Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Inspiration from Joel Salatin: Part 1 - Support the Farmer

Today it takes up to 10 calories of oil to produce one calorie of food. Joel Salatin from the US, heralded as the worlds most successful farmer, was in Sydney recently where he gave an illuminating talk. By uncovering the inefficiencies of our chemical food system he offers us a better way to treat the land and ourselves. Inspired, I consider how these ideas can be applied on the household level in part 1.

Food is one of our most critical resources. Each one of us depends upon it. However our food system is increasingly moving into fewer and fewer hands, of whose main interests are self-serving. Michael Croft is an organic pig, chicken and cattle farmer from the outskirts of Canberra. He offered an Australian perspective as an introduction to Salatin. 

illustration of orange treeHis daughter suggested that he buy a farm (so that she could keep a horse). He bought 200 acres only to be met by his new neighbour who claimed that it wasn't possible to make a living on it. Not deterred, Croft picked up Salatin's book 'Pastured Poultry Profits' and began a paddock to plate farm. Over the fence he watched as hundreds of fully laden orange trees were ploughed into the ground. The price of $100 per tonne of oranges that his neighbour could receive on the open market was below his cost of production. A failed suicide attempt followed. Croft suggested that he try the farmers market. His neighbour now receives $1000 per tonne for his oranges. 

What you can do: Support farmers and buy direct via:
  • Farmers Markets - A reputable market will require stall holders to display signs identifying their organic status and whether they are either a farmer or producer. And naturally, the produce should be local. Find your local market here
  • Visit the farm - Take a Sunday drive to the country. Ask your local tourism information for a producers map that marks road side stalls and pick your own farms. It's often worth calling first to check that their produce is in season. You can buy in bulk and stock up your freezer for the year.
  • Join a Food Co-op - This is a grocery store with a difference. Owned and run by members for members, they often offer organic food at more affordable prices, and you can have a say as to where the food is purchased from. Find your nearest coop here:
  • Direct sales - Meat producers often offer bulk purchases such as a quarter of a cow. These will need to be booked in advance with the farm and you may be required to pick up your purchase direct from their butcher. Check local producer lists such as The Australian Regional Food Guide to find your nearest.  
  • Online Sales - Today some farms are leveraging an online presence, selling direct from their website, where you can receive your purchase by mail. Try searching for your favourite olive oil or dry goods brand.

Read more articles in this series...

Part 2 - Why Are We So Slow?
Part 3 - Ethical Food Production

Friday, February 15, 2013

Travelling Lightly

Summer holidays are a favourite time of the year for us. Getting back to basics in nature, away from the complexities of the man-made environment, is what we find most rejuvenating. We have recently returned from a trip spent catching up with family in Port Macquarie. We had come together for a beautiful wedding of my partner's cousin under tall pines on Flynns beach. It's always a welcome luxury to share time with family when we live apart from each other. 

Watching the surf roll in on the beach
Dunbogan Beach

Traveling is a form of freedom. We just go, no bookings, no itineraries. A few destinations in mind and that is all we need. We explore beaches, national parks, drive down winding tracks to find giant trees hidden in state forests, or wander through little towns of weatherboard shops and houses that have been lovingly preserved, buying op shop clothes, secondhand books and home-made food. When we are tired we find a caravan park or a campsite and we park for the night. If we want to rest we stay a few days, walking, swimming, reading. Otherwise we travel on. 

Our first travel vehicle was my partner's grandfather's old nomad van. The seats folded down and a swag on top made for a good bed. We drove to Kangaroo Island and awed at the wildlife and the beaches without footprints. It survived the corrugations and the weaving lines around echidnas. An upgrade to a commercial van with a green stripe down the side and only two front seats. We built a bed base, a pull out kitchen at the back, and put containers on wheels underneath the bed for our clothes. The swag migrated to the new bed base. Victoria is where we went. Montville, a town steeped in the shadows of the Yarra Ranges, a deeply resonating place, that since tragically burned. Wilsons Promontory's rocky outcrops, Phillip Island's waddling entertainers, The Mornington Peninsula's goat cheese and even Melbourne for the quaint secondhand shops and art galleries is what we saw. Just a van and a canvas swag. It's all we needed to taste freedom. 

At the time, in the early 2000's, eco living hadn't really hit the mainstream consciousness (dare I imply that it has now). We travelled lightly because it was fun, easy and our pockets still held change. Now, enlightened by our hotter summers and wetter winters (is that really just the El Nino, or whichever one it is that is effecting us at this time?), like every other part of our life, we consider our holiday's environmental impact. Last April, having exchanged the van a few years back for a station-wagon, we bought a 1970's 12ft caravan for $1400. It made it to Coffs Harbour with a stop at Trial Bay (the best beach front camping in NSW we're seen) last Autumn. And it just made it back from Port Mac and our dip into nature at Diamond Head, Crowdy Bay National Park. All be it, minus a number plate, which a kindly policeman alerted us to when he asked if the van was registered. 

our caravan
'Stumpy' the caravan at Trial Bay National Park

Our sweetly curved roof caravan added 50% to our petrol consumption. I don't know how well the un-aerodynamic box on wheels vans faired in comparison, but I hazard a bet that they went further on a tank. I'm afraid we fell for the aesthetics and the price tag. We could of bought a pop top, or a camper trailer. When we bought it efficiency was not on my mind, the record was playing "I always wanted a mini vintage caravan". That's certainly what I got. 

Camping would unarguably be the most eco-friendly accommodation. A tent's footprint is literally and ecologically small. I think a van, unless you are into trekking by foot, bike of horse, would logically follow closely behind. Beyond that, I wonder if staying in eco-friendly accommodation would be better than towing a caravan or camper trailer?

Staying in a caravan park can be a sustainable holiday option. We spent a night at Beach Front Holiday Park, North Haven, located behind Grants beach. This well positioned park has a Gumnut Award, a program run by the Caravan and Camping Industry Association that aims to encourage environmental sustainability in the industry. The awards are offered to parks that meet sustainable objectives across management of water, waste, energy, air pollution and more. You can learn more about the Gumnut Awards and search for other awarded parks at This website also has suggestions for travelling lightly. A few of their best travelling tips are: harvest the natural air conditioning available when travelling in your car by opening your windows; and turn off un-neccessary appliances at home before you leave, such as the hot water heater and any other circuits at your meter box that won't be utilised in your absence. 

Beyond the transport and accommodation (presumably the largest Co2 guzzlers), we seek other ways to travel lightly. Most of our activities are about simply being in and enjoying a destination. Swimming, walking, cycling, reading, drawing and sleeping. Diamond Head was a perfect location for this. Located 2.5 hrs north of Newcastle, or 3.5 hrs from Sydney, it is a well appointed campsite with cold showers (or hot ones if you bring a solar shower bag), flush toilets and only meters from the beach and walking trails into the enchanting heath. 

Dawn in the heath
Dawn in the heath

We choose to fuel ourselves well by choosing organic and local produce where ever possible. I still remember the best apple juice we've ever had bought at a road side farm shop on the Mornington Peninsular. We only bought 2L of the liquid gold. We should have bought 10! This time round we lived on fish from a co-op on the river at Laurietown, 15 mins out of Diamond Head. This fishing town is set on the river that flows from Camden Head, at the foot of North Brother Mountain. It is flanked by two lakes, Queens and Watson Taylor. Just over the Pacific Highway, 20 mins inland, is the quaint town of Kendell. On Thursdays the local community center, housed in an old weatherboard school house, sells organic produce from their community garden. They welcome visitors to tour their garden too. Down the street is a shop selling handmade leather shoes (made on the premises), and other eco goodies, like hemp clothing, natural soap and pure wool socks. The shopkeeper told me that she stocks all those things that she finds hard to find. There is an op-shop, where we stocked up our caravan with saucepans, and a gorgeous tea shop full of old fashioned home made goodies in large glass jars on the counter. It seemed a favourite gathering spot for locals and tourist alike. 

Diamond Head at dawn
The beauty of dawn at Diamond Head, Crowdy Bay National Park

Our holidays are about being in the natural world. We camp beside kangaroos, watch our toes as goannas stroll under our chairs, and slap mozzies. Searching out the last flannel flower in the heath or watching a bird of prey circle overhead is our entertainment. Life is simple. The opportunity to simply be in nature, a space bereft of human intervention, is healing. I look around and breath easy into the void that nature offers me. A respite, a place to settle my thoughts, lose myself and regain my perspective. I rediscover that I am small and that the world is big. That I matter and that I don't matter. Relief floods me and I am renewed. It is in nature that I can just be. I am not this or that, I just am. 

We strive to travel lightly so that nature will continue to offer her gems.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Little White Call Ducks

white call ducks

Wiggling tails walking all in a line, one behind the other. Four white Call ducks have recently made our backyard their home. Their name refers to their loud quack, which is quite delightful as they like to announce our presence in the yard, but are otherwise generally quiet. We picked them up as an early Christmas present to ourselves in mid December from a lady we met at a permaculture garden tour. She had bought them at the markets on a whim as fluffy ducklings (who could resist!) at a reduced price from the breeder as they were his last to go for the day. We enjoyed the opportunity to stickybeak at her wonderful rambling permaculture garden in a small suburban Cardiff backyard when we picked up our new feathered friends. She had many different pens full of vegies, chickens and our three month old ducks. We noted that the duck water was tipped onto nearby vegies each day, a great example of using waste from one system to nourish the next.

white call ducks in vegie patch
Call ducks enjoying the vegie patch

Call ducks are particularly suited for backyard pets. A bantam variety, weighing in around 500g for a female and 600g for a drake, their size lends them to thrive in smaller spaces than that required by a full size breed. Our ducks (Dilly, Duffa, Darling and Dennis - with thanks to my young neighbour for the names) have the run of the area set aside for our new orchard (approximately 75 - 100m squared) and access to the vegie patch on an ad lib basis. 

They have proved to be real little characters, as is typical of their breed. They like to follow us around, and are very inquisitive. The drake, who has recently developed into a bold little fellow, is taken to pulling on the end of our dogs tail. Being a small breed however means they are good fliers. We watched them stand on a mound of dirt in our yard each day (duck hill we call it), flapping their wings to strengthen them. Before we saw any lift off our neighbour was at our door with a cuddly white bundle she had found in the her yard. There was a loud quacking, she related, much louder than normal, when her three year old found the duck under the shrubbery. "Where can I get some?" was her question to us. A quick clip of the wings and our ducks have been kept down to earth.

Ducks offer a valuable service to the home vegetable gardener. They actively, apparently more so than chickens, seek out bugs, snails and any other tasty morsels, including dead rodents. Ducks dip their beaks into the earth and filter it through, consuming anything that moves. We are looking forward to finding out how much of an impact they have on our pest population. They have access to the more mature areas of the vegetable garden, and are kept away from small seedlings that may become trampled or eaten.  The Call duck are not a particularly good layer, but combined with the efforts of our chickens, our garden will be fertilised, pests controlled and weeds dug, with plenty of eggs for us and our friends. Not to mention the entertainment factor for us.

duck flapping wings

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