Tag Archives: food miles

Avoiding the Poison Berries – Where is it Made, Mate?

If you live in Australia you’ve probably by now seen some eye-catching headlines about people contracting Hepatitis A from ‘poison berries’ being imported from overseas… with mention of un-controlled border imports, human faeces as fertiliser and images of poisoned waterways.


Yes, this makes me hungry, for berries ‘Produced in Australia’. For other countries you’ll need to research your own consumer laws.

Rather than throw fuel on the fire that’s currently raging in the media [do your own research on this one], I felt compelled to have a fresh look at how we might better welcome fresh, locally-grown, healthy and seasonal food into our own lives.

So where is it really made, Mate??

It was only last weekend that I ‘cracked it’ in an un-named supermarket because I literally couldn’t identify which product was actually grown and packed in Australia. So if we’re interested in buying only locally grown [and preferably locally owned] foods, what are we looking for on the label?

Here’s what I’ve been able to find out – and finding this was a lot like calling my previous Superannuation fund to cancel something; it took several steps from one authority to another before someone seems willing to make a decision ; )

It’s our ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] via Consumer Law that lays down the rules. The following is summarised from their fact sheet;

‘Product of / Grown In’ – significant ingredients are from the country claimed and almost all production processes occurred in that country. ‘Grown in’ is mostly for fresh food, ‘Product of’ is often for processed food.

‘Product of Australia’ – means it was grown/caught and processed in Australia.

‘Grown in Australia’ – means, well… what it says.

‘Made In’ – has a cost ratio to determine [long story], but can contain ingredients from other countries. That’s right;

‘Made in Australia’ can mean that the entire contents are from another country.

That’s gold isn’t it??!!

‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’ – no requirement to disclose proportion, and often used to address seasonal shortages in Australian produce… [it happens to be this one that’s at the centre of berry-gate, to the detriment of Aussie farmers who are growing nothing but good gear all year ’round]

For your own sake, have a look at the ACCC fact sheet – it’s a one pager and gets straight to the point. It will change how you shop.

Bon Appetite : )



Native Advertising and Online Retail – Green or Greedy?

You’re standing at the bus stop, waiting for the 5.20pm 209 to take you home.  Busses now all run on solar electric (they top up at each stop when they stop over the wireless charging plates in the road, themselves networked back to the district grid) and you’re happy to catch them on your 3 days at the city office, especially since you sold off your 2nd car and are hiring out the remaining one during work hours to earn some credit.

Bus stop shelters all carry dynamic advertising boards that update products based on the people standing at the stop at the time. The hyper-connectivity of your hand-held and wearable tech with the city network means that the retailer’s advertising algorithms can flash up products that they know you favour, based on past spending activity. Bread, milk, a curry and some greenery for dinner.. oh yeah, and a selection of fresh-cut flowers and cards given that it’s your partner’s birthday tomorrow.


Image from JCDecaux, York St, Sydney (now I feel like Tim Tams!)

You take the bait and wave your phone over each selected image, confirming the purchase and immediate delivery. The items will be dispatched by drone and arrive home within 40 minutes.

What’s just taken place is known as ‘native advertising’, and most of what you just read is already real and happening out there.

Native advertising is an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed (Wikipedia)

This is an emerging dimension of online shopping, which is the fastest growing mode of retail in the developed world. We can already make purchases through our computer, tablet device or hand-held… in many cases without even visiting a store.

And the current mode of native advertising is only the beginning. We’re already on the way towards what I’d call ‘ambush native advertising’; you’re sitting on the bus and are feeling like you have a cold coming on. Your clothing has enough sensors built in that it can measure your increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and it knows you’re getting a cold. This information then triggers a push advertisement onto your handheld right before your eyes… ‘Feeling Flat? Try Mr Trippy’s Blue Pill. Select Enter to make your purchase and activate delivery’.

Will native advertising break down our already weak guard and convince us to spend more, or will it simply prompt us to make more targeted and useful purchases as we need them? Whichever way it goes, it’s likely that the push of retailing into our devices is going to reduce the need for physical shops.


I actually look forward to some aspects of this connected future, but seeing images like the one above, when ‘fresh food’ becomes nothing more than an image on a wall, fills me with a touch of sadness (but a dose of resolve). We are already too disconnected from nature, and much of this trend threatens to cut us off altogether – a dystopian future? As with all things – appropriate technology is the way.

Is it Time to Dig Up the Golf Course?

You’ve probably played on one or visited at least one in your lifetime. A select few will even own a house on one. Some know I’ve thrown a few clubs on one. Golf course estates – privately held or strata-held housing surrounding a manicured golf course. But a new model is emerging that offers something quite different (and arguably less frustrating)…


Golf Course estates are typically devoid of ecological or productive value, lock up valuable topsoil and land, and alienate the rest of us.

Enter the Development Supported Agriculture (DSA) model. You could effectively picture the golf course being replaced with a highly diverse and productive farm, accessible to residents and neighbours. The residential development then includes shared community facilities based around food production and education.


East Lake Commons, Decatur, Georgia US

Development Supported Agriculture is where the initial developer provides all of the farm infrastructure along with their residential estate products, and a ‘real’ farmer then works the farm, selling produce to the resident market – without the normal transport impacts or costs etc.

There are 5 core principles of DSA (from Wieler) :

  1. Preservation of farmland through limited development and continuity of previous farming uses.
  2. Agreements between developers and farmers (development provides farm infrastructure, farmers provide farm products to residents and the local community).
  3. Low-impact development techniques, sustainable architecture, and careful ecological/environmental planning.
  4. Establishment of wildlife corridors and animal habitats, promotion of native plant species, and protection of water quality.
  5. Utilization of an open-source development model that provides a framework for master-planned farm communities and integrated local food systems.

Residents are able to either work their own share of the land or lease it to the farmer in exchange for produce. Most of the DSA developments around the world are also all or mostly organic farms, feeding our growing demand for clean, safe, organic food that is locally produced.

Lots of good resources around on this topic; check this one out for planning code inserts that have been prepared for local Councils, to facilitate Community Supported Agriculture developments during the planning stages.


This is a really exciting model of value-added residential community design with enhanced food security and resilience. There are at least 1,000 of these registered in the US alone, and I’m excited to see where the first of these will arise (or have arisen) in Australia.

Give me this over a golf course in my neighbourhood any day.

Sustainable Vs Resilient: The Supermarket Test

So what’s the difference between ‘sustainability’ and this new-fangled word ‘resilience’? I get hooked on words because they carry so much meaning, even when we don’t mean them to, so here’s an example of how different ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’ can be.

I’m going to use a supermarket as an example. I don’t have anything specifically against supermarkets – I loathe any type of retail environment in equal measure… but the typical mega-chain supermarket [and I’m specifically not naming names here] has, over time, stealthily burdened us with a swathe of community ‘fails’ that have significantly undermined our community resilience.

panda sup

A supermarket could be labelled as highly ‘sustainable’ because it has some attributes that are recognised as ‘green building’ elements. Let’s take some of those sustainability attributes and see what we can tweak in order to make them more resilient;

  • Solar panels on roof: becomes solar panels owned or leased by the local community, with income stream for the supermarket and reduced energy costs and improved reliability for the local residents;
  • Organic waste diverted from landfill: becomes on-site or local composting of green waste, with by-product used for local soil conditioning and urban agriculture;
  • Organic produce: becomes locally grown organic seasonal produce from multiple small scale growers, home owners and community gardens, providing better food security and local economy – in reality the supermarket no longer plays a role in fresh food production, but let’s be nice;
  • Reduced or even neutral carbon footprint through energy efficiency, renewables and offsets; becomes locally redeemed offsets through community street planting, home and business energy renovations and community renewables schemes;
  • Energy efficient refrigeration; becomes reduced refrigeration thanks to increased local food growing and ‘field-to-table’ supply chain, meaning the need for refrigerating fresh produce is vastly reduced;
  • Biodegradable or Recyclable packaging; becomes reduced packaging, again thanks to local food production and the removal of the need for freight transport of goods;

Of course the list can go on. The point is, Resilience is something like Sustainability but with community wellbeing, health and prosperity included. In some senses a supermarket might be ‘sustainable’ but a local farmer’s market is more resilient – and in my opinion much more fun : )

If you know of any supermarket chains anywhere in the world where they are trending back towards community resilience I’d love to hear about it.

Jobs of the Future: Urban Farmer

Position Description; Urban Farmer sought for Smith Street Community. Must have extensive knowledge in horticulture, aquaponics and bee keeping. The role includes providing support and teaching to the community who wish to increase their food security, enhance community resilience and mutual reliance, and re-connect their families and children with organic, seasonal and healthy food.

The majority of homes and street verges are under-productive and require the establishment of new street orchards, planted verges and diverse seasonal produce crops on individual Lots, with the intention to swap produce through a weekly urban orchard program. An additional pilot program underway in conjunction with local Council includes returning sections of street parking to vegetated and edible rain gardens.


what would an urban farmer post be without Michael Mobbs?


The Forester must have a strong understanding of organic horticulture, natural soil production and local climatic conditions. Understanding of local soil conditions an advantage. Strong engagement skills and familiarity with working with local Councils is desirable, and the Forester will be collaborating with the local Council in managing the assignment of their annual Community Resilience funding.

Ability to craft hand-made beer will be considered an added advantage by the community’s enthusiastic annual home brewing contestants.

Remuneration will be subject to performance, diversity and quality of product, and community feedback. Payment sources shall be the following;

  • Nominal part cash payment comprised of monthly contributions from the community;
  • Part payment from Council Community Resilience program funding;
  • Part payment from Community members’ health insurance providers [for providing healthy organic food and supporting community involvement];
  • Part payment from the State Health Department [for reducing demand on healthcare provision through providing healthy food and enhanced social capital];
  • Part payment as share of produce.

If you don’t mind a little hard work, a lot of socialising and garden chats, herding ducks and farming fish, dodging children’s toys, teaching adults and children, mucking with compost, stealing from bees and chickens, and beer tasting, then give us a call – we’d love to hear from you.

… We already get health insurer subsidies for gym membership and physiotherapy, and it’s only a matter of time before we get the same for consuming healthier food, joining community groups and for making our neighbourhoods more resilient. This job would be a great gig.




Gnomes Really Will Come to Life at Night

I like to consider myself to be relatively brave when the pressure’s on. I’m not too phased by snakes, rats, roaches or bugs in general. But if I’m confronted by a spider all bets are off – not so much the small ones [poisonous or not] but if it’s one of those big ones that takes the broom out of your hand I turn into a hopeless mess. If I had tattoos I’d have to have them all removed ‘cos I’m not so tough really.

Around October each year our orange and lemon trees get an infestation of ‘stink bugs’ [Bronze Orange Bugs] who systematically destroy every bud on the trees. They multiply rapidly and if not stopped they will destroy the entire crop. This season I started nailing them early with pyrethrum spray which is the safest yet most effective, non-systemic non-residual spray I’ve been able to find. I lost a fraction of the crop but we look like we might have a winter treat this year.

And whilst I was doing this work I started day-dreaming about nanotechnology and robots, as I do, and thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we could get tiny robot spiders whose sole job was to protect our plants, crawling around at night zapping-squashing-burying-ingesting all manner of evil on our trees?

robot spider

Robot spider already available. Not yet with lazers but give it time. And already spooky. Check out the video via the link.

Problem is, even if it’s a robot spider I don’t think I’d be able to sleep at night. I’m brave enough when the pressure’s on – snakes, bugs, rats or roaches don’t really phase me – but spiders are another story… there’s something about any reasonably sized spider that turns me into a complete coward. I even quiver when the kids bring home plastic spiders which are sadistically designed to look like real spiders – I just know I’ll be padding around at night and spot one on the floor…

So maybe robot spiders wouldn’t be so cool, but how about a robot Gnome? We regularly watch ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’ with the kids [no spoilers here]… so it seems a reasonable aspiration to one day have a family of robot garden gnomes [or even fairies?] who tend our gardens at night. Something a bit more friendly.

I’d program mine to also ‘deter’ the neighbours cat which I’ve busted killing a blue tongue lizard in our garden and who also pees on our lawn and kills the grass… ‘deter without prejudice’ I’d command them. I’d consider rewarding them with a box of spare parts but I’d be worried they might build their own robot spiders as pets and sub-contract the work out to them.


Gnomeo from Gnomeo & Juliet. Now where’s that cat?

In any event, these critters are on the way. I’d give it only a few years before we can 3D print our own stink bug assassins at home and enjoy plenty of fresh orange juice in our back gardens, wondering what ever became of the neighbour’s cat…

Happy gardening this weekend. Get your hands dirty and let your imaginations run free.

Aquaponics – Fish From the Roof?

Fancy some fish and vegetables tonight? Grown in your own back yard, on your office or restaurant roof, or in your neighbourhood farm? Aquaponics are seen by many as a solution to food security challenges created by rapid urbanisation. The system allows us to create super-high yield vegetable gardens with fish as a by-product.


I stumbled across aquaponics when I was researching my Will Allen post a short while ago. Since getting my head around the system I’ve become entranced by the urban possibilities that this system presents.


The Hedron Globe by Urban Farmers (click image for link)

The aquaponics system creates a symbiosis of fish-microbes-plants that produces a steady supply of vegetables and fish, year round, at the cost of some fish food input and the running of a small pump. Sure this system doesn’t produce grain crops or fruit trees, but it can plug a huge gap in global protein production without the extraordinary ecological footprint of the systems we currently use. It cuts out the chemical fertiliser process and relies on good old-fashioned nature.

Here are some thoughts on applications;

  • At Home: In your back yard is the easiest entry level. No way am I telling my wife about this idea yet [I’m still working up to the chooks then the beehive, but I can see a spot for aquaponics as well]
  • Neighbourhood: A neighbourhood aquaponics greenhouse – staffed by you and your neighbours and administered by your local Council. Food at your front door, this would be a classic example of decentralised food production;
  • Urban Rooftop: Rooftop greenhouses – I came across a few studies that showed a rooftop farm could supply enough food for 400 building occupants. The yield is super high.
  • Restaurant: ever been to a Chinese restaurant and selected your fresh fish? Well now you could select the fish, the salad and greens, and the vegetables. Can’t get any fresher than that.
  • Industry: Aquaponics service provider – this could be a whole new industry where technicians manage your installation for you, or indeed where you sell your surplus produce to a local grocery or restaurant. There are already flourishing business like this for chickens and bees. Why not fish?

I’m really looking forward to plugging one of these into some master planning work to see what happens.

And if you’re really keen, here’s something that looks like it’s out of Logan’s Run: