HAILED the father of local garlic by some locals, biodynamic Barrington farmer Jan Goroncy is nothing if not passionate about the produce he grows.
“Dirt is so precious. Just smelling it and seeing the life in there, then knowing that that medium provides everything for us to survive... You have to look after it!” the former pianist said.
On his 250 acre property just outside Gloucester, what began as a farming experiment on unfarmed land now grows, amongst other things, 800 kgs of certified organic garlic every year.
“When we bought the property [in 1999] I knew we were going to farm the property organically,” he said.
Jan, also the owner of a natural products business with his wife Lesley, has a particular interest in reformist Rudolph Steiner’s principles surrounding bio-dynamic farming. He acquired his first 5kgs of Glen Large garlic off a “fellow trying to get a co-op happening with garlic” out of Gattan Agricultural College.
“We then had to beg for another 5kgs. We got them, planted them out, and the crop has grown every year since.”
The fortunate fluke of acquiring a garlic suited to warmer climates from the mid north coast up has not escaped Jan, who has tried several varieties of garlic with lesser success. He harvested his first crop in 2001 and over the years has tried out different techniques to find out what works, what doesn’t for the garlic in his region.
“I’m a foodie, I’m an experimenter, I don’t accept the standard, I’m always looking for a better way. I’m not governed by money or time and that’s because of passion – if you’re passionate you go out and do something with it,” he said.
Quoting the rule of thumb to ‘plant by Anzac Day, harvest by Armistice Day’, it took the first couple of harvests to learn about local timing - how long it should stay in the ground, when to pull it out, how to observe the end of the cycle.
“If you leave it too long after it’s matured, it starts to break open in the bulb and splits into pieces you can’t sell. It’s got to appeal to people and this was not appealing. We learnt about the cycles as to when it was going to rain and adjusted our planting and harvest to earlier than it was in the past.”
He plants by the moon’s phase and the root crop in question – in garlic’s case with the moon at the bottom of its cycle.
He uses a bio-dynamic Preparation 500, which consists of planting a cow horn stuffed with manure underground for six months. This is then diluted into water which is run through ‘flow forms’ for an hour in a figure 8 to give it, amongst other things, energy.
More visible realities such as Gloucester’s summer heat and humidity has also seen Jan mulch two feet deep with his paddock hay to combat the region’s weeds, which otherwise compete with the garlic.
“People are amazed at the depth of our mulch,” he said.
The beds themselves are prepared on biodynamic principles at certain times of the month and take about 48 to 60 hours of labour. They are sprayed with not only the bio-dynamic water solution but also a diluted fish brew made over months.
He burns wood for its ash, and for calcium and energy, he sources oyster shells donated from farmers in Karuah in a reciprocal arrangement of shells for produce. The shells are hammered into dust.
“It’s a labour intensive business, with everything planted by hand, harvested, and cleaned before getting it to the market.”
The organic garlic is sold to health food stores around Australia, an organic Sydney restaurant wholesaler, and to suppliers including nurseries for stock.
“Australian garlic is trusted, particularly organic. There’s a premium to pay in price but people will pay it. Most people will buy one at a time, so the cost is not out of the picture.”
Jan is also ‘playing around’ with developing a technique to make black garlic, which he currently imports from Switzerland.
“It’s fermented in heat and humidity in chambers for over a month. The garlic turns black from an enzyme process that fortifies the sugars and the enzymes and changes the flavour entirely.”
In the meantime, a local garlic movement in Gloucester has sprouted thanks to word of mouth and interest.
“In small communities there’s a pretty fierce network of gossip and talking working. People got to know about us in the early days,” he said.
“They’ve all tried to go their own way, they’re playing around with their own varieties which is great. It adds a bit of mystique to the arena.”
Although it was missed this year, the Bucketts of Garlic Festival incorporates about 10 growers from across the region. It presents garlic workshops and a dinner in which every course, including dessert, included garlic.
“From a culinary perspective it’s beautiful in sauces, on food, on bread. It’s also a fantastic therapeutic food and knocks out organisms in our systems, helps our immune systems. And a number of components are medicinal,” he enthused, fresh from winning gold in the Organic Hard Neck category at Royal Melbourne Fine food Awards.
“I love it because it’s such a bloody fantastic product. It is a wonder food.”