This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Paul West On Why It’s More Important Than Ever To Grow Your Own Food

Sustainability

Ahead of our TDF Talks @Mercedes me with Paul West next week, we had the chance to join him out in the sun and get our hands into some dirt.

A chef and much-loved host of River Cottage Australia, now sustainable living and urban farming advocate, Paul shared his story, inspirational philosophies, and some simple tips on livin’ the good life!

28th March, 2019

Chef-turned-sustainable-farmer Paul West. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Honey Lane Market Garden at CERES, an award-winning not-for-profit sustainability centre in East Brunswick. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Paul has been working on his forthcoming book about how simple it can be growing, preparing and enjoying your own food. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Ahead of the book release and a move to NSW, Paul will be sharing his learnings and ideas at TDF Talks @Mercedes me, next Wednesday. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Elle Murrell
Thursday 28th March 2019

‘I like to think that I’m an advocate for “the good life” – one that’s lived with a close connection to place, food, and community.’ – Paul West.

Paul West is back at CERES, an award-winning not-for-profit sustainability centre in East Brunswick, for the second time today. It’s just past two-thirty.

Not only is Paul completely in his element here, but it’s a short bike ride along the tranquil Merri Creek trail from his home. First thing in the morning, he came down with his wife Alicia, their two young boys on the back of the bike, for a coffee at The Merri Table, while the kids ran around following the chickens!

The host of River Cottage Australia for four seasons, Paul and his family have been based in Melbourne for the past year-and-a-half. He’s been working on his forthcoming book about how simple it can be growing, preparing and enjoying your own food.

Prior to that, this boy from the tiny Hunter Valley town of Murrurundi trained as a chef and studied Permaculture Design. He has worked in all areas of food production, from growing fruit and veg to WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in orchards, at wholesale markets, retail grocers and top restaurants, including Vue De Monde.

Paul, Alicia and the boys will soon head off on their next adventure. The family is set to return to Tasmania, and a farm where Paul once worked, before WOOFing their way up the Mainland’s East Coast and setting down in Bermagui. The plan is to return to a life of living off the land, with a real sense of community, and to instill these values and benefits in the boys (aged two and four) as they grow up.

Just before they embark, we’ve locked Paul down for our next TDF Talks @Mercedes me in-conversation event, this coming Wednesday – there are still a few tickets available here.

For those who can’t make it, we also had the chance to rack his brain on the urban farming phenomenon and why it’s one we should all be getting on board with!

When you’re not at CERES, how do you spend your days?

I like to think that I’m an advocate for ‘the good life’ – one that’s lived with a close connection to place, food, and community. I try to share my journey and enthusiasm with as many people as possible because, in my own experience, a life lived like that supplies everything a person needs for a happy, abundant life.

I grew up in a town with less than 1,000 people, and it deeply impressed on me the joys and importance of community life. Traveling around Australia in my early twenties, hitchhiking and working as a WWOOFer opened my eyes to how growing and sharing food deepens those community bonds even further.

I’ve been living in Melbourne for the past 18 months, growing vegetables in a backyard in Thornbury and writing a book about it to share with people how easy it can be to start growing and cooking your own food.

Why do you think it’s more important than ever to be growing your own food locally?

Being directly involved with the food that you eat has been a fundamental part of human existence up until the explosion of industrial agriculture. Because of that timeless and essential relationship, so much of what makes us happy and healthy both physically and mentally is directly derived from having a close relationship with what we eat.

Local food allows us to foster that relationship in the modern world, while directly increasing the food security of our own communities.

What are some examples you have come across in ‘the field’ that reinforce these ideas?

The work CERES does here, in terms of education – more than 50,000 school kids come through the farm on excursions each year! – and as a facility in the inner-city is fantastic. The spaces, farms and all the courses give people a way to not only connect to our food sources and learn new skills, but also build community.

Internationally, you can look at what has happened in Detroit in the US. In the 1950’s it was an industrial powerhouse, then through increased suburbanisation and a collapse of the auto manufacturing industry, half the population left and those that remained lived in a city with shrinking government support and a dire lack of access to fresh food.

Residents took food sovereignty matters into their own hands and now there is over 1,400 farms and food gardens that grow thousands of tonnes of fresh produce within the confines of the city. This movement has seen Detroit go from being the poster child of urban decay to a beacon demonstrating the power and benefit of a local food system.

Stop by CERES when you can, or watch the TED talk from Devita Davison from Detroit Food Lab to hear stirring first-hand reports of the impact that urban food growing is having.

Why would you encourage our readers to give growing their own food a go?

We’re surrounded by bad news for the future.

Growing a bit of your own food, cooking it up and sharing a table with loved ones is something that any of us can do. It’s personal, local action that empowers us when global problems can leave you feeling powerless.

And what’s to be afraid of? There’s no competition, no rules, no expectation. You might accidentally kill a pot of herbs or add too much salt to a dish, who cares? You won’t be voted off the island!

The main thing is that you’re trying, in whatever capacity you can.

This Week

Architecture

A Home That Completely Transforms With A Few Quick Switches

Designed as an artist's retreat using mostly recycled materials, The Sawmill House by Archier is a home for all seasons!

Gardens

A Layered Garden, Designed Around A Liquidambar Tree

Ben Scott Garden Design have created richly layered garden in Camberwell, tailored to a Victorian home with a contemporary extension.

Studio Visit

The Miniature Boat Maker Working Out Of An Off-Grid Shipping Container

Meet Captain Elise Cameron Smith – ‘miniature boat maker and builder of dreams’!
Sally Tabart
  24 hours ago

Stays

A Delightfully Rustic, Country Style Getaway

Book your stay at the beautifully restored Airbnb, Marge's Cottage, in South Gippsland.
Amelia Barnes

Creative People

Treasure Hunting With Wild To Ware

Erin Malloy and Michael Tink fossick for gemstones in riverbeds around Australia, to create their ethical bespoke jewellery.

Architecture

A Contemporary Home Inspired By Heritage Architecture

Wolveridge Architecture balance contemporary design and art deco references, in Melbourne's Ascot Vale.
Amelia Barnes
  16 hours ago

Architecture

An Inviting Home Atop A Violin Shop!

Tsai Design and Sustainable Homes Melbourne turn a dark space above a violin store into a light-filled home.
Amelia Barnes

Homes

A Personality-Filled Off-The-Plan Apartment

Imogen Milford's Fitzroy apartment brimming with local Australian art and design is proof that big design can happen in small spaces!

Sustainable Homes

A Heritage Home, Retrofitted To The Highest Sustainability Standards

The ‘Passive Butterfly’ house - a renovated weatherboard home, with 90 per cent reduced heating and cooling costs.

Homes

A Beloved Family Home, Re-Built From The Ground Up

After a freak accident destroyed most of their Narre Warren North home, Sarah Woodhouse and Brad Nicholls designed a new and improved versio...

Interiors

A Nearly Demolished Home Turned Interior Masterpiece!

Junctions90 have redesigned this 1850s Melbourne house so it will never be demolished.

Dream Job

The Perks Of Being a Food Writer, According To One Of Australia’s Top Restaurant Critics!

Senior restaurant critic at The Age, Gemima Cody, shares what it's really like to be a food writer.

The Good Room

Rose Chong's Fabulous Rooftop (With Pool!) In Fitzroy!

Fitzroy's costume queen shares her unexpected rooftop haven, above her Fitzroy shop.
Lisa Marie Corso

Family

Weaver Maryanne Moodie Reflects On Birth, ADHD + Her Coven Of Mothers

The mother of two reflects on parenting the most challenging version of yourself, and the 'birth' that lasts years and years – becoming a
Ashe Davenport

For Paul, nothing trumps a deeply nourishing meal and made with ingredients you have grown yourself. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

He advises that you shouldn’t expect to be a pro straight away, and that rather the reward is in the process of growing (you and the plants!). Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Start simple, perhaps with one pot of parsley? Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

3 Things to try

1. Grow food

One pot of parsley or a thousand-metre-square market garden, doesn’t matter, just grow something.

Don’t expect to be a pro straight away, treat food growing as a skill that you can develop and hone gently over the course of your entire life.

Things like rainbow chard and other leafy greens like loose leaf lettuces are great because you cut these rather than harvest the whole plant. I also recommend herbs as they have a lower nutrient demand, so they’re easy…and tasty!

If you’re not sure where or how to start, CERES offers heaps of great courses to build your confidence.

Space is rarely an issue – you can grow many herbs in just a bucket! – but if it is, find some near you via Australian Community Farms & Community Gardens Network.

2. Cook food

…from scratch, with love.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, or Insta-worthy, but it should be deeply nourishing and made with the best ingredients you can get your hands on, ideally by having grown them yourself!

3. Grow community

Human beings are social creatures and being an active part of a community has long been linked with health and longevity. It can be as simple as having a homecooked meal with your family, friends neighbours or a club you are involved with.

Sharing a meal is a powerful way of strengthening the bonds between you and the people you care about.

Hear more from Paul West at TDF Talks @ Mercedes me, next Wednesday, April 3rd, 6.45pm-8.00pm – book here.

For more information on CERES, including courses, volunteering opportunities in farming and propagation, and Fair Food Delivery of fresh produce, visit Ceres.org.au

View Comments

Similar Stories

Sustainability

Trade Your Disposables For These Use-At-Work Designs

Our edit of thoughtful designs to help you replace disposable with reusable today, for a better tomorrow!
Elle Murrell

Events

TDF Talks @Mercedes me, Round Two!

David Bromley, Peter Maddison, Paul West, and Justine Cullen in-conversation at Mercedes me – book now!

Roundup

8 Of The Best Productive Gardens

Brimming with fruits, vegetables, and rare plants, these gardens put substance (and sustenance!) over style!

This Week

Studio Visit

The Miniature Boat Maker Working Out Of An Off-Grid Shipping Container

Meet Captain Elise Cameron Smith – ‘miniature boat maker and builder of dreams’!
Sally Tabart
  24 hours ago

Homes

A Beloved Family Home, Re-Built From The Ground Up

After a freak accident destroyed most of their Narre Warren North home, Sarah Woodhouse and Brad Nicholls designed a new and improved versio...

Interiors

A Nearly Demolished Home Turned Interior Masterpiece!

Junctions90 have redesigned this 1850s Melbourne house so it will never be demolished.

Gardens

A Layered Garden, Designed Around A Liquidambar Tree

Ben Scott Garden Design have created richly layered garden in Camberwell, tailored to a Victorian home with a contemporary extension.

Sustainable Homes

A Heritage Home, Retrofitted To The Highest Sustainability Standards

The ‘Passive Butterfly’ house - a renovated weatherboard home, with 90 per cent reduced heating and cooling costs.

Architecture

An Inviting Home Atop A Violin Shop!

Tsai Design and Sustainable Homes Melbourne turn a dark space above a violin store into a light-filled home.
Amelia Barnes

The Good Room

Rose Chong's Fabulous Rooftop (With Pool!) In Fitzroy!

Fitzroy's costume queen shares her unexpected rooftop haven, above her Fitzroy shop.
Lisa Marie Corso

Family

Weaver Maryanne Moodie Reflects On Birth, ADHD + Her Coven Of Mothers

The mother of two reflects on parenting the most challenging version of yourself, and the 'birth' that lasts years and years – becoming a
Ashe Davenport

Architecture

A Home That Completely Transforms With A Few Quick Switches

Designed as an artist's retreat using mostly recycled materials, The Sawmill House by Archier is a home for all seasons!

Creative People

Treasure Hunting With Wild To Ware

Erin Malloy and Michael Tink fossick for gemstones in riverbeds around Australia, to create their ethical bespoke jewellery.

Homes

A Personality-Filled Off-The-Plan Apartment

Imogen Milford's Fitzroy apartment brimming with local Australian art and design is proof that big design can happen in small spaces!

Dream Job

The Perks Of Being a Food Writer, According To One Of Australia’s Top Restaurant Critics!

Senior restaurant critic at The Age, Gemima Cody, shares what it's really like to be a food writer.

Stays

A Delightfully Rustic, Country Style Getaway

Book your stay at the beautifully restored Airbnb, Marge's Cottage, in South Gippsland.
Amelia Barnes

Architecture

A Contemporary Home Inspired By Heritage Architecture

Wolveridge Architecture balance contemporary design and art deco references, in Melbourne's Ascot Vale.
Amelia Barnes
  16 hours ago

Similar Stories

Sustainability

Trade Your Disposables For These Use-At-Work Designs

Replace disposable with reusable today, for a better tomorrow!
Elle Murrell

Events

TDF Talks @Mercedes me, Round Two!

David Bromley, Peter Maddison, Paul West, and Justine Cullen in-conversation at Mercedes me.

Roundup

8 Of The Best Productive Gardens

Brimming with fruits, vegetables, and rare plants, these gardens put substance (and sustenance!) over style!