn that our son would like more technology in his life than he currently gets

As federal politics continues to polarise and paralyse society, we’re starting to pay more attention at the local level. Getting involved in our local community. Getting to know our mayor and councillors.  Local councils are actually doing things to mitigate climate collapse, putting renewable targets in place and aiming to be carbon neutral. All while they maintain our roads and figure out what to do with our rubbish and recycling. All of us can affect and contribute to policies at this level.

So in answer to the question, living on the land has taught me to re-examine the old adage: think global, act local. Or to paraphrase a lovely friend: you can’t move mountains on your own but you can make life better for the people you rub shoulders with while you all get on with it.

 

Would you ever consider another move back to a metropolitan hub?

No

(There are a few people I miss)

 

Lastly, what’s on the horizons for Gourmet Farmer and Fat Pig Farm?

We’re very happy on the farm. Eating real food grown in healthy soil makes us happy. We’d like to continue to share that through the restaurant as we continue to evolve alongside the plants and animals that nourish us. We’d like to continue to encourage others to take back control of their food in whatever small ways they can. 

 

Catch the final two episodes of Gourmet Farmer 8pm Thursday September 26 and October 3 on SBS and later on SBS On Demand. Visit the Gourmet Farmer website for recipes, the episode guide and more.

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