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

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‚Äôs 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

Doughnut Economics: Finding the sweet spot between social justice and environmental sustainability

In her new book Doughnut Economics economist Kate Raworth presents an alternative economic model which takes into account both environmental sustainability and social justice.

Raworth’s theory describes a doughnut in which the outer ring represents the planetary boundary (the limits of the earth’s natural resources) and the inner ring delineates the social boundary (the basic needs of a human population).

She points out that these are two factors which have been left out of traditional economic models, which she believes have been massively oversimplified.

The space in between, the substance of the doughnut as it were, is the ‘safe and just space for humanity’, the sweet spot of a regenerative and distributive economy.

For a more detailed explanation of the doughnut model, see Raworth’s TEDx Talk below:

The doughnut¬†has been welcomed by many commentators as a basis for further debate and development of¬†a new economic model which is more suited to the realities in which we live. Others have used it as an aid to consider the environmental and social impact of their lives or organisations; asking the question, for example, ‘Is our brand¬†a doughnut?’

Co-founder of Yes! magazine, David Korten, is very impressed with the doughnut. He considers it ‘both the nail in the coffin of conventional economics and the real-world-based intellectual structure from which an authentic real-world economics for the 21st century can grow’ and he leaves his readers with this advice:

 

“For anyone contemplating signing up for a standard economics course or degree to help them solve real-world problems, I highly recommend buying and reading Doughnut Economics instead. You will save time and money and avoid the risk of serious brain damage.”

 

Read more:

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

Aussie solar company (em)powers rural farmers

An Aussie startup company, Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA), has launched a social enterprise project which leases solar set-ups to villagers in developing countries.

By providing rural communities with access to solar-powered lighting and phone charging capabilities, as well as shared agro-processing facilities, company founder and solar entrepreneur Stewart Craine hopes to cut dependence on fossil fuels, improve agricultural productivity and empower communities.

 

 

So far the project has proven to alleviate the time burden involved with food production, particularly for women, and open up possibilities for other paid employment. This has been achieved by leasing solar powered mills to communities to help them grind and de-hull grains. A mill shared between a group of families can turn what used to be a highly labour-intensive task into a five-minute doddle, improving agricultural productivity and freeing up time for other activities.

Introducing solar technology in these rural communities also decreases their reliance on fossil fuels as it provides an alternative to kerosene lamps and diesel-powered generators.

 

 

Craine, who also helped found the solar lighting group Barefoot Power,  has already attracted interest from investors for this new project.

 

“…pilot projects have so far proved that local teams could quickly generate sufficient revenue from a modest number of solar power projects in rural villages to cover their daily operating costs, and additional revenue which accumulates in the bank to repay investors.”

 

The company has achieved its pilot goal of reaching 1000 households and plans to reach 10,000 households by 2018 and a whopping 200,000 by 2020. This is in an effort to help more of the 1 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity.

Re-post ~ New Aussie solar start-up empowering rural farming villages by Sophie Vorrath in One Step Off the Grid

Turnaround as Tamworth welcomes diversity

A recent photo essay in the Guardian tells the stories of several families who are newcomers to Tamworth. The article notes the turnaround in the community’s attitude towards outsiders. It also celebrates the work of Multicultural Tamworth, an organisation which has been instrumental in creating greater understanding and appreciation of diversity through ‘open and honest discussion’.

In 2006 Tamworth attracted national criticism by voting down a proposal to re-settle five Sudanese families who were fleeing from war and persecution. However, the Guardian’s photo essay tells a different and very refreshing story. What’s more, Eddie Whitham, the founder of Multicultural Tamworth ~ an organisation with the ethos of being good ‚Äúneighbours to newcomers‚ÄĚ ~ says the region is now welcoming and celebrating diversity.

“Tamworth is very much home, a great community.‚ÄĚ Says third-generation Fijian Indian, Shalini Pratap who moved to Tamworth in 2003.

 

Nicole Li, an engineering surveyor, arrived with her husband and 9-year-old son in 2014 on a skilled migrants visa. “‚ÄúComing from Beijing, we love the quiet and less-stressful lifestyle. We feel very free.‚ÄĚ

 

Deborah Manyang moved to Tamworth in 2015 after spending time in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs safe here,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúWe can‚Äôt hear guns or see soldiers. We‚Äôre happy. It‚Äôs a new future for our children, they are adapting well and the local people have been very helpful.‚ÄĚ

 

Tamworth cavalcade

Multicultural Tamworth and immigrant families took part in Tamworth’s country music festival for the first time this year, reflecting the change in attitudes.

 

This year’s Australia Day marked¬†the changing attitude to multiculturalism in Tamworth when 37 Tamworth residents became Australian citizens.

Eddie Witham is working to see this trend continue.

 

‚ÄúWe need to find a common ground. It‚Äôs not going to work if we have isolated people. We want to make our town work. The hope is that this will become a natural thing ~ that there will be no us and them.‚ÄĚ

 

Re-post ~¬†‘Neighbours to newcomers’ ~ portraits from Tamworth by Lisa Maree Williams in The Guardian Australia

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