From paddock to plate: Australia's produce on Instagram

Illustration by Adriana Picker

Illustration by Adriana Picker

With meetings of like minds and fellow farmers at her fingertips, Paulette Whitney finds insta gratification.

It's cold at the bus stop. Other parents seeing their kids off are dressed in freshly pressed shirts and shiny shoes. I'm encased in woollen jumpers, gumboots and yesterday's muddy track pants, because what's the point of clean clothes when I'll be filthy again in 10 minutes?

It's not that I'm ashamed of my work; I love it so much that I find it hard to think about much else. It's more that I'm afraid of boring people, waxing lyrical about the best varieties of collard greens or how to cook chicken feet. If there's a choice between washing and ironing, or getting a row of collards seeded, it's a no-brainer.

So, at the end of the day, when I curl up on the couch with my iPhone, I'm not posting pictures of my manicure, or looking for cat videos. I'm cyberstalking. Mostly it's other farmers, who make me feel less alone, and chefs who use exciting produce. They stalk me, too, and I love it.

What I'm looking for is camaraderie, techniques and new plant varieties. What they want from me I can only guess at. If I measured it by the number of likes I'd say it's pictures of carrots at sunset. If I judge by the comments, I'd say they were seeking debate about pesticides or rooster-culling ethics.

I follow chefs like Ben Shewry, Peter Gilmore, René Redzepi and Rodolfo Guzmán who source amazing plants and show us how they're used. Farmers such as Epicurean Harvest at Blackheath and Old Mill Road at Moruya are skilled at their craft, and talk about farming in ways that allow us to learn from one another. My ultimate farm crushes, plant breeders like the Experimental Farm Network, share new and old vegetable strains they're endeavouring to make even more delicious. I love that social media shrinks physical distances between like minds, allowing new kinds of conversations.

I get an immeasurable rush of joy when I pull a perfect turnip from the ground. Months before, I'll have found a new strain of seed, and sown and tended it. Now I'm harvesting it to send to the restaurants of Hobart. My co-farmer, Matt, will whisk them all away for delivery, leaving me with empty harvest carts like empty nests. Our productivity feels ephemeral - you work like crazy to make something that gets eaten, and you start again. Every day.

Enter the internet. I'll share a picture of those turnips and when someone likes them I feel happy. A farmer might ask about the variety or give advice about tending them. If I'm lucky a chef will share a picture of where that turnip has ended up - roasted, fermented or charred.

I often wonder what drives those who aren't like me, who aren't farmers or chefs seeking knowledge, to follow us, to click "like" when there isn't a cat or an activewear-clad, smoothie-toting person in sight. Is it the physical beauty of vegetables that lures them? (Lord knows our market stall has been the subject of more pictures than purchases.) Maybe it's a longing for connection to the source of food when the lifestyles of many impose distance between eaters and growers. Perhaps our romanticised images offer dreams of escape from office cube-farms.

It can be a beautiful thing, connecting with strangers over a mutual love of food. I hope some are interested in the politics we tuck into our Instagram feeds: we Instafarmers might share a pretty sunrise while mentioning coal seam gas development in our region; another will heft a bunch of radishes skyward, begging in her caption for more people to come to the farmers' market and bring their own bags; or another will share the challenges of getting her salumi past regulators. Pretty, edible Trojan horses bearing loads of small-farm propaganda.

So, while my nails and wardrobe go untended, and my farmer's budget doesn't allow me to fly to Noma for dinner, I can enjoy it vicariously, be inspired, and learn from folks all over the world. And I like it. So, please, come stalk with me.

Follow Paulette Whitney on Instagram:  @provenancegrowers


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