Trail Blazers in Boots! Feijoas, food safaris and cultivating our future

WORDS BY Hollie Noonan

Sally Hookey dreams of a future where organic farmers are known as environmental custodians and as health care workers. A future where organic farming has become today’s equivalent of conventional. And where Noosa shire has led the way to become one of Australia’s first organic shires.… Perhaps the time is now to turn this dream – into a plan of action.

Thirteen years ago Sally Hookey and Peter Heineger began a journey to create a simple life, based upon upholding their values and raising their two children on the land of their Belli Park acreage. ‘Hinterland Feijoas’ was born of this journey and over the years has grown to see thousands of people travel far and wide each March to enjoy the sweet, fruity fun of the annual Feijoa harvest. 

It could be the rare, highly sought after crop of Feijoas, growing from some 800 trees that keep the farm gate bustling each year. Or it could be Sallys warm smile and infectious laugh combined with Peters calm, guardian-of-the-land, style presence. You can’t really experience one without the other and it’s all part of the magic that has intoxicated our shire and fuelled our love affair with Hinterland Feijoas.

Although setting out for a quiet farming life, Pete and Sal, as they are affectionately known, have become busy role models within our community. They have represented Australia in Italy, presented with TEDx and received multiple awards recognising their brilliance. Turns out, these two are trail blazers in boots!

Their exceptional farming operation has given them a platform to be heard. What we eat will cost the earth, was a key message in Sallys 2015 TEDxNoosa talk. Sally notes this talk as the biggest milestone in her personal development as she overcame a fear of public speaking and spotlighted the lack of sustainability around the pricing of good, clean food. 

In 2014 Sal and Pete, along with local Chef Matt Golinsky and cheese producer, Trevor Hart of Cedar Street Cheeserie, were selected to represent Australia at the Slow Food’s International Conference in Italy. As well as being an exceptional experience being among thousands of like minded chefs and farmers from around the globe, Sally soaked up inspiration during three weeks amongst the regional villages of Italy.

“Two things hit you. Locality is key and farmers are treated like Gods,” Sally reminisces. Italian villages don’t ship in food from other towns. They eat what they grow, right there in their own valley. No food miles, no excess or wastage. Each week, communities come together with a market where they buy and swap produce and bulk sauces for the next week. 

“Every square inch of every town is food, whatever is seasonal is growing and is consumed. And on the market days when everyone gets together and exchanges foods, that day – the smells in the village are incredible!”

These villages are built upon community resources and farmers are highly respected people within their village. That respect for farmers may be starting to be felt more widely in Australia, however it seems we still have a long way to go. 

With the recent bushfire crisis over Christmas and with climate change a topic infiltrating conversations that would have otherwise been avoided 6 months ago, now is the time that our farmers need to be heard. 

“This Christmas event pulled me out of retirement so I can say my piece!”

The culmination of age, the timing of the fires and the birth of a grandchild has reinvigorated Sally on a mission to speak her mind. “People are hungry for information. It can be a burden but if you have that voice, now is the time to use it”.

When asking Sally what we, as a nation of people need to do to make change, she brimmed with grounded knowledge and practical solutions. “We need to make legislation around a lot of things and we need to be a lot braver about it, not just about climate change, it needs to be about chemicals, farming, foods, where we grow and what we grow.” 

Taking the view that food is medicine, Sally suggests that “If we could take a little bit out of our health budget, which is at the other end of the scale, and put it at the start, imagine the difference!”

It all comes back to food. And it always will. Sally believes that as a country, we have not yet hit rock bottom and hopes that if individuals begin making changes, we can avoid that moment together. It’s all about food choices. Sally’s biggest message is that we can all farm and we all need to do it.

“Grow your own food! There is no way to do it, except to do it! Just start!”

Learning the seasons and getting to know local farmers are two other ways that people can empower themselves to source clean, healthy food. “If you chose your food from clean environments, you will make a difference”. Sustainable farming is one of the best ways to address climate change.

From TEDx to Italy, Sal and Pete have really been put on the stage for our benefit. The pursuit of a simple life on the land has certainly taken a turn into the spotlight that neither of them expected. It seems as a community we are looking to our farmers for leadership and guidance. Over the previous ten years we have seen the status of chefs skyrocket to that of rockstars and now it may be the moment for our farmers to be held as highly. 

So, Sal for PM?! She probably wouldn’t appreciate the spotlight.

Regardless, we can all enjoy the juicy madness of this Feijoa season. Delicious homemade cakes, jams, organic teas and coffee will be served up from our favourite retro food van “Myrtle”, over the weekends during March at Hinterland Feijoas. 

Throughout the year, if you are lucky enough to secure a date that isn’t already booked, Sally and Pete host the most delicious long lunches for groups of 15-30 people. You can keep up to date with the happenings at Hinterland Feijoas here and continue to support our local farmers!

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