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Chris and Merran Hunter

Chris and Merran Hunter

Chris and Merran Hunter have been involved with agricultural shows since childhood – Chris in the UK and Merran in Australia. Their passion has evolved from exhibiting produce in agricultural shows to now being stewards at the Canberra show and judges at other agricultural shows. They continue to exhibit their produce in various shows. For Merran it’s her baked goods and preserves often based on produce from their suburban backyard. Chris never knows what he’ll be exhibiting – it depends upon what looks good around the time of the agricultural show.  Whenever they travel, they try and include a visit to a local agricultural show.

Below the Hunters talk about their show experiences. (The excerpts below are from an interview recorded with Chris and Merran in February 2012.)

Listen to the Hunters talk about their show experiences



Merran Hunter in her garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
A plate of tomatoes and jars of tomato and passionfruit jam.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I first started exhibiting through a comment I made as we were walking around the show on a Sunday. This was in the time when there was no air conditioning in the produce section, the pavilion, and things were looking pretty tired.

We got around to some of these exhibits. I’m passing comments that are fairly well out loud to Merran saying, “Gee, our tomatoes are better than these”, and a voice from behind said, “Well, why don't you enter?” I’d never thought about that.

He explained how we enter and the cost was absolutely stupid – it was 50 cents an entry or something like that. So the next year we entered … I got first prize for tomatoes, and that was it. The prize money was absolutely stupid, $2 or $5 or something like that, but it was that card you get “First Prize Tomatoes” in class.

That was me hooked and it progressed on from there.

Chris Hunter picking tomatoes in his garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Growing your own produce, there is a very different taste to what you buy and what you can grow. I’m not sure how it happens, but the stuff you buy from the shop is cultivated; that is, it’s grown to sell. Invariably that means it’s picked when it’s not quite ripe and doesn’t always retain the full taste. Whereas in our own yard we know where the manure has come from and we know where the goodness is going into that ground and it’s coming back out again. Our chooks give us the manure. Our brother and brother-in-law grow pigs, so we have an ample supply of pig manure. It’s very separate from the chook because they both have different characteristics as to what they can do for the various plants.
A man's hand holding a cob of corn.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
We grow apples. We’ve reduced the spraying a fair bit in our apple trees by using bands or gaffer tape around the trunk. They probably only need spraying a couple of times a year and then netting them so the birds can’t get in. I wouldn’t say it’s 100 per cent but it has certainly reduced the amount of codling moth that we have.
Chris Hunter looking at apples growing in his garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I thoroughly enjoy gardening, I find it very relaxing. Of course I like to garden along together and if Chris is gardening somewhere or doing something somewhere, I tend to gravitate to that area. We need not necessarily be working hand in hand, so to speak, but in a similar section of the garden. I think it’s good exercise, I think it’s healthy and what you reap in reward - whether it is in yield or in personal satisfaction – is good. [Merran]

Merran Hunter in her garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

As far as producing stuff for the various shows, we try and aim our production in the garden for the Royal Canberra Show. But also we put a late planting in … where we know stuff is going to mature towards Easter time … to coincide with the Yeoval Show, so at least we’ll have some produce to go into that. We try and aim for a 10- to 12-week period from seed to harvest to coincide with the end of February. But nature doesn’t always work – and it’s frustrating.

Chris Hunter looking at beans growing in his garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

The classic example is when people ask, “What are you going to put in the Show this year?” I say, “We don’t know until the night before when we pick what we’ve got and we pick out what we can put into various sections”. Invariably at the end of February we get those afternoon summer storms with the cold water coming down through the atmosphere onto the nice warm tomatoes and they split – and tears. All season you’re thinking, “Yes, this is going to be the good stuff!” and then the storms ruin them. Mother Nature takes over.

Chris holding beans from his garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I think the pleasure and satisfaction from growing your own food comes from the fact that you’ve done exactly that, you have grown your own food. You’ve put the effort in to prepare the soil, to nurture the plants, to look after them and then to reap the benefits. [Merran]

A red apple on the tree.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

Moving to Canberra in the mid-1970s we always had a vegetable plot of some sort, whether it was just for a couple of tomatoes or we would pick apples or whatever. When we bought our first home in Kaleen in 1976, it was all barren ground. You’re trying to get things to grow and everyone’s in a mad panic to get grass growing before the dust gets into the house. We had our vegetable plot long before I even thought about exhibiting stuff. It was purely for our own use because it’s nice to have fresh fruit and vegetables. [Chris]

Chris looking at passionfruit growing in his garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I find it’s very satisfying to go down the yard, pick vegetables or fruit and come up into the kitchen and be making something or doing something with what you’ve grown. [Merran]

A plate of ripe red tomatoes.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

The eggs you buy in the shop would have to be at least a week and a half old. For example, if you take an egg out of our chook yard now and hard boiled it, you’d be flat out getting the shell off. We know that they’ve got to be at least a week old before you can readily take the shell off an egg that has been hard boiled, whereas the shop ones you can go there and buy it now, boil it and it comes straight off with no problems. Also, the colour of the yolk … at the Yeoval show, for instance, they always break one of the eggs in the half dozen lots you submit or stage for judging. One of the contributing factors of the winning exhibit will be how the yolk sits in the 100 ml diameter white section. The yolk has to sit up high and not run away. You see the different colours and you virtually get to understand what the chook has been eating. So that reflects back into the cooking later on, into the cakes department. [Chris]

Chris Hunter inspecting an egg he is holding in his hand.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.