Narelle – Wild Earth Mother
All farmers and makers on the Collective are entrepreneurs; but I reckon none so natural in this skillset as Narelle from Wild Earth Mother. She’s a fabulous force.
Fermenting for many, feels like magic. But Narelle coaxes and harnesses this skill into bottles of colourful and bubbling brilliance. A natural teacher, she also brings the customer along for the journey, selling her ginger bugs and holding fermenting and cheese-making classes. And that’s a sign of someone who really knows their stuff.
Narelle reads the “play” well too, which is something I love about being in an entrepreneurial community such as the Collective. She saw a want of freshly-made quiches in our store, so using her garden ingredients, whips them up each week. Her krauts and kombuchas change according to what’s in season; she’s the real deal. We are very, very lucky to have her energy on the Collective.
Tell me about how you got into producing food. How long have you been doing that?
I opened the first organic restaurant in Victoria, at Sassafras in the year 2000. Organics were in their infancy at the time and hard to come by. Customers flocked from the city and the business boomed. This was a really fun time in my life where I found confidence in my palate and my skills. It really set me up for the future.
Some years later, after working as a head chef at Thredbo Alpine Resort for several seasons, I relocated to Queensland for 15 years and became the head chef for the famous Upfront Club in Maleny on the Sunshine Coast. After many years working for this iconic, community owned, organic restaurant and supermarket my boss kicked me out the door and insisted I get out on my own again. That led to me running my own gluten free, organic pie business for several years until I came back home to Victoria.
I found myself selling jams and pastries at farmers markets and doing a bit of catering until falling ill after returning from overseas. Extremely sick for two months, I discovered the immense health benefits of fermented foods. Realising I already had a lot of knowledge in this field, I began experimenting and selling ferments at the markets. They became so successful; Wild Earth Mother was born and I opened my farmgate in 2016.
I have now been cooking professionally for 28 years and I find myself in such an amazing space. I am so lucky part of the Prom coast Food Collective community and the future is bright with opportunities that I would never dared to have imagined all those years ago when I was known as the weird chef who was concerned about chemicals in our foods!
What did you do before you were a producer of food?
I was a Mum at a very young age and was pretty wild back then… I worked in clubs and pubs around Melbourne. Nothing special.
My daughter and I travelled every chance we got and we are both still addicted to getting away any chance we get. These adventures, and those with my father as a child, always immersed me in nature and I believe this is probably where my love of organics and keeping everything as natural as possible has stemmed from.
When was you’re a-ha moment, for wanting to cook?
My mother worked in home economics so I grew up cooking with her. As a child, I was an extremely fussy eater. I definitely didn’t eat anything coloured and practically lived on meat, eggs and potatoes. Leaving home at the age of 17 with my baby daughter I wanted to make sure she wasn’t afraid of healthy foods as I had been. Armed with my Mum’s, ‘Woman’s Day’ and CWA recipe books, I taught myself to cook anything that looked good in a picture. I soon discovered how good everything smelled and tasted. I fell in love with the flavours of all foods, the tart, the sweet and the rawness. Myself and my children now pretty much eat anything. This seeded a love of growing food, making up new recipes of my own creation and being able to nourish those around me. It’s the driven entrepreneur that compelled me to take my love to the masses.
What makes your product different, from say, a supermarket product?
The executive chef I worked with many years ago at Thredbo was very French, he told me once that I have an ‘educated palate’ and that is why I simply make things by taste and never use a recipe.
Every vegetable has different qualities depending on the environment it has grown in. It may be juicier this week than last or it may be older, younger, had less water. The variants are huge. You can’t follow a recipe and make every batch exactly the same. It’s just not the natural way. If you want to eat real food, free from artificial ingredients and preservatives, you must accept the seasonal diversity Mother Nature brilliantly provides.
Cooking influences? Who’s your cooking hero?
In the early days when I was teaching myself to cook, I watched a lot of Huey’s TV shows. I always loved how he never stuck to the exact measurements. He’d just slap it in! Thirty years on I still do the same thing and always cook by taste. Thanks Huey!
My cooking heroes are all of my fellow Collective producers that I buy my favourite delights from. It’s always tastes better when someone else cooks it…
What’s a standard day on the farm for you?
As the sun rises, I make my morning brew and wander around the garden. It’s so peaceful at this time of the day. Pull a weed here, pick a vegie there and let the chooks out. Depending on the season you will find me between the garden and the kitchen for the rest of the day. Fermenting, baking and packing orders. Summer is the busiest time of course when everything is growing madly and needs to be preserved. Most of the products I make are in their fermenting crocks within half an hour of being picked. Mother Nature cleverly adds the bacteria and makes the magic! She does all the hard work. Days end sees us heading down the river for a walk just enjoying the amazing place we are so lucky to call home.
For people wanting to get into producing food, what’s your key advice?
Don’t be scared. Trust your palate. Keep it natural. Think outside the square and stop watching those ridiculous cooking shows! You don’t need all the extravagance to make an amazing product.
How did you hear about the Prom Coast Food Collective? Has it helped?
I was lucky to meet Amelia from Amber Creek Farm at the Prom Coast Farmers Market early on in my fermenting career. There was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to join a cooperative of local producers. Being able to be part of such a dynamic initiative has solidified my passion for local, organic produce. The Collective has allowed me to expand my business far beyond my farmgate and gain further knowledge from my fellow producers. It’s an elite club I’m proud to be part of.
If you could impart one piece of knowledge to your customer base, about cooking or eating your product, what would it be?
You don’t need to eat the entire jar to get the health benefits for your wellbeing!
There are millions of beneficial bacteria in each teaspoon of fermented foods. The trick is to eat as many varied ferments as you can because each one will have different strains of microbes. You only need one teaspoon a day but hey, that not to say you can’t have more. I’m often found with my fork in a jar of kraut, only to see half the jar disappear!
What’s one thing that we might not know about you, outside of being a producer?
I am a writer.
I write articles for a few different magazines several times a year and have always wanted to write novels. I’m sure I will do that once my son has grown up and I have more time but for now I am busy writing my first cookbook!
Savour by Ilona Oppenheim. She is a Swedish chef. I just love the naturalness and the pictures…
Favourite non-cooking book?
I love Australiana novels. I read about two every week.
My all-time favourite is Mallawindy by Joy Dettman. An intriguing and brutally honest story of hardships faced by many families in times past. She makes you feel and see what she is describing. An incredible author.