Healthy soil, not large scale agriculture, is key to feeding the world

In a recent article in The Conversation, a professor from the University of Washington busts some myths about industrialised agriculture and presents his findings on worldwide regenerative farming practices, which suggest that ‘the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil’.

 

Soil building practices, like no-till and composting, can build soil organic matter and improve soil fertility. Photo: David Montgomery,

A recent United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation report shows that, contrary to popular belief, over three-quarters of the world’s food production happens on small family farms. This is opposed to the large-scale industrialised ones which feed most of the developed world. Linked to this, Montgomery points out that large farms are not, in fact, likely to be more efficient than small ones:

 

“According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.”

 

Add in a 2015 meta-analysis which showed less than a 10% gap in food production between conventional industrialised farms and organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to increase soil fertility. Combine it all with the fact that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten, and it begins to seem like industrialised farming really isn’t necessary to meet food production needs after all.

Rapid and effective soil regeneration is possible and it is the key to ‘a stable and resilient agriculture’. The adoption of regenerative farming practices such as no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations, along with the deep understanding of the particular qualities of the land and socioeconomic environment made possible by small-scale farming, leads to the ability to use fewer inputs to produce higher yields.

In order to speed along the uptake of farming practices which focus on soil health, David Montgomery calls for system-scale research, demonstration farms and, perhaps most importantly, changes in agricultural policy and subsidies, to encourage farmers to adopt regenerative practices.

Read about Starfish’s work in this area:

Biochar For Sustainable Soils is a project which seeks to share knowledge and build capacity around using biochar-based organic amendments to improve soil quality.
The Living Classroom in Bingara is a visionary project working to turn the Town Common into a visually beautiful, working regenerative farm  as a centrepiece for education, research, tourist activities and functions.

Re-post ~ Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world by David R Montgomery in The Conversation

Starfish Foundation receives Tax Deductible Donation Status!!!

Tax Deductible staus Yeah !!!!

In hugely exciting news, after nearly five years of negotiations, Starfish Initiatives is incredibly pleased ~ as well as incredibly relieved ~ to announce that the Starfish Foundation has been officially listed on the Register of Environmental Organisations ~ which means we are now able to receive tax deductible donations.

This is a very significant development for rural, regional and remote sustainability work ~ both ours and others.

Many of Starfish’s leading edge sustainability initiatives have generated significant interest with private philanthropists and grant-making foundations. However, only tax deductible charities, as we now are, can directly receive funding from these important supporters.

In addition, Starfish will now be able to incorporate public fundraising campaigns into our work where they are a good fit.

Thirdly, it is important to highlight that the purpose of Starfish Foundation is to raise and donate funds for rural, regional and remote sustainability work in all its forms ~ that is, over and above supporting Starfish Initiatives alone.

We passionately believe that Starfish Foundation will play an important role in addressing the funding short-fall for rural, regional and remote sustainability work.

Starfish Foundation

Over the coming months we will make plans for a formal launch of the Starfish Foundation. This launch is likely to coincide with some major announcements and fundraising campaigns for new sustainability initiatives we’ve been quietly working hard on in the background.

Lastly, we would like to acknowledge and thank the many people and partners who have contributed to this fantastic achievement, particularly:

  • LegalMinds for their seemingly tireless and open-ended generosity in working on a pro-bono basis with Starfish’s application for well over five years
  • Starfish’s Board of Directors, who have worked hard to adequately resource our work during this incredibly extended start-up phase without the authority to fundraise
  • Josette Wunder from The Earth Welfare Foundation who made pivotally important representations to the Australian Government on our behalf
  • The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal for supporting Starfish’s work over the last year ~ particularly Farming the Sun ~ with a Regional Donation Account
  • Representations made on our behalf by our Federal Members of Parliament (New England Electorate where Starfish’s registered office is situated) ~ Barnaby Joyce and Tony Windsor
  • Ultimately, the approval of our registration by Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment.

Queensland rural business increases diversity, and profits

Kalresh carrots

Kalfresh is a multi-million-dollar business at Kalbar, an hour out of Brisbane in the fertile Scenic Rim. It grows, packs and markets carrots, pumpkins, onions and beans for domestic and export markets.

Managing director Richard Gorman changed hiring practices and the business culture after some questions about the diversity of his management team made him realise the company was being held back because of the lack of women at the senior level.

“Our management team, all men. Our board, all men. Anyone who had any say in anything, it was all men,” he said.

To address the problem he tapped into a pool of labour he had never considered; the tertiary-educated women married to Kalfresh’s managers and growers.

“We had some of the most talented people we could possibly ever hope for who in their professional world would be on enormous wages. We had it all right in front of us.”

Five wives agreed to work part time for the company on a special project. The team, which had decades of experience in corporate and government jobs, included a business consultant, a banker, a Walkley award-winning journalist, an events manager and a teacher.

They were asked to solve one of the company’s most vexing problems: vegetable waste.

“It’s extremely frustrating, you’re looking at a perfectly good item that might have been 10mm too short or it’s bent,” said Mr Gorman. Kalfresh grower Ed Windley said it was “not uncommon for the bottom 15 to 30 per cent of your crop at times to get the chop, and that just kills the whole economics of what you’re doing”.

“Feeding it to cows, which is worth just $50 a tonne, is the last resort so for us, so to be able to value add any of that is a big plus for the company. As a grower it means more money in your pocket,” said Kalfresh’s agricultural director Rob Hinrichsen.

The women proposed investing in a $3 million processing line to value add the seconds for the pre-cut bagged vegetable market. They researched consumer trends, designed the packaging, planned an advertising campaign and signed Woolworths up for a trial.

The trial was a success and Woolworths now stocks the Just Veg range of carrot shred, circles and sticks in QLD, NSW and Victoria, with plans to expand to other states.”The emergence of pre-packaged fruit and veg in the last five years has been phenomenal,” said Woolworths’ head of produce Scott Davidson.

Tracey Rieck, who runs a vegetable farm with her husband Mick, said many farmers would be surprised how much value can be added to what the industry now calls “ugly veg”.

“It’s a smaller part of our whole crop but the return is insane,” she said. The seconds, which were worth between $50 and $100 a tonne as stock food, are now worth $5,000 a tonne, five times more than the premium bagged carrots which are worth $1000 a tonne.

Mr Gorman’s wife Alice said the pre-cut vegetable market was booming. “15 per cent of Australians buy a ready-to-go meal twice a week,” she said. “They use the supermarket as their fridge so they have less stuff at home, and they shop for what they require on a daily basis.

“They don’t like waste so they buy smaller amounts, and they’re time poor so often they’re looking for an easy but healthy option.”

Rob Hinrichsen said he’d been involved in the company for over 20 years and “I’ve never actually seen that sort of smooth transition over a 6 or 8 month period. It’s been sensational.”

Mr Gorman said: “It’s just another way diversity fixes problems.”

Re-post ~ Kalfresh: Qld rural business turns carrot problem into profit by increasing diversity | ABC

See more ~ Landline | ABC

Floating solar solution for Lismore Community Solarfarm

In an exciting and unexpected turn of events, a floating solar solution is now going to be used for the East Lismore Community Solarfarm.

This change has been made at the sewage treatment plant to overcome the site limitations and maximise opportunities to expand the size of the solar array in the future ~ particularly given Lismore City Council’s plan for 100% renewable energy.

We think it’s wonderful that our prospective community investors can now consider what is an even more pioneering project, together of course with the high profile solarfarm planned for Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre.

Here is an example of what the floating solarfarm may look like:

The two community companies for the projects ~ Lismore Community Solarfarm (Goonellabah) Pty Ltd, and, Lismore Community Solarfarm (East) Pty Ltd ~ have now been incorporated. These are the legal entities which will raise the funds for the two solarfarms, by offering shares for investors. In turn, once the investment offers are fully subscribed, each company will loan the funds to Lismore City Council to build the each of the solarfarms (Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre and East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant).

A constitution for each of the companies has been fully executed and will be available on the Farming the Sun website in due course.

For this establishment stage of the community companies, Starfish Initiatives is the sole shareholder and has appointed Executive Director, Adam Blakester, as the sole director. Starfish will surrender their share, and Adam will resign as Director, as the community investors become shareholders and in turn nominate to be directors at the each company’s first General Meeting after the investment offers are completed.

The offer documents, formally known as an Offer Information Statement, are being submitted to Norton Rose Fulbright, our legal partners, for final review and is expected for Launch by late May all going to plan.

As these community energy investments are a private offer, it will be only be made available to those parties who have signed onto the Investor Pledge. As at today, 136 people have signed the Investor Pledge. We would greatly welcome your interest as well! You can add your name to the list here.

The funds raised by private investment will be lent to Lismore City Council to build the solarfarms. In the event that there are any excess funds remaining, the terms of the loan provide that the Council may utilise these funds for other projects identified within their 100% Renewable Energy Master Plan.

The tenders to build the solarfarms are being conducted by Lismore City Council. These are now live!  These tenders will run in parallel with us releasing the investment offers to raise the funds for the two projects.

The tenders can be accessed via Lismore City Council’s Tenderlink. For more information, contact Lismore City Council.

In addition to all of the above good news and progress, Starfish is incredibly pleased and grateful for confirmation of a major donation from Diversicon Environmental Foundation. Diversicon’s donation will enable us to cover the full establishment costs for the two Lismore Community Solarfarm projects ~ Australia’s first community-funded and Council-operated projects of this kind. iversicon join with our other financial partners ~ NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Lismore City Council and The Earth Welfare Foundation.

While this cash funding is essential, it is important to also recognise the substantial pro-bono investments being made by our other partners ~ particularly Embark Australia and Norton Rose Fulbright ~ which in total value are greater than our modest cash budget.

Starfish expresses its sincere gratitude to these Project Partners for their trust and investment in our collective vision and work.

The Farming the Sun collaboration is now working on the following priorities:
1. Finalising the private share offer after legal advice is received
2. Signing the loan agreements (between the two community companies and Lismore City Council)
3. Establishing administrative and financial systems for the community companies
4. Launching the Private Investment Offers

Useful links ~

Find out more about Lismore Community Solar ~

Read more about the floating solarfarm announcement ~

Renewables for All ~ A Priority Energy Policy Agenda for Australia

CPA-Graphic

Late last year we shared  the launch of the The Renewables for All advocacy project. This innovative project is supporting the creation of a suite of policy settings and a regulatory and market context that allows all Australians to be able to directly benefit from clean energy solutions such as solar PV, storage and energy efficiency ~ no matter what their income or living arrangements.

This project is calling on governments to develop programs and support innovation in new social enterprise business models that increase access to clean energy for low-income households, renters, apartment dwellers and homeowners without solar access.

There are  now six policy briefing papers that set out what governments can do to support renewables for all.

An overarching policy briefing paper outlines the context of our changing energy system, the ‘social equality challenge’, and how a range of innovative new policy mechanisms and business models can address issues of clean energy affordability and accessibility and ensure all Australians benefit from a renewable energy future.

Solar Gardens are central solar facilities, where households and businesses own shares or a number of panels and the energy generated is credited on those customers’ energy bills. These facilities are especially useful for customers who are unable to put solar on their own roof. This may be because they rent, live in apartments, have shaded roofs etc.

The Rates-based financing and Rent-based financing briefing papers outline the role that council rates-based and rent-based financing can play in increasing clean energy accessibility and affordability in Australia and what state and local governments need to do to enable them. One of the key barriers to uptake of new energy technologies by low-income customers is the high up-front cost. To overcome this issue, a range of organisations are developing finance products and mechanisms that enable the customer to pay back the cost of clean energy over a period of time. One of these finance mechanisms is rates-based financing, whereby a council enables finance for clean energy measures on a property and then levies a special rate on said property to payback the cost of finance over time. Just as rates-based financing eases the burden of up-front cost for new clean energy technologies, rent-based financing provides an additional mechanism for both housing providers and their tenants to address the ‘social equality challenge’ and increase access to the benefits of clean energy technology. This policy mechanism is designed specifically for the most disadvantaged energy users; namely those in community or social housing.

The Community owned renewable energy briefing paper outlines the wide-ranging benefits that community owned renewable energy (CORE) projects typically deliver and the exciting role they could play in the Australian energy system, particularly with respect to increasing clean energy accessibility and affordability.

And lastly, this paper defines and gives an overview of the different approaches to mini-grids. It lines out some of the benefits for its adoption in Australia and specifies what policy changes and measures are to be taken to support this innovative approach to community energy. Mini Grids and embedded networks :mini-grids (also known as ‘micro-grids’) are one way to meet the electricity demand locally. As a combination of energy generation and distribution that typically operate as isolated systems in a range of 10 kW to 10 MW, they can serve tens to several hundred customers. Although mini-grids mostly exist in remote areas, there is also a growing interest in grid-connected or embedded mini-grids because it allows for greater control of the electricity generation e.g. from renewables and reduce network costs.

Discussion Papers
A series of state specific Discussion Papers  have been produced : NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia  and the ACT , which inform policy, and National Energy Market advocacy work to help state governments proactively support and better facilitate the uptake of new business models that enable energy consumers greater access to the benefits of new technologies.

Renewables for All is a strategic initiative of the Coalition for Community Energy, led by the Community Power Agency and auspiced by Starfish Initiatives. This project was funded by Energy Consumers Australia as part of its grants process for consumer advocacy projects and research projects for the benefit of consumers of electricity and natural gas.

To learn more about the project click here.

Re-post ~ Renewables for all- resources | Community Power Agency

Kelly Smitham rejoins Starfish Board

Kelly SmithamStarfish’s Board are pleased to announce Kelly Smitham’s return ~ which was approved late last year at the 2015 Annual General Meeting.

Kelly was one of the founding directors of Starfish (2012), however needed to resign to pursue a significant career opportunity in Western Australia.

Kelly is passionate about seeing rural areas thriving ~ with employment, services and education opportunities that are comparable to metropolitan standards. Particularly as a parent, and as someone who has grown up in the New England North West region of NSW, she would like for her family to have a few to all these things ~ and to stay in the area if they choose to!

With fourteen years experience in human services, Kelly is particularly interested in providing great services to our most vulnerable populations by way of building the capacity of service providers through strong business and quality management systems.

Kelly is currently NSW/ACT & QLD Operations Manager for St Ives Group and has previously worked as a Quality Improvement Coordinator for St Vincent de Paul’s nationally renowned Freeman House as well as a case manager with Uralla Shire Council (Tablelands Community Support Options) and the New England Brain Injury Service (NSW Health).

Kelly has a Master‘s degree in Human Services Management and Policy (Charles Sturt University) and Bachelor’s degree in Social Science & Psychology (University of New England). Her full profile is available on LinkedIn.

Community Regeneration offers hope to small communities in 2016

Temora, NSW Riverina

Temora, NSW Riverina

After more than 15 years of personal research, development and trial, Bob Neville’s quest for a sustainable process for social, economic and environmental regeneration of small communities is now becoming a reality through what he calls the “Community Gold” Program ~ a key part of Community Regeneration collaboration with Starfish.

Program MODELS are currently being established in two NSW Riverina districts ~ New South Wales’ smallest Shire, Urana, which comprises five small communities; as well as in two communities in Temora Shire. Also, the community of Tara is the first Queensland location for the Program and has been supported by Regional Development Australia Darling Downs and South West.

Mouse Spider

Mouse Spider sculpture by Andrew Whitehead, Urana

In addition, Initial Program Assessments have been completed for 5 rural communities in the West Australian Wheatbelt Region and others are being considered including in New Zealand and Norfolk Island.

The Community Gold Program is based upon three important facts:

  1. No amount of money handed to communities can change underlying social realities or make them sustainable,
  2. The only Small Communities that can sustain liveability in the future will be those which grow strong Community-Inclusive foundations and nurture them continually,
  3. A community’s sustainability does not relate to its SIZE but to its “liveability” ~ regenerated from its micro-diversity of “Community Gold” and its spirit of Community Inclusiveness.

For convincing support of the above three facts, see Bob’s article: Small Communities – Thriving Towns or Zombie Towns?

Bob also believes that “Regionalisation of Councils” through Amalgamation is contributing to the demise of many small communities which become “lost” in the shadow of larger and more centralised regional growth centres.

This article published in the December edition of the New Zealand Geographer Journal provides convincing insight into understanding the downside of Council amalgamations: Understanding the downside of Council amalgamations – A possible solution for the ‘zombie town’ syndrome.

Find out more and get involved ~ Community Regeneration

Carbon dioxide options for commercial greenhouses

Effect on temperatures

Schematic showing the effect on extreme temperatures when (a) the mean temperature increases, (b) the variance increases, and (c) when both the mean and variance increase for a normal distribution of temperature.

Starfish Associate Ian Gesch has been selected as the lead article for the current edition of Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses.

The changing landscape of fossil fuels presents increasing business risks for Australian domestic industrial and commercial energy consumers. Rising costs and uncertain supply of natural gas and the existing high price of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) represent a significant portion of this risk. Adding complexity to this changing landscape is mounting international pressure on Australian policy makers to replace fossil-fuelled energy with renewable alternatives. Horticulturists use natural gas and LPG for greenhouse environment management and as a result are left exposed to an uncertain future.

The use of protected cropping practices is a form of climate change adaptation. However, these practices need continued modification to prepare for a changing climate, particularly in response to rising temperatures and increasing fuel costs. Modification of protected cropping practices to accommodate climate change has the potential to create opportunities for strengthening the business viability of horticulture and augmenting food security for domestic consumption and export.

Horticulturists have options for reducing reliance on fossil fuels and adapting to climate change. Most of these options, however, have low or no appeal due to relative cost (such as heat pumps and wind power), complexity (generating syngas from industrial or agricultural processes) or physical footprint (such as solar energy collection). Industrial symbioses (using waste CO2 from industrial processes) also have low applicability due to the continued placement of greenhouses in regional areas as opposed to locating them adjacent to sources of waste heat and carbon dioxide.

Those remaining options for adapting further to climate change require an innovative approach to testing and integration and include:

  • Using the combustion of natural gas and LPG not only as a source of CO2 but to also power absorption refrigeration plant. This would not only provide continued supply of CO2 for enrichment but allow longer exposure times without the need for venting greenhouses.
  • Cleaning the CO2 emitted from the flue of existing coal and biomass furnaces and using this for enrichment. This solution has the potential to make the combustion of expensive natural gas and LPG a secondary source of CO2 for enrichment.
  • Locate new greenhouses adjacent to sources of waste heat and CO2.
  • Perform an assessment of the total volume of CO2 consumed by commercial greenhouses (existing and potential) in Australia in order to inform climate change policy development and recognise horticulture as a legitimate consumer of CO2.
  • Develop tools and methods that simplify the calculation of the true cost of CO2 enrichment so that the efficiency of this practice can be improved.

Climate change will require a response from all commerce and industry. Horticulturists have the choice to either wait for the risks or prepare for the opportunities.

Read the full article ~ Sustainable energy: Carbon dioxide options for commercial greenhouses | Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

Read more about the Green Glasshouses initiative

Starfish completes workshop series for UNE student organisations

Gowing engagement student workshop

Starfish has successfully completed the research, design and delivery of a series of workshops to strengthen UNE student organisations. The overall purpose of the series was to enable office-bearers to create more dynamic, resilient, and enjoyable clubs, groups and societies ~ which in turn aimed to further enrich the student experience and amenity at UNE. The workshop series was commissioned by UNESA.

The workshops covered the below areas and were attended by some 52 students from around 45 organisations.

  1. Governance Essentials
  2. Efficient, effective & enjoyable: the well-run club
  3. Financial & money matters
  4. Growing Engagement

It became clear during the course of preparing the workshops that there is a distinct lack of publicly available and relevant resources for student organisations. Despite considerable desktop research there were no libraries of common manuals, templates, guides or check-lists for student organisations found. This is despite the fact that there are hundreds of universities globally and thousands of student organisations.

As a result, Starfish has now created and collated a range of relevant materials, including:

  • Reference materials including manuals, videos and research
  • Lists of relevant organisations
  • Workshop Presentations, including the recordings of each workshop
  • Student organisation health-checks
  • References for template policies, procedures, tools and systems

Electronic copies of the workshop presentations and above materials are available on request via Adam Blakester (see Starfish Associates for contact details).