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Seymour Alternative Farming Expo turns city folk into backyard farmers

As the suburbs creep into the countryside, the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo wants to bring a little bit of the countryside to the suburbs. 

Farming doesn’t mean trading in your Toyota for a tractor, says Susie Filleti, events manager for the expo – it may be as simple as setting up a beehive in your backyard.
 
“We cater to backyard farmers – someone who’s interested in doing small-scale things,” Filleti says. “This is something that can apply in an urban setting. Maybe you want to have a small chook coop or a beehive in your backyard.”
 
The expo will be held in the town of Seymour, 80 minutes north of Melbourne. Last year, over 22,000 people bought tickets to the expo, says Filleti. The expo offers workshops as well as an opportunity to try local delicacies like emu sausages or bittersweet gin infused with wild Tasmanian sloe.
 
Gary Beavis, owner of Beavo’s Honey, runs a perennially popular workshop that gives a basic introduction to beekeeping. A small and reasonably priced hive can keep a household flowing with honey as long as the owner knows how to maintain the hive properly, says Beavis.
 
“The suburban bee actually finds life a bit easier than the country bee, because the country bee might go out and find nothing flowering in his area,” he says. “Suburban bees will gather a little bit of this, a little bit of that, out of people’s gardens.”
 
Beavis’s workshop also aims to discourage prospective apiarists from adopting the ‘set and forget’ method of beekeeping, which can cause hives to die out or relocate. A beehive should be thought of as an organism, not an appliance, says Beavis.
 
For the impatient, there’s a more direct way to get food out of insects – by eating them. Bugs like crickets and mealworms will become increasingly popular as food items as Earth’s population grows, says Paula Pownall, founder of insect-farming company Grubs Up. Crickets use less water, less land and less food to produce more protein than livestock like cattle. Besides, you can eat 100 percent of a cricket, Pownall points out.
 
“Common feedback we get is that crickets taste like peanut butter, nutty,” says Pownall. “Some people do say they’re hazelnuttish, but I’m not so sure about that. They’re very earthy-flavoured, very textured.”
 
Visitors to Grubs Up’s educational workshop will be able to have a nibble and decide for themselves.
 
“Come and try,” says Pownall. “We’ve got heaps of free samples. You can try a whole insect, or we’ve got powdered insects you can mix into a smoothie, or there’s cricket dukkah, nice and spicy.”
 
For the first time, the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo will host the Victorian Whipcracking Championship, a day-long event in which skilled peewee and adult competitors will take a crack at $3,000 in prizes. The Australian Bullock Whip Championship will also see competitors herd oxen using only gestures and the sound of their whips.
 
Equally competitive will be the pig racing and diving, another new addition to the expo. In this event, professionally trained pigs will race around a track and make a three-metre dive into a tank of water.
 
“It’s something everyone’s interested to see,” Filleti says. “How often do you see pig racing?”
 
She believes that powerful new agricultural drones used to lift hay bales also have the potential to wow visitors. “I think they may be the dark horse of the event,” she says. “I know people are used to seeing drone footage, but seeing a drone lift a hay-bale and spread it around a property is something new.”
 
Also on the cutting edge is chainsaw artist Rob Bast, who has previously managed to grind out intricate carvings of birds, whales, wolves and Ned Kelly. Bast and a team of eight carvers will work in shifts to create a series of wooden sculptures before the eyes of the public.
 
“You get quite a lot for [the ticket price],” says Filleti. “I can’t imagine going to a Melbourne event and getting such an experience for so low a price.”

The Seymour Alternative Farming Expo will take place at Kings Park in Seymour from Friday February 16 until Sunday February 18.