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People. Place. Nilma.

Shelley Banders observes the love language of Caroline Graafsma as she documents the daily appreciation of the ordinary in her garden and kitchen.

Sep 21, 2021

Words: Shelley Banders

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Love languages. We all have one: the instinctual actions we take to demonstrate the extent of our love for those we hold closest.

Caroline Graafsma is prolific. And I mean that in the literal definition of the word, whereby “a plant, animal, or person produces much fruit or foliage or many offspring”. Caroline is all of these things.

Connect with Caroline on socials and you will see what I mean. She provides garden inspiration, growing goals, food most of us can only dream of cooking in our own kitchens, a laugh and a good dose of reality in raising children and keeping a productive garden. For Caroline, documenting this is “appreciating the loveliness of the ordinary”. But what mostly comes through from Caroline is a sheer love of putting food on the table for her family. This, I sense, is her love language.

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Caroline and family live on a nine-acre allotment in Nilma, five minutes east of Warragul. It was the “paddocks, big trees and space” that drew her and her then-family-of-three to the area almost 15 years ago.

A third of the sprawling garden is now dedicated to growing food, but is “getting bigger this winter,” Caroline adds casually, “with another acre of raspberries being planted”. It is nearing the end of the raspberry season as I speak with Caroline, and the family are still picking four kilograms of fruit every few days. It is hard to imagine the haul from an additional acre.

However, it is precisely this generosity that Caroline leans into, a language of abundance and giving through all things grown and baked.

Growing a substantial volume of one thing in the garden, as opposed to smaller amounts of many varieties, is Caroline’s advice to the home veggie gardener. She adds that “a glut of something is a joy of achievement and a wonderful thing to share”.

Of course, with over 30 mouths to feed (5 children, 2 adults, 4 dogs, 2 cats, 5 French Toulouse geese, dozens of chooks…), a food garden at this scale is completely necessary. It’s also why Caroline’s weekdays kick off at 4am.

When asked to describe a typical ‘school day’, she responds, “Up with the tradie. Coffee. Washing machine starts. Oven is switched on. Make a start on dinner. Get the coffee van ready for work. And, motivate five children to start their day in a good mood.”

Yes, there is also Cleaver & Co. Coffee, a mobile vintage-green coffee caravan. Consider this Caroline’s love offering to the greater community of West Gippsland, providing an opportunity to connect with locals through warm and contented stomachs.

So forget Beyoncé, I now remind myself I have the same number of hours in the day as Caroline.

Caroline’s advice for busy households is to, “Get your evening meal sorted before breakfast. It frees up so much time when children and adults’ emotions can be frayed”. For this reason, Caroline explains, “After-school ‘scoffs’ are essential for settling hunger, nerves and creating beautiful memories for everyone.”

Knocking over dinner before the sun has even considered rising helps ease the mayhem of the evening routine. Although, “the insanity of loudness at teatime in the kitchen,” Caroline adds, “is simply the best!”

From Caroline I sense a strength and sensitivity. There’s an efficiency and a no-nonsense approach to all things domestic, which meets with a natural inclination to share and nurture.

This is someone who has accepted the chaos of life and made friends with it. Although, Caroline hasn’t just taken the bull by the horns: she’s sat him down, given him a hot drink and something to scoff on.

You can follow Caroline and her family via @ten_ten_two_and_a_quarter and their coffee side hustle at @cleaver_and_co_coffee. To enjoy more of author Shelley’s work, please follow @stateofstill.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 19

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