Man of the Land
STORY & PICTURES BY RICHARD CORNISH
The birdlife on Florien Hofinger’s farm is quite remarkable. Especially when you consider that when the former chef turned vegetable farmer moved here 12 years ago there were just a handful of trees on the property. Now there are thousands. Sitting on saddle under the summit of the extinct volcano of Mount Franklin and looking down to the Loddon Valley across to Mount Alexander Mount Franklin Organics is brimming with life. A honeyeater darts about the garden while a small raptor drops out of the sky into the horse paddock. Next to this is a sloping 1.2 ha block planted out with tomatoes and other veg. Sixty different varieties of heritage tomatoes that bare names like Rouge de Marmande, Black Krim, Tigerella and Green Zebra. Tomatoes with such fine flesh and thin skins that they could never stand a trip in the back of a supermarket truck.
Tomatoes with such strong aroma that the air is filled with the smell of freshly cut tomato. He plucks a waxy dark green leaf – it’s basil but carries aromas of clove, marigold, and eucalyptus. It is so powerful.
“Even though I can almost touch Mount Franklin,” says Florien. “I don’t have that rich volcanic soil other farmers have. I have clay,” he says as he kicks the earth with his boot releasing a little puff of dust. The vibrant looking tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, chard and other veg and herbs he grows thrive because he has built the soil up. Over a decade the clay has been composted and carefully nurtured so it is now so laden with humus it has acts like a sponge. It is also very fertile producing food with intense flavour.
“It is hard work but I was very lucky,” says Florien. “I was already a chef in Hepburn when I made the change. I knew the chefs of the region,” he says. “About the same time I started Mount Franklin Organics there was a shift in the thinking of chefs and they all wanted locally grown and seasonal produce. I was here.” He lists off some of the businesses he has worked with for that time. Spade to Blade, Lake House, Mercato, Peppers, Cliffy’s and Tonna’s. It is a who’s who of Daylesford. “The only Melbourne chef I deal with is Andrew McConnell and he has been buying my tomatoes for years,” he says with a laugh.
While Florien does a lot of business direct with restaurants and retail he has a regular number of locals who come by for their weekly produce boxes and has room for a few more. Florien, however, is not a man for all seasons. “I go hell for leather getting ready for the summer growing season, over summer and then into the autumn harvest,” he says. “Then in winter I sit back and put on 10kg. Then I do it all over again.”
“I am also very excited about the new Daylesford Sunday Farmers Market,” he says. It is to be held every Sunday (starting March 18) at Spade to Blade, 21a Raglan St. There Florien will be selling his produce along with seeds and seedlings. “I have so many old varieties of tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin and melons that they call Mount Franklin Organics ‘The Ark of Vegetables’,” he says eyes gleaming. “And I am Noah!”