New guide to small scale community solar released

The Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE) has released a new edition of its Small Scale Community Solar Guide, which aims to help more community renewable energy projects to get off the ground.

 

The guide comes in response to the growing popularity of community solar and showcases seven successful community solar projects which have been set up using different structures. It includes details of the financial and legal structure of each and recommendations about which setups would be best suited to different types of initiatives.

Projects include Lismore’s Farming The Sun initiative, which is a collaboration with Starfish Initiatives and demonstrates a community – Council partnership model.

Starfish also collaborated in writing the guide.

Tom Nockolds, co-author of the guide and co-founder of Pingala, said the C4CE expects the community renewables sector to continue to grow.

 

“Communities are fed up with all the politicking around energy in this country, and are just getting on and creating their own clean energy projects,” he said.

“They are learning from each other, and they are having an immediate, positive impact in their local areas.”

 

The aim of the guide is to spread this learning and impact as far and wide as possible.

 

Download the Small Scale Community Solar Guide here.

Repost ~ New community solar power guide released | The Fifth State

Give electric power tools a fair go

A NSW philanthropist has come up with and ingenious way to share her passion for renewable energy. Zeromow gives people, including those who work with power tools every day, the chance to try out an array of battery powered garden tools, including a fully electric ride-on lawnmower. 

 

Non-road spark ignition engines and equipment (NRSIEE), which include mowers, chainsaws, leaf blowers and outboard motors, are not subject to the same controls as on-road engines such as those found in cars. They can therefore be significantly more polluting. A government fact-sheet points out that:

 

“a two-stroke leaf blower used for one hour can produce as much hydrocarbons as 150 cars over the same time.”

 

For this reason high-emission NRSIEEs are banned in many other countries.

Sally Perini, who lives in the foothills of Sydney’s Blue Mountains, set up Zeromow after falling in love with electric cars and switching in order to ‘walk the talk’ and reduce her impact on global warming. Sally was then inspired by Mike Vaughan who set up Enviromowing in Brisbane, which is a mowing service powered entirely by electricity (including vehicles and equipment).

Sally hopes that by allowing other gardeners and landscapers to try her electric tools ~ which she charges from her own solar panels or another source of renewable energy ~ she can help fast track the changeover to the quieter, more efficient lithium-ion battery equipment and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released.

Sally Perini is also one of the philanthropists who has donated money to Starfish’s earthfunerals initiative, which has allowed us to establish our first Natural Burial Ground. We are honoured to be in such great company!

Re-post ~ Fossil fuels and Australian tools: It’s time to go fully electric by Sophie Vorrath for One Step Off The Grid

Bush foods set to boom, but will Aboriginal Australians benefit?

What do Kakadu Plums, Champagne and Camenbert Cheese have in common? Not much as yet. But some people would like to see Australia adopt rules and policies for bush foods which protect the interests of the place they come from and the people who hold special knowledge about them, as is the case in Europe. This would ensure traditional owners have a stake in the exploitation of these foods and are reimbursed for their intellectual property.

In Europe, “products that are deeply rooted in tradition, culture and geography” are sometimes covered by ‘protected geographical indications‘ which only allow, for example, sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France to be called Champagne. These rules support rural development by establishing a unique provenance that in turn can create jobs in processing and production of these commodities locally.

 

The Kakadu Plum, also known as the Billygoat Plum, is sought after as a great source of vitamin C and has long been used as bush medicine by Aboriginal people.

 

Wendy Morgan, chair of the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council, argues that such measures are necessary since currently corporations have no qualms about exploiting indigenous knowledge, and this is a missed opportunity to generate income for Aboriginal communities.

 

“You’ll have the big pharmaceutical companies coming out and talking to [Aboriginal communities] and taking samples of their medicines. They might acknowledge where they got it from, but there is no money going back into that community they got the information from.”

 

Under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, when products are taken from specific locations the benefits from those products should be shared with the providers of those resources, be they national governments or indigenous communities.

However, there are loopholes in Australian law which allow international companies to bypass this process. There is also the possibility that Aboriginal people could be legislated out of their own heritage, as almost happened in when a major US cosmetics company tried to patent an extract of Kakadu Plum.

These issues are all the more relevant because the bush food market, including other well-known native Australian plants such as lemon myrtle, wattle seed, finger lime, warrigal greens, quandong and bush tomatoes, appears to be on the verge of booming. It has even been suggested that Australia may have to start importing bush foods to meet demand.

According to Jocelyn Grant, the general manager of First Australians Capital, one of the major factors holding back the bush food market is lack of supply due to current protocols. These mandate that when a not-for-profit business that processes, for example, Kakadu plums, seeks government grants and financial support they have to sign over all the IP to the government. She’d like to see this change.

 

“Why wouldn’t we look at a whole-of-government strategy where not only are we protecting indigenous foods and the rights of people passing on knowledge about those foods ~ but also the value to the Australian economy is huge because it is an export opportunity,” she says.

 

Re-post ~ Protecting the Kakadu in Kakadu plums: selling bush foods to the world by Fiona Smith in The Guardian

Read more ~

Small farms are key to food security

Small and medium sized farms are key to providing quality nutrition to the global population, according to a new study measuring the contribution of agriculture, livestock and fisheries to global nutrient production, diversity and food security.

The new research, published in the first issue of The Lancet Planetary Health, was carried out by a trans-disciplinary team of more than 400 scientists from 19 different institutions, including geographers, livestock, agricultural and marine scientists, economists, public health and nutrition specialists, epidemiologists, and environmental scientists.

They found that farms smaller than 50 hectares produce nearly 51-77% of all commodities and nutrients, including cereals, livestock, fruits, pulses, roots and tubers and vegetables.

 

 

The study results highlight the fact that when it comes to nutrition, quality is as important as quantity. Whilst we might be accustomed to thinking about nutrition in terms of calorific intake, micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals play a vital role in human growth and health. Currently there is a ‘hidden hunger’ crisis of affecting two billion people worldwide who are lacking in these vital micro-nutrients.

Mario Herrero, who headed up the study also points out that crop diversity can create resilience against climate change and extreme weather. Using the example of the devastating effect Cyclone Debbie had on cane growers as well as tomato, capsicum and eggplant producers, he points out that an event such as a major wheat disease would be a huge problem for farms all across Australia.

 

“We need to be careful about putting all our eggs in one basket… Having diverse farming systems builds resilience.”

 

This new appreciation of the benefits of small farms will influence how we address the second of the UN sustainable development goals, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. A range of farm sizes will be necessary to achieve these goals. However, in order to nourish people, rather than just feed them, small farms need to be protected as they are the source of so much nutritional diversity.

 

Re-post ~ Small farms need protection to safeguard nutrients and diversity by Kate Langford in ECOS eNews

Read more ~

Food production is easier in rural areas, says Australian vinegar mogul

 

“You’ll find everything you need in the regions, cheap land, infrastructure, staff and the raw materials. If you want to go looking for opportunities, go west into the gold rush.” ~ Ian Henderson, Lirah Vinegar

 

These are the words of Ian Henderson, the man who, in the space of just 12 years, has turned his vinegar-making business from a one-barrel operation in a shed into a global exporter with a new $5 million factory.

 

Lirah Vinegar’s new state-of-the-art factory in Stanthorpe, QLD

 

Henderson points out that there are many benefits to living and running a business in a regional area, not least the lower housing and property prices. He leveraged this lifestyle bonus in job advertisments and easily attracted a team of highly qualified graduate employees.

“I have clinical pathologists, one of my vinegar makers has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, we have medical bio-technologists, we have honours chemists, we have physics and maths grads. All of my staff, largely gen Y’s, every single one of them owns a home, nobody rents.”

This is in stark contrast to the situation in the city where businesses often operate in less-than-optimal conditions and many young people feel priced-out of the housing market.

Mr Henderson would like to see more of the flourishing food production industry move out of cities and into rural areas, as he says interesting jobs are the only thing sometimes lacking in rural life.

With his business going from strength to strength, Mr Henderson wants to share the love with other producers, in what he sees as a win-win for both companies and regional areas.

 

Re-post ~ High-tech vinegar a success story of the new bush ‘gold rush’ by Phillipa Courtney on ABC News
Website ~ Lirah Vinegar

Locavore rankings for 2017 reveal added benefits of local food

The US organisation Strolling of the Heifers has released it’s annual ‘Locavore Index’ which ranks the 50 USA states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia in order of their commitment to local food. 

 

The index, which has been calculated for six years running, scores each state according to various criteria, such as the number of farmers markets per capita and how many schools are participating in the Farms to Schools program. It aims to highlight food trends and encourage people to think about and work towards sourcing more food locally.

Strolling of the Heifers point out ten reasons to consume more local food, including boosting the local economy, attracting tourism for events such as farmers markets, less waste, fresher food and the diversification of local agriculture, which has benefits for the soil and gene pool. They also point out that buying locally increases social capital in communities as consumers get to know producers, and each other, through farmers markets and consumer supported agriculture schemes.

2017 saw many US hospitals make a commitment to sourcing more food locally through the Healthy Food in Health Care program run by the organisation Health Care Without Harm. This enabled the inclusion of ‘number of hospitals serving local food’ as a ranking on the Locavore Index.

 

 

This initiative demonstrates so many of the reasons why local food is better for communities: a relationship with a big buyer means more security for food producers and has even sparked the startup of new enterprises; patients’ appetites improve, which speeds up recovery time; overall health of the community improves and the hospital receives less visitors; and families who engage with the program learn to cook and have access to affordable healthy food, making the social benefits of cooking together and enjoying a family meal more likely.

 

Re-post ~ How Locavore is your state? Strolling of the Heifers 2017 Locavore Index ranks states on local food commitment

Online art store bridges the gap between Aboriginal artists and art buyers

A pair of entrepreneurial brothers have opened up their Australian online art-selling platform to remote outback art centres, allowing hundreds of previously isolated indigenous artists direct access to art buyers around the world.

Edward and George Hartley founded Bluethumb to address two major issues they saw within the art industry: a way for normal people to buy art, and assisting emerging artists to find a market. Their online platform solves both of these problems in one fell swoop by giving artists a forum to display their work directly to art enthusiasts, no matter how far removed the two may be geographically. This has clear benefits for the many Aboriginal artists living in remote areas.

By working in partnership with some of the 90 or so art centres in regional Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, the brothers have opened up and simplified the sales process for some of the 13,000 Aboriginal artists represented by these organisations. They currently have 3% Aboriginal artists on their books, a figure which is in line with the percentage of Aboriginal people in Australian society, and they are firmly committed to encouraging more to join.

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Aboriginal artist Angilyiya Mitchell at Papulankutja Artists art centre, WA ~ one of the first art centres to collaborate with Bluethumb.

The results so far have been promising with all eight arts centres making sales in the first fortnight. Mel Henderson, the interim art centre manager of Papulankutja Artists in Blackstone community (800km from Alice Springs in the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands) is pleased with the relationship.

 

“Bluethumb is fast becoming a strong advocate promoting not only the work of artists yet also the work remote arts centres do.”

 

Bluethumb employs a simple business model appears to be making a genuine effort to recruit Aboriginal artists. This makes for an unprecedented opportunity for them to get their work out to appreciative audiences worldwide.

Re-post ~ Ethical art: how online entrepreneurs are selling Indigenous artists to the world by Paul Daley in the Guardian

See more ~ Bluethumb online Aboriginal art gallery

Ancient perennial grain experiments seek to revive culture and revolutionise agriculture

A group of Aboriginal people on the south coast of NSW are reviving some of the traditional crops and farming practices which would have characterised the pre-colonial Australian landscape.

The Gurandgi Munjie Food Company (from Yuin country) have had great success cultivating native fruits and vegetables as well as harvesting tubers from yam daisies over the last five years. They have also begun harvesting crops of Kangaroo Grass and Panicum Decompositum, both perrenial grains. They began as volunteers and have recently had success with two crowdfunding campaigns to expand their operations into a commercial enterprise.

“[We seek] to provide permanent employment and training for young Aboriginal people and to supply healthy products to Australia from plants adapted to Australian conditions”

 

Kangaroo Grass, a native Australian perennial grain.

Kangaroo Grass, one of the native Australian perennial grains which Gurandgi Munjie hopes to harvest and turn into a commercial product.

 

These plants were staple crops which fed the large populations of Aboriginal Australians who cultivated them and which are inherently well-suited to local conditions. This is in stark contrast to the food crops brought over from Europe which currently dominate our agriculture and supermarket shelves and require significant irrigation and often artificial fertilisers and pesticides to maintain on Australian soils.

Perrenial grains have very large root structures which help them survive in poor soil with little water. They also eliminate the need for the land to be ploughed so soil doesn’t become compacted and less diesel and labour is needed. They also sequester carbon year on year and prevent soil erosion and salination.

Author Bruce Pascoe, who has Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin Indigenous heritage, helped to start the project and would like to see it growing enough Kangaroo Grass and Panicum Decompositum to grind into grain and sell as bread flour. He also points out that Aboriginal Australians were probably the first people to bake bread, as evidenced by grindstones at Cuddie Springs in northern New South Wales that have been dated as being around 30,000 years old.

Pascoe’s book Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident has sparked a wave of interest in traditional Australian crops and a new understanding of the complexity of pre-colonial Australian society.

As Max Allen pointed out in his profile of the project for Gourmet Traveller Magazine, these are not novelty bush foods but, “everyday foods that were once widely grown and eaten in those parts of the country where most Australians now live.

 

Read more:

~ Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe

Gurandgi Munjie Facebook Page

~ Indigenous Agriculture: Australia’s Hidden Past by Belinda Evans in The Plant Hunter

Arts festival cements community in regional town

In April this year, the Cementa Arts Festival once again brought vibrancy and innovation to the the small town of Kandos in NSW.  There could have been a post-industrial void caused by the closure of the town’s major industry, the cement works. However the art festival and its spin-offs have brought thousands of visitors to the town and created links with artists whose fresh perspectives the locals are slowly warming to.

 

At nearby Ganguddy/Dunn’s Swam local groups Powerhouse Youth Theatre and Dauntless Movement Crew presented Pagoda Parkour as part of the Cementa festival.

 

Kandos used to be home to the largest cement works in the Southern Hemisphere and was even originally named for its links with the cement and mining industry. When the plant closed down in 2012 many jobs were lost and it was feared that the town would die.

Ann Finegan, an academic and contemporary arts worker, had a bigger vision however. She saw the closure of the cement factory as an ‘opportunity for transformation’.

 

“We believe the presence of this industrial heritage in the rural heartland of NSW provides an ideal context for the demonstration of contemporary art’s capacity to describe, engage, critique and celebrate both the world and our living in it.”

 

 

Artists doing residencies in Finnegan’s high-street art space, which was previously a haberdashery, began engaging with the community and the idea for the Cementa festival was born. This focus on community engagement and working with the regional setting has carried through to become a dominant flavour of the biennial festival.

 

“Artists cannot be in the festival unless they have done a residency in Kandos or have work related to the town in some way,” says Finegan. “We’re really working to deepen regional engagement.”

 

This year’s Cementa Arts Festival hosted more than 60 artists and is a heartening example of what is possible for small rural towns transitioning from an industrial heritage.

 

Repost ~ Cementa arts festival: building a cultured environment at Kandos by Katie Milton in The Sydney Morning Herald

Read more ~ Cementa Arts Festival Website

Hemp approval could mean a win-win for productivity and soil health

The Australian and New Zealand food ministers have recently approved hemp seeds as a food source. Farmers in Eastern Victoria are hot on their heels, forming a hemp growing co-operative which aims to generate more income and improve soil quality naturally.

Darren Christie, chief executive of The Australian Hemp Manufacturing Company is pleased with the news that hemp seed has been approved for human consumption and believes that it will have many benefits for the farmers he is recruiting into the co-op.

“It’s another commodity for farmers. The milkers, they can use it as a rotation crop which will be great for them in the future,” Mr Christie said. “No pesticides, better PH levels in their soil, a bit more humus in the ground; that’s why I believe down this way it’ll be perfect for farmers to get on board.”

Hemp already has a history in Gippsland, which has a good soil quality and plenty of rainfall. Around 20 years ago a few hemp crops were successfully grown. However, over time the commercial scope for hemp has widened and now includes clothing, building materials and (in around six months as local food regulations are updated) as a food product.

 

hemp stalks

Hemp fibres are used in building products such as Hempcrete, ‘batt’ insulation and hemp oil wood finishes.

Mr Christie notes that social media has played a big part in changing public attitudes towards hemp.

“People are starting to understand the differences between the hemp and medical marijuana.”

He intends to set up more hemp growing co-ops and expand a factory in Morwell that produces hemp-based building materials. The Gippsland Hemp Co-operative has currently signed seven farmers and is on the lookout for other who are interested in growing hemp.

Repost ~ Eastern Victorian farmers plan new hemp cooperative as hemp seeds become legal to eat by Isabella Pittaway in ABC News

Read more ~ Industrial Hemp: A Win Win For the Economy and The Environment on Forbes.com and the Hemp Industries Association website.