It all started with a post on Facebook. Jody Vassallo wanted to do something to help the tens of thousands of farmers affected by drought around Australia. With years of recipe writing and styling under her belt, a cookbook seemed like a natural fit so she asked a food industry group on Facebook if there were any stylists, photographers or food assistants who would like to help her with a new project. She went to sleep and woke up to 200 comments from people offering support. Now, Farmer is well into production, with the likes of Stephanie Alexander and Matt Moran contributing recipes. Teams of journalists, photographers and editors have fanned out around the country to interview farmers and capture their way of life.
"It's now got a life of its own," Vassallo says of the 256-page book, which is set for release in February 2019.
It's not just a collection of recipes; it also tells the stories of farmers and their families (with a few working dogs thrown in, too). One such farmer, Shane Hickey, made a name for himself in August by posting a video to Facebook that criticised supermarkets for the price they pay per litre of milk. It's been viewed more than 3.5 million times.
"The thing I really love is to see how engaged in technology people are," Vassallo says. "Most of the women who are farmers have great social media pages, [they're] really good photographers, great cooks, and you think 'is there anything you don't do?'"
Recipes from some of the country's best-known chefs range from baked treats, such as Belinda Jeffrey's rhubarb and raspberry crostata, to simple breakfast dishes and hearty meals including Maggie Beer's roast chicken and a beef and ale pie from Matt Moran.
Vassallo was prompted to do something about the current drought, which affects almost all of New South Wales and parts of Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, when she had to start feeding animals on her one-acre property in Tilba, on the New South Wales South Coast.
"That really brought it home," she says. "I couldn't imagine how much it would cost to do this with thousands and thousands of animals."
Every sale of the book contributes something to Rural Aid, with three levels of donation to choose from. Vassallo chose Rural Aid as the partner for Farmer due to the its reputation among farmers. The organisation offers counselling, repairs and other material support, such as animal feed and assistance with bills including heating and electricity.
With every contributor donating their time, the typical $100,000 price tag of a book of this size has been reduced to just a fraction of that, while featuring the work of some of the biggest names in the business, including stylist Lucy Tweed and photographers like Joe Filshie, Jeremy Simons and Kara Rosenlund.
Pre-order a copy of Farmer ($40) or make a donation at chuffed.org.