Daily Life


Living off the land

Martin Boetz has Canberra help in his new venture, Kirsten Lawson writes.

Having made his name in Sydney restaurants, Longrain chef Martin Boetz is turning to the land, with a grand project for a market garden and a farm where he and other chefs can grow and raise food for their restaurants and learn lost arts such as preserving.

Boetz is starting his farm with the help of Joyce Wilkie and Michael Plane at the Allsun organic farm near Gundaroo, and he will be at Allsun on Sunday to do cooking demonstrations with Ginger Catering chef Janet Jeffs.

On Saturday, the pair will cook paella using produce from the Allsun garden and on Sunday, they will spit-roast a pig. Boetz will serve pork meat, Thai style, in a salad using herbs from the garden, including mustard cress, and with a Thai nam jim.

Boetz, 42, has had Longrain for 13 years and has also opened a Longrain in Melbourne. Before that, he was at Darley St Thai with David Thompson, then Sailors Thai. But he says he always knew he would own a farm. While he was brought up in Sydney, his father a computer programmer and his mother working in hotels, farming is in his blood. His German and Lithuanian grandparents were farmers and greengrocers (Boetz was born in Germany).

But having bought his 11-hectare farm near Windsor on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, including three hectares of arable land, he faced the problem of how to turn it into a market garden. Where do you start? The good land was previously a market garden, but had been converted to a turf farm.

''I've had a few dark moments doing this farm thing and I rang Joyce [Wilkie, who he had met at a course at the Milkwood Permaculture Farm near Mudgee], and she said the best thing you can do is come and work with us for a week,'' Boetz says. Which he did, and he has since returned, learning crucial techniques such as crop rotation, and also how to slaughter a pig. The experience with the pig was the first time he had seen an animal killed. They used it in its entirety: the blood collected for blood sausage, the intestines washed for making sausages.


Boetz, quietly reserved in conversation, goes no further than to describe the event as ''interesting'', but he believes it is important.

''It was a very good learning experience and I think everyone should do it,'' he says. ''That's where our food comes from. It doesn't grow as a steak.''

He plans to have animals on his own farm, but that's down the track. Right now, he's planting his first crop - tomatoes, snake beans, chillies, watermelon, pumpkin and two types of potatoes.

Boetz is calling his project the Cooks' Co-operative, and he wants like-minded chefs to go there, work, and access produce for their restaurants. He plans to convert an old barn to a kitchen and dining hall and run workshops.

He credits Wilkie and Plane with ''encouraging me and believing in me that I can actually pull this off - and there needs to be more people like this in Australia''.

The pair run a ''growing the growers'' project, where they welcome people at Allsun to work and learn about growing and organics and, this weekend, they will be raising money for that project through a sausage sizzle.

Stalls will sell food, seedlings, including heirloom tomatoes, and garden tools. At 11am each day, Plane and Wilkie will lead tours of the farm, and at 2.30pm there will be talks about sharpening your tools and using a scythe.

>>The Allsun farm is open this weekend for Open Gardens Australia, 1318 Dicks Creek Road, Gundaroo, $10 (under-18s free).