Farewell to Queen Street Growers

Some memories from Stuart Whitelaw

It was the surf that first attracted Tim Saffery to the far South Coast of NSW, but it was ‘the River’ restaurant that lured him to Moruya from Melbourne, where he had been ‘young chef of the year’ in 2003. I built and started the restaurant and was running the place at the time. When Tim first started working as head chef, he was very happy with the start that had been made on getting local produce into the kitchen.

Fraser and Kirsty from Old Mill Road were the main source of the local vegetables and remained so for quite a few years. Michael Hulse (now Deua Farm Produce) was at that stage running Southland Fruit and Vegetables and supplied the remainder of the fresh produce, as well as keeping us all in touch with the local food scene.

It was obvious to anyone that Tim had something special with the way he handled and cooked with fresh ingredients. Within one year of his arrival, the River had a chef’s hat and was the highest rated restaurant on the coast road between Sydney and Melbourne.

Tobie Patrick joined Tim at ‘the River’ and with their good friend and fellow chef Peter Compton ramped up the quality and searched even harder for more local produce.

It was still a surprise when Tim and Tobie decided to finally leave the interior world of commercial kitchens and embark on a farming career in the great outdoors. The decision was helped by seeing the success and dedication of Fraser and Kirsty and perhaps a little by what was happening at the SAGE Garden.

They had also had a transformative experience when they travelled to Italy after leaving the restaurant business and lived, worked and ate on a small mixed farm. Tim and Tobie still speak in awe of the simple ’peasant food’ that they ate at that farm.

Tim told me that his grandfather had been a farmer, and he reckoned that it required a lot of the same skill sets as being a chef, such as having to plan ahead and be organised. The other skill that they brought to market gardening was the love of really good produce, which they were determined to grow without artificial fertilisers or chemical sprays.

They were always going to be good at whatever they tried, and within about 4 months of buying the block on the eastern side of the SAGE Garden they had their first food to sell. By this stage there were interns being trained at the SAGE Gardens and it was assumed that when they became commercial growers they would sell their produce on Saturdays at Moruya Country Markets.

Everyone was surprised when they were knocked back for a stall at the Saturday markets because the market organisers said that there were too many vegetable stalls already. As it is a mixed market, that was a fair call.

That left SAGE with a problem, because small scale market gardening is only viable when the grower can sell direct to the customer and our only option had just effectively closed.

Selling produce through the Sydney wholesale markets usually nets the grower about 10% of retail prices. Effectively, you need to grow 10 times as much for the same return, which makes organically based market gardening that much harder.

SAGE was already pretty stretched and we knew that running a farmers market was a big job. However it was extremely important to us that we find an outlet for our interns to sell their produce and so it was on New Years Day 2013 that the SAGE Farmers Market came into being.

Queen Street Growers were there on that first day and have been a mainstay of the market ever since.

Pretty soon their Queen Street block was bursting with amazing produce, and when a bigger block just North of the bridge became available, they decided to expand. Again, with a lot of hard work this patch of pasture became a successful market garden and they achieved their intention of reliably and consistently providing their local community with chemical free fresh food.

Both Tim and Tobie have served a stint on the Farmers Market committee as stallholder representatives and have always been quietly supportive of the ideals of SAGE and the Farmers Market.

They have developed a loyal following in the past nine years. We wish them all the best in their future endeavours and we know that the SAGE stall will be busy for months answering the question ‘where are Tim and Tobie”?



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