Tag Archives: food waste

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 : )



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.




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:


Will Allen – An Urban Farmer Growing Resilience [by the tonne]

6 foot 7, ex-NBA player, 63 years old – and building a local thriving economy, education service, healthcare service, community resilience movement through growing food in the middle of Wisconsin. Will Allen is one of the movers and shakers in the urban agriculture movement [also referred to as urban farming or street farming] and for years has been focussing on one of the ‘indicator’ elements of building community resilience.

Will loves worms – he’s got millions of them. He makes compost using city waste, uses some in the gardens and sells the rest. He uses aquaponics to grow fish, then sells them too. He’s getting something like quadruple the productivity of our industrialised agricultural system. And whilst he’s doing all this he’s building local capacity in skills, in food growing, in community connectedness.

will allen

There are many articles and write-ups on Will Allen, but the one from the New York Times 2009 by Elizabeth Royte is the one that drew me in. I only intended to read the intro but found myself at the end about 5 minutes later – a great article that teaches us about the systems Will’s built but also conveys the passion and enthusiasm of a guy who wants to make a difference, and is.

“Will Allen, a farmer of Bunyonesque proportions, ascended a berm of wood chips and brewer’s mash and gently probed it with a pitchfork. “Look at this,” he said, pleased with the treasure he unearthed. A writhing mass of red worms dangled from his tines. He bent over, raked another section with his fingers and palmed a few beauties.”

A few key ways in which urban farming can build community resilience;

  • Improves food security – the community is not solely reliant on the food production system owned by corporations;
  • Makes fresh and organic food available at low prices – boosting community health and financial wellbeing;
  • Provides food locally – circumventing poorly planned neighbourhoods that force reliance on cars to get to the fresh food store;
  • Teaches self reliance – empowering the community to take care of themselves, to work as a community and build mutual support… like it always used to be but now transferred to the urban context;
  • Significantly reduces environmental impacts – avoids petro-chemical fertilisers, restores soil health, vastly reduces fresh water consumption, turns waste into resource.

This was just one of those stories that makes me want to go out and do the same thing. Every city contains vacant or unproductive land that could be producing our food and building our communities.

One other site that’s worth a visit is City Farmer News [click image] – a current and up-to-date site that shares urban farming happenings from around the world… certainly gives the sense that this is a global movement and fascinating to read how people are responding to their own contexts in the world’s major cities. Warning; if you’re even vaguely interested in this topic [if you’ve made it this far you probably are] this site will draw you in. Make some time allowance.


No matter how small a space we have available, it’s clear that we can be growing at least some of our own food. Personally my challenge is ‘finding the time’ but methinks this is more a question of re-organising my priorities rather than a real time issue. I now know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

Monday Motivation #14 – Resilience Through Real Food

Every now and again I’ve really had my eyes opened whilst researching for this blog, and I walk away with a bit more spring in my step. This is one of those occasions.

In our local paper [Sydney Morning Herald, and yes I bought a hard copy and loved it] last month there was a story about Four In Hand café in Paddington, where local residents swap their home-grown produce for some of the honey from the beehive on the cafe’s roof. ‘Cool’ I thought – local food economy, cashless, goodwill and all that… building local community.

Turns out that this was just the tip of the iceberg, and that this is happening all over Sydney. It sure as heck wasn’t happening 5 years ago, so what’s changed?

Rather than repeat the article from the SMH, I’ll just provide the link – it’s a short but great read. Jump in and get some ideas and inspiration on local food economy, food hubs and gardens, back yard permaculture and more. Click on Michael Mobbs below to get to the article.

The Enriched List. Sustainability advocate Michael Mobbs from www.sustainablehouse.com.auSMH GOOD WEEKEND Picture by DAMIEN PLEMING GW100821

The other ‘wow’ moment was when I jumped onto the ‘Grow it Local’ site where they have an interactive map of all the residents who have registered their productive gardens, for food swapping and mutual support. I had a look at this about a year ago and was underwhelmed by the take-up. It’s a totally different story now and fascinating to browse through. [Click the image to get there]


This is just one local example of how we are already building resilient communities, through direct networking and online. This is increasing food security and independence, building social cohesion and connectedness, reducing waste and improving health. The list goes on. It’s all propelled by the communities themselves, and the federal government is even providing funding and grants to push it along.

Great stories and a bit of inspiration.

Do a search for ‘grow it local’ in your own neighbourhood and see what you discover.

Weekend Warrior #13 – The Life of a Coffee Cup

Every minute of every day we send 1 million disposable coffee cups to the world’s landfills. Talk about small actions adding up!

Here are some sobering facts about our disposable coffee cups;

  • paper cups can’t be recycled because they’re lined with plastic, and that plastic takes 50 years to break down in landfill;
  • each coffee drinker disposes of 2.7kg of plastic lids each year;
  • most ‘compostable’ coffee cups can only be composted by commercial facilities, not in your home compost;
  • many plastic lids are made from polystyrene [plastic type 6] which ‘aint so good for us when it’s heated


I got my own keep cup a short while ago after I posted about ‘naked food’. Since then, it’s paid for itself in the discount I get per coffee.

Keep Cups are made from plastic that is actually recyclable, and they last for around 3 years. So in ecological footprint terms and in cost terms, they pay for themselves pretty quickly.

So this weekend’s challenge, should you choose to accept it, is pretty simple: if you buy takeaway coffees, switch to a re-usable cup. Most outlets sell them now, and you’ll often get the first coffee to fill it free of charge. Ask your employer if they would consider purchasing or subsidising branded cups – you can have them made with your own design and logo. Check these guys out to learn more [keepcup.com.au] – this is where I pilfered the stats from;


These small actions are great in that they add up to big results but also remind us each day of our power to create change.