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Weekend with Rohan

We join local food champion Rohan Anderson for a weekend-long workshop of growing, gathering, hunting and cooking.

An edited version of this article appeared in Green #33

Five years ago, Rohan Anderson was feeling guilty. Guilty about the impact his lifestyle was having on the earth, about his silent acquiescence to the state of the modern food industry, and about feeding his daughters crap food.

“I used to feed my kids chicken nuggets. And I knew they were full of crap. If you knew what was in those things, you wouldn’t eat them! “

So he made some changes. Big ones. He stopped shopping at the supermarket. He quit his job. He moved out of the city. He planted a garden, and started growing, gathering, hunting and cooking seasonally, out the back of Ballarat in north-western Victoria. And he began charting it all in a blog,

Somehow this bearded, bespectacled, lumberjack-lookalike of a man has become a bit of a thing. Today, he has more than 21,000 followers on Instagram, and a book– also titled Whole Larder Love – was published in September 2012. It’s packed full of practical tips, rustic images and his own simple home-style recipes.

But the renown his change in lifestyle has brought his way hasn’t gone to his head – quite the opposite. Anderson is keener than ever to connect with people and put his growing reputation to good use, so he’s started ‘skill-sharing’ with a range of weekend-long seasonal workshops.

We’re along for an autumnal ‘Wild mushroom, rabbit, trout and fly fishing’ session, but every workshop is dictated by and differs according to the season.

“I’m not doing anything special here. I’m just teaching people about what I’m growing and foraging for and hunting and eating at the moment,” he says.

“I’m no expert, so I’m keen to learn too. If you know a different or a better way to pluck a chicken, let’s see it!”

Saturday morning dawns still and quiet; a ribbon of fog encircles the farm. Everyone is up early after a night of glamping (that’s glam camping) in the horse stables Anderson has converted into sleeping quarters, and is milling about the Mess Hall in search of breakfast.

Another conversion, the Mess Hall is an old corrugated iron barn and the centre of our twelve-strong community for the weekend. A makeshift kitchen runs the length of one wall. There’s a wood stove in one corner, a gas range in another, and fairy lights are threaded through the ceiling beams. It’s where we meet to cook, drink, share stories – and eat.

This morning the long communal table is laid with tea and coffee, toast, daffodil-yellow scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, sausages, and a huge pot of spiced beans. We tuck in, and Anderson shows us the orange-tinged mushrooms we’re to spend the morning foraging for in a nearby pine forest: saffron milk caps.

We eat them for lunch with mushrooms and butter, sage, thyme, chili, Salamanca sausage, cheese and chorizo on hot, buttery bread. They’re nutty and robust, and only available for six precious weeks of the year.

The rest of the day is spent learning to butcher rabbits and fillet trout – both tasks I’ve been dreading. But Anderson’s no-nonsense, humorous and down to earth approach soon has us gutting like pros.

We eat the trout for dinner that night, cooked two ways: in a rich pasta sauce with a sprinkling of parmigiano; and from the smoker – another of Anderson’s creations – woody and faintly sweet. There’s a generous serve of grits on the side, which we eat with his homemade salsa picante (hot sauce) before heading outside to warm ourselves around the bonfire.

“I don’t eat much meat,” Anderson confides. “If I wanted to eat it every day, I’d have to invest hours in catching or shooting my dinner. But the garden, it’s right there. Sure, it takes work, but essentially it looks after itself. I just go out and pick or dig up what I want.”

Anderson has fortnightly spring workshops planned, with something for everyone: dispatching, butchering and cooking chickens; vegetable gardening; curing meats; making sour dough starters. The gardening component will focus on setting up the spring vegetable garden – what to plant in season, and tips and tricks for ensuring a bountiful harvest. 

“When you source your food yourself, whether it’s by foraging or hunting or growing, you get to understand its lifecycle and develop a relationship with it. Having to source my own food has made me value it a hell of a lot more. I reckon it tastes better too,” grins Anderson, who is a big supporter of the urban farmer movement.

If it was up to him, crown land wouldn’t be used for recreation, but food production, and we'd see commercial urban farming take off. With that sort of vision in mind, we wish it was up to Anderson. Like charity, change starts at home – time to get the gardening gloves out.