A NEW guide aims to promote regional produce, writes SARAH HUDSON
Ewan McEoin is an unlikely hero for the farming community.
You won't find him on a tractor, talking water rights or wearing dungarees.
While he may appear more at home sipping a latte in inner-city Melbourne, he is nonetheless a huge believer in the importance of agriculture and the need for farmers to get their message out there.
What's more he's put his money where his mouth is.
The Field Guide to Victorian Produce is Ewan's brainchild - a book (and associated website) that he funded with his own money. Created with the help of volunteers, it details more than 300 of the state's growers, producers and providers.
It is, he says, the first guide to Victoria's regional produce and the people who create and sell it.
"The idea for the book came to me when I was running a design festival and the issue of food kept coming up," Ewan says.
"I realised there's lots of small, independent businesses across the state who are doing a fantastic job, but are busy and not marketing themselves well."
For six months, Ewan and his band of volunteers attended farmers' markets and talked to people in the know to come up with the free list, which covers all major regions - from the high country to the Grampians - and is divided into chapters from artisan bread to chocolate, dairy and olive oil.
"The guide makes it easy for anyone to be a locavore (someone who eats locally)," Ewan says.
"It connects growers to new markets and it encourages chefs and foodies to go to the source and to share their knowledge."
A 40-year-old father of three, who divides his time between Hepburn Springs and Melbourne, Ewan says he was able to finance the project because he runs a publishing company, Studio Propeller, and a consulting business.
And, more importantly, Ewan was willing to finance the project because of his lifelong philosophy.
Born in Ireland, he moved to Australia aged 15, where his architect father and industrial designer mother built an award-winning sustainable house in the Hunter Valley, featuring solar power and permaculture garden.
Ewan studied environmental science, but, like his parents, ended up in design running Inside: Australian Design Review for seven years, before working with the Victorian Government as creative director of the State of Design Festival, and then the Festival of Ideas in Queensland. It was at the last festival he struck upon the guide idea.
"Food was a major issue of the festival - how to make society more resilient for the future - but one thing that kept hitting me was I couldn't access simple information about who was producing food," he says.
With his volunteers, he scoured Victoria for producers, culling based on whether products were actually local.
Ewan says the message for farmers in the book is to collaborate and tell stories.
"Farmers have more chance of survival if they work together rather than being competitors.
"And they've got to tell their stories more effectively.
"That is their point of difference - a window into the farm.
"Consumers now want to understand the story behind the product."
- The Field Guide to Victorian Produce, details: locavored.com