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Tending the Temple

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A lifelong love of growing fresh fruit and vegetables has led to the creation of the enigmatic ‘Temple of the Vegetable’ at the Chittering property of Clair Medhurst and Paul Jones. Organic in both appearance and nature, the Temple is an impressive yet rustic structure which nurtures an abundance of healthy, biodynamically grown produce.

The Temple was hand built in 2009 by Clair and Paul (an architect) – along with a little help from some friends, and was originally intended just to provide for them.

“The dream was to grow our own everything! I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve always loved vegetables. I was one of those children who miraculously adored them,” explains Clair, who attributes her early knowledge of food growing to her father. “Growing vegetables is a family obsession!”

As the garden grew more established and productive, Clair and foodie friend Leah Tocas began experimenting with preserving the
excess produce.

“Clair, Paul and I have been friends for many years, sharing a love of dogs, football and growing vegetables!” says Leah, who spent twenty years in the gourmet food industry before embarking on the Temple journey. “A few years ago my work situation changed and I had some extra time on my hands…I mentioned to Clair that we should do something more with what we grow, and Temple of the Vegetable was born.”
It was the catalyst for the pair to turn their passion for produce into a business. A few years on, they have fine-tuned their range of preserves into a line of Temple of the Vegetable products.

After a successful law career, Clair relished the opportunity to switch her focus back to food. She spent six years on the Board of not-for-profit EON Foundation from 2008 where she worked alongside Sabrina Hahn establishing edible gardens in remote schools and Aboriginal communities in northern Western Australia. “I’m proud of the work we achieved through EON and I also learnt a lot from Sabrina.”
The raised vegetable beds they use in the Temple are the same design that they used in some of the Kimberley communities.
“Having the beds raised is essential for drainage,” Clair explains. “With our heavy clay soil we also had to add a lot of cow manure and straw and we constantly compost.”

Whilst tending the Temple involves a fair amount of work, it’s also set up to be self-sufficient, as both Clair and Paul still work in the city.

“The watering system is fully automatic – gravity-fed, battery-operated and uses only rainwater collected on the farm. Everything is reticulated – Leah and I are real retic-queens!” says Clair.  As for Paul, his weekend jobs include heavy lifting, weed management and other gut busting jobs – and he is official taste tester of Clair and Leah’s creations.
“Without Paul, the Temple would simply not exist and we pay homage to him with our ‘Near Genius Pickle’,” says Clair.

The garden is completely spray-free and follows biodynamic principles – a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic approach and uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for fertilising and soil conditioning. They also use bio-control for managing pests. 

“We bought a batch of cryptoleamus bugs from Bugs for Bugs early on to deal with a mealybug problem. They arrived in the mail – we still see them all the time! They do a wonderful job,” explains Clair. The way the Temple is designed, with shade cloth walls and netting overhead, has created a harmonious microclimate where both the plants and the good bugs thrive.
“Using organic methods for our growing has also been a great love of both Clair and I,” says Leah. “We both love the paddock-to-plate ethos – it’s the reason we do this!”

 The temple has been in full swing for over 10 years now, and is bursting with healthy clean produce. All the usual season vegetables are found here as well as few more unusual ones — including horseradish, habanero chillies and artichokes.
“I don’t know why more people don’t grow artichokes here — they really thrive! The horseradish was much more of a challenge. It needs a huge amount of organic matter and a rich loamy soil. It’s also extremely pungent — I literally wear goggles and a snorkel when I am processing it in my kitchen!” says Clair.

The pure horseradish root sits alongside traditional tomato chutney and more adventurous Kasundi and Brinjal pickle — popular choices for keen home cooks, sandwich-lovers and gourmet foodies alike. A caramelised onion chutney and a red cabbage and beetroot relish are other must-tries from the range which is available locally at the Northern Valleys Locavore Store and at select markets and delis in Perth.
Be sure to try some at this year’s A Taste of Chittering event on 25 August, where Clair and Leah will be offering taste testing at the Northern Valleys Locavore Store from 10 am – 12 noon. You can also find out more about the Temple of the Vegetable on their website www.templeofthevegetable.com.au.