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

Community saves itself from ruin with ‘give it a go’ attitude

Whilst the closure of a major employer in a small town can often be devastating for the community, a small town in northern Victoria has shown that it doesn’t have to be so. A recent ABC News article highlights the ‘can do’ attitude with which residents overcame the shock of 146 job losses and created the thriving farmer’s market and music scene which now define the town.

When the Heinz sauce factory in Girgarre closed down in 2012, residents were afraid it would mean the end of their small town. But instead of giving up, they knuckled down to come up with ways to generate funds for community projects themselves. Although many were dubious when Doug Gray, a member of the Girgarre Development Group (GDG), suggested the town should start its own farmers market, they decided to give it a go.

 

Starting with six stalls, the farmer’s market in Girgarre has gone from strength to strength and now has 150 stalls.

 

This has resulted in huge success for the community allowing them to self-fund maintenance for sport facilities, the local Country Fire Authority, the RSL and a community car for medical appointments.

Another heartening measure of their success is the fact that the local kindergarten, also saved by funds from the farmer’s market, will have a record intake this year.

Added to this, the town now has a thriving music scene thanks to the Girgarre Moosic Muster festival, which initially focused on people who had no musical experience but were keen to learn an instrument. Around 900 people have now gone through the workshop program and their monthly jam sessions attract musicians from all over northern Victoria. This has created a much wider community for the 190 people who actually live in the town.

Jan Winter, chair of the GDG, believes that this kind of solution is applicable to any small town.

 

“What they’ve got to do is search for the ideas that can help empower their own communities because nothing’s impossible, we’ve found that one out.”

 

Re-post ~ Tiny town of Girgarre in Victoria’s north shows ingenuity in the face of job losses by Peter Lusted for ABC News

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.

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

Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy

Uruagay Renewables

In less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint and lowered electricity costs ~ and all without government subsidies.

The country’s head of climate change policy, Ramón Méndez, says that now that renewables provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

It was a very different story just 15 years ago. Back at the turn of the century oil accounted for 27% of Uruguay’s imports and a new pipeline was just about to begin supplying gas from Argentina.

Now the biggest item on import balance sheet is wind turbines, which fill the country’s ports on their way to installation.

Biomass and solar power have also been ramped up. Adding to existing hydropower, this means that renewables now account for 55% of the country’s overall energy mix (including transport fuel) compared with a global average share of 12%.

There are no technological miracles involved, nuclear power is entirely absent from the mix, and no new hydroelectric power has been added for more than two decades. Instead, Méndez says, the key to success is rather dull but encouragingly replicable: clear decision-making, a supportive regulatory environment and a strong partnership between the public and private sector.

As a result, energy investment ~ mostly for renewables, but also liquid gas ~ in Uruguay over the past five years has surged to $7bn, or 15% of the country’s annual GDP. That is five times the average in Latin America and three times the global share recommended by climate economist Nicholas Stern.

“What we’ve learned is that renewables is just a financial business,” Méndez says. “The construction and maintenance costs are low, so as long as you give investors a secure environment, it is a very attractive.”

There is still a lot to do. The transport sector still depends on oil (which accounts for 45% of the total energy mix). But industry ~ mostly agricultural processing ~ is now powered predominantly by biomass co-generation plants.

Méndez attributed Uruguay’s success to three key factors: credibility, as a stable democracy that has never defaulted on its debts so it is attractive for long-term investments; helpful natural conditions with good wind, decent solar radiation and lots of biomass from agriculture; and strong public companies which are a reliable partner for private firms and can work with the state to create an attractive operating environment.

Re-Post ~ Uruguay makes dramatic shift to nearly 95% electricity from clean energy | The Guardian
Read more ~

$41Bn Philanthropist

Prince Alwaleed BinTalal

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, nephew of the late King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, has made one of the biggest philanthropic pledges ever, vowing to give away his entire $41 billion fortune to help build a “better world of tolerance, acceptance, equality and opportunity for all”.

Prince Alwaleed said he has modelled his donation on Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge.

The money will be distributed by Alwaleed Philanthropies, the family’s trust, with the Prince declaring that it would be used to “build bridges to foster cultural understanding, develop communities, empower women, enable youth, provide vital disaster relief and create a more tolerant and accepting world”.

Prince Alwaleed said he was motivated to make the massive gift after working with other philanthropists for more than 35 years.

“You may rightly wonder, why am I doing this? My response is that everyone goes through certain life-changing situations that have a great effect on his or her crucial future decisions. I have had the opportunity to witness, first hand, the challenging conditions of many communities across the globe, and have stood among those who were suffering and in great need. I have also learned of overwhelming obstacles through meetings with the leaders of countries and communities around the world,” he said.

“Given the world’s current economic and social conditions, and the devastating effects of war and natural disasters around the world, more collaborative efforts are required from all capable individuals to unify their stand in the effort to alleviate poverty in the most deprived communities and to advance and build their societies.

“Philanthropy is a personal responsibility, which I embarked upon more than three decades ago and is an intrinsic part of my Islamic faith. With this pledge, I am honoring my life-long commitment to what matters most – helping to build a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world for generations to come.”

Re~Post ~ $41 Billion Charity Pledge | Pro Bono Australia

FRRR supports Starfish for tax-deductible donations

Logo

Starfish is pleased to announce that it can now provide tax-deductible donations through the generous support of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR).

Donations of $2 or more to Starfish are tax-deductible through our FRRR Donation Account. Donations can be either be nominated and tagged to fund a specific sustainability initiative or be given to support Starfish’s sustainability work in general.

FRRR is a charitable foundation which enables communities to build their social capital and economic resilience by engaging and providing resources for projects that create the change that communities aspire to achieve.

The form and instructions about how to donate to Starfish can be downloaded here. We would greatly welcome your financial support.*

Find out more ~

* Starfish is still pursuing its own registration for tax deductible donations through the Register of Environmental Organisations. Regrettably, this is a highly political and uncertain process. As at today it is more than 3&1/2 years since Starfish submitted its application for registration.

Community supported business models

beyond the csa

You may be familiar with community supported agriculture (CSA) ~ which is where locals purchase a share of the season’s harvest upfront and get a box of fresh produce each week from the farm.

Now you can get your craft beer that way too!

By purchasing a craft brewery share, you get to take home a specified quantity of beer at regular intervals, usually monthly. You are directly purchasing from the producer, thus creating a relationship between creator and consumer. Memberships typically offer six- or twelve-month options and include additional benefits like discounts and members-only events.

It’s a system that works well from a brewery’s perspective too. “For a small producer, you get money upfront that you need to buy ingredients and packaging, you know what people want ahead of time and they come and pick up the beer themselves,” explained Page Buchanan, owner of House of Brews. “So, it solves the challenges of knowing what to make, buying the raw materials to make it, and then distributing it to the end consumer. It’s very efficient.”

Community supported art is happening too. Commissioned artists create a specified number of pieces, usually around 50 or so, which is the number of shares available for purchase. Each share typically consists of one piece from each of the participating artists and costs anywhere from $50 to $500. Shares are distributed through a series of “pick-up parties,” allowing patrons the opportunity to meet artists in their community.

What else could communities support, and in so doing further strengthen rural sustainability?

Re~ Post:  Four ways communities support everything   | Yes Magazine

Farming the Sun wins Growing Community Energy grant

Grant launch

L to R: Leslie Williams, NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy, Kasey Clifford, Australian Radio Towers, Patrick Halliday, Juno Energy, Sharyn Hunniset, Lismore City Council, Natalie Myers, Nimbin Community Centre

Starfish’s Farming the Sun initiative is one of six community energy projects in northern NSW who have been awarded grants by the NSW government.

State-wide, there were 19 projects which shared $846,000 in the latest round of funding to help advance local renewable energy projects, as part of the NSW government’s push to assist community energy projects.

Leslie Williams, the parliamentary secretary for renewable energy, says $40,000 will go to Starfish Initiatives to help build two 100kW solar farms as part of Lismore’s 100 per cent renewable energy plan. It is being hailed as the first council-community partnership in Australia to build a community owned and run, solar farm.

The $40,000 of seed funding is designed to help to raise investment from community financiers, who will manage the project with Lismore City Council and partner organisations.

$40,000 is also going to Nimbin Neighbourhood and Information Centre to help finance a small-scale bio-gas project in a local milk and cheese producing dairy farm, and create a business model for further development of two community-owned bio-gas hubs in Murwillumbah and Casino.

$15,000 is going to help Australian Radio Towers develop a wholly community-owned project to take the entire Tyalgum Village “off the grid.” Tyalgum has a population of 300 people.

And the town of Mullumbimby will receive $34,000 to develop a feasibility study for a crowdfunding platform to aid clean energy development in the region, including a planned 75kW community solar farm.

See More: