Declan McGovern doesn’t wear an akubra. He doesn’t constantly gnaw on a blade of straw. He doesn’t live out in woop woop. Instead, his arms are covered in tattoos and his face with a bushy beard. He calls the northwest suburbs of Melbourne home, and he spends his days not only growing fields of organic produce but also his Instagram account, which has over 30,000 followers.
He calls himself Farmer Govey, aka “Chief Dirt Digger” of his humble company, The Little Food Garden. Put simply, his mission is to be “a market garden growing organic food for my local community.” But that’s really only the top of the carrot.
Sure, there’s the tangible element: the boxes of organic produce he delivers to hundreds of local families and the many wooden veggie planters he’s installed in his neighbour’s (and his neighbour’s neighbours’) backyards. But the thing that makes Govey different from your average farmer is his desire to teach people about where their food comes from, and, just as importantly, how to grow their own.
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that farming and social media sounds like an unusual mix. “For years I swore off it. I thought, ‘Who wants to look at photos all day?’” says Govey. “Then one day I hopped on [Instagram] to look at other farming videos, and there wasn't much around, especially in Australia. So I thought maybe I’d start posting a few.” Now, as far as Govey is concerned, the two are intrinsically linked. He publishes new content nearly every day, using his Galaxy S8 to shoot, edit, and post, sometimes without even leaving the paddock. The past two years of documenting his farming work on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have allowed Govey to build his own urban farming community and to share his knowledge with people beyond his physical reach.
If you couldn’t already tell, Govey isn’t your typical Instagram influencer either. His honest approach to social media is somewhat refreshing. “The way I speak and talk...my grammar isn't great,” says Govey. “I’ll write my posts as if I'm saying it. I think people started to enjoy that side of it. It's just me being me.
“My photos aren’t all polished. Some are crappy. If something is shit, I’ll say it.”
Govey grew up listening to stories of his parents’ childhoods. His father had a somewhat different upbringing; he lived on a farm in Northern Ireland where he was raised among livestock, potato crops, and a milkman whose name the whole family knew. Govey, on the other hand, grew up like most kids in the suburbs of any Australian capital city, slurping up his cereal in the morning without giving much thought to the person behind the milk.
Aside from his dad’s stories, he had his first real farming experience as a teenager. His weekend job at 13 years old was in a different kind of food service to most of us: helping feed cattle on his dad’s friend’s farm. “I used to think, This is awesome, I’d love to do this every day,” says Govey.
But it wasn’t until years later, after school and a few trips to the US, that Govey fell in love with farming once again. In his mid-twenties, he’d often escape Melbourne winters by flitting off to sunny California to stay on his friend’s family’s organic farm. It was here he grew to love the farming lifestyle and the community vibe that came along with it. You know, the idyllic kind of community where, if life didn’t give you lemons, you could simply wander down the street and grab a couple from your neighbour’s tree.
Back home in Sunbury in Melbourne’s west, Govey found himself longing for the same farming community he’d gotten a taste for overseas. Unable to find anything similar in his local area, he made a simple choice: to build one for himself.
"Some of the kids didn't even realise that carrots were grown in the ground... They thought they came from a tree.”
“I started out by making little food gardens in my friends’ backyards – simple 1m x 1m boxes with raised beds with some herbs and leafy greens chucked in,” says Govey. Soon enough, planter boxes in friend’s backyards became planter boxes in cafés. Planter boxes became landscaped edible gardens in strangers’ homes, and landscaped edible gardens became an on-site market garden and growing program at his old high school.
“I was approached by one of my old teachers to give some guidance [on growing],” says Govey. “Then I ended up actually becoming part of the school and setting up a full growing program. I’d put in all my crops on-site so I had a bit of a showcase garden so the kids could come and see what I was doing, and they also had their own growing area.
“It was eye-opening to see that connection with kids and food. Some of the kids didn't even realise that carrots were grown in the ground,” says Govey. “They thought they came from a tree.”
The further removed we are from our food supply chain, the more often we take things for granted. We expect supermarket shelves to be stocked with tomatoes year round, regardless of whether or not they’re in season. We complain about the exorbitant price of avocados without really considering why they might be so expensive. “People have no idea how much blood, sweat, and tears goes into producing one kilo of tomatoes,” says Govey.
One of the biggest (and, at the same time, smallest) drivers behind Govey’s organic farm was his son, River. After Govey and his wife decided they wanted River to eat organic, he felt the only way he could really know what he was feeding his son was if he grew the food himself – so he did. And it turns out he was not alone. “It’s interesting to see how many parents who buy [organic produce boxes] from me say the same thing.”
“I'm a bit of a lazy farmer; I’ll let mother nature sorta do her thing."
The way Govey talks about organic farming makes it seem like something anyone who’s ever managed to keep a plant alive for longer than a week could get on board with. “I'm a bit of a lazy farmer; I’ll let mother nature sorta do her thing. I’ll let a lot of weeds come up in the hope that they’ll provide a lot of vegetation for pests to eat and they’ll lay off my stuff,” says Govey.
“What I’m really farming is the soil. I don't grow the plant – the plants grow themselves. I just gotta make sure I'm always feeding that soil with good stuff. So if I lose a few to pests or the odd rabbit, that’s just how it is.”
Arguably, the most important seeds he plants are the ones filled with knowledge, the ones he’s sown through his community, encouraging people to start thinking more consciously about their food. These are the lessons that’ll last longer than any one vegetable in the fridge. It’s like that old proverb: “Give someone a carrot, and you feed them for a day. Teach someone to grow a carrot, and you feed them for a lifetime.” Or something like that.
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Design by Emily Gulli / BuzzFeed