July 6th, 2023Produce with passion at Meraki Organic Farm
Words and images: Eve Lamb
Italian born Daniele Tarasco brings a personal passion for fresh, flavoursome food and his background as a high-end chef to running Meraki certified organic farm at Newlyn North.
Originally from Matera in southern Italy, he and his wife Liv Reppas, have had the six acre property on its rich volcanic soil at Newlyn North since 2015 when they began the three-year process of certifying the farm as organic.
Their ethos is captured in the name of their little patch of paradise – ‘Meraki’. It’s a word modern Greeks use to describe doing something with creative flair or passion — putting “something of yourself” into what you do.
“I’ve always worked with my hands from a young age,” says Daniele who left Italy in his late teens and worked for top notch eateries in London, Melbourne and Hepburn before getting into organic farming fulltime at Meraki.
“I’ve always been connected to food. When I was growing up food was a crucial cultural part of life and then I developed this passion for growing food. On school breaks in Italy I started to get into hospitality, into cooking.”
Since taking to culinary creation from the tender age of ten, he built a fine dining career with stints at Gordon Ramsey’s Maze and earning the title of Head Chef at No. 8 by John Lawson where he was nominated as The Age Good Food Guide’s Young Chef of the Year.
Liv (Olivia) has a professional background working as an organic auditor working for property certifiers and, in the lead up to their establishing Meraki, had been looking into organic gardening as something they too could pursue.
“We found this place and we wanted to turn it into a small farm. While we were setting up the farm I was working at Peppers. I did two and a half years as head chef at Peppers before shifting fulltime into farming,” Daniele says.
Right now they’re growing all manner of delicious fully certified organic vegetables and also producing and selling certified organic eggs courtesy of their Lohmann Brown layer hens.
The layers are dutifully guarded by the couple’s two large handsome Italian Maremma dogs – Trajan and Luna.
A whole range of seasonal vegetables are currently flourishing on site and, when The Local visits for a quick tour on a recent drizzly winters day, Daniele lists what’s growing. It’s an impressive assemblage.
“At the moment there’s carrots, beetroot, Tuscan Kale, black cabbage, onions, garlic, turnips. swedes, potatoes, leeks, radicchio, pumpkin, brussel sprouts, celery, broccoli and we’ve also got some herbs – coriander and parsley,” he says.
He regularly does the local markets including the Daylesford Farmer’s Market on Sundays and also monthly markets at Creswick and Ballan, selling Meraki’s fresh organic produce direct to the public.
“I generally grow things I like to eat, and I grow mainly for flavour,” Daniele says.
“We’re also supplying Spade to Blade but my main focus is direct to the public either through the markets or home deliveries.
“Whatever is in abundance goes to a couple of local shops like Tonna’s in Daylesford, and Hepburn Wholefoods, and a couple of local restaurants.”
On the property there’s also a small, young apple orchard and a small, young olive grove. At this time of year the olives are just starting to colour up ahead of harvest time and Daniele says he has plans to pickle.
Edible flowers that play a useful role in the process of organic farming are also part of the bigger picture.
“I plant marigold and calendula to help with companion planting and to establish a niche for beneficial insects,’ Daniele says
Liv (Olivia) runs the couple’s other on-site venture – Little Luxe B&B accommodation –which particularly seems to go down a treat with city folk hankering for big skies, peace and tranquillity.
However, now, after about eight good years at Meraki, family circumstances have compelled Liv and Daniele to place their little certified organic patch of paradise on the market as they look to relocate to the Riverland area in South Australia.
The organic certification comes with the property, so the listing is a chance for someone else who is keen to move into this space to make their own dream of farming organically become a reality.
It can be hard work, particularly in cold blustery weather, but it’s something that they love at Meraki, as is improving the soil for future generations , a personal goal for Daniele,
“Over three or four years we have managed to raise the soil pH by 0.5,” he says.
Such a soil-sweetening movement, a reduction in acidity, may sound slight but it can make a big difference.
“When we moved up this way I also did a two year diploma in organic farming and it helped set up the farm,” Daniele says.
“Even if the work is not easy, you need to start thinking months in advance, and there are long hours, it is rewarding. I raise all my own seedlings from seed and at the end of it you’ve got this beautiful produce and you can actually taste the difference.”
The positive feedback they receive from fans of the Meraki produce is particularly satisfying.
“You get feedback from people saying things like ‘these are the best eggs you can get in town’ or ‘these are the best onions I’ve ever eaten!” Daniele says.
While Meraki is now on the market, Daniele says they will continue to grow and sell their nutrient-packed fresh organic produce for the foreseeable future – including at the usual regular local markets, throughout this winter.