Mathew Evans, the Gourmet Farmer, gave the keynote address at the Inaugural Slow Meat Symposium held in Daylesford, September 2017.
Revolution was in the air last weekend at a remarkable gathering that ABC Gardening host Costa Georgiadis has coined ‘the Woodstock of Australian agriculture’.
The first Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering, held in the central highlands of Victoria, was attended by 150 farmers, connectors, communicators, educators and eaters collectively striving for a fair food system that operates in the best interests of producers and consumers.
To achieve their goal of developing truly integrated agroecological farming systems, they pledged to share resources and work together to support each other in diversifying their farms.
"The need to build a food system that includes true cost of farming – the social, ecological and regenerative costs of farming – has never been greater" said Robert Pekin, founder of Brisbane-based food enterprise, Food Connect.
The multiple dimensions of food production, distribution and connection addressed at the Gathering included the increasing incidence of ‘food fraud’ committed by some restaurants and providores.
Many farmers gave examples of their produce being named on menus of restaurants they were not currently supplying.
“Our efforts to maintain high welfare animal husbandry systems are being coopted by unscrupulous chefs or, in some cases, their suppliers” said Michele Lally of Savannah Lamb and Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) National Committee member.
“Accordingly, consumers who are aiming to make ethical choices and support the growth of the regenerative farming movement are also being duped.”
Producers called for solidarity in fighting fraudulent claims, and the burden of disabling regulations.
Food safety regulation, topical of late in Victoria where complaints by small producers and butchers have triggered a review of Victorian meat regulator PrimeSafe, was flagged as a major impediment to growing local food economies and rural communities.
Victorian producers face specific challenges as all other states and territories possess integrated food safety authorities.
“PrimeSafe has lost sight of its mission to support innovation in the industry. From all appearances, it only knows how to regulate Big Food, and is totally bewildered by the emerging fair food movement. It labeled small, transparent producers’ systems ‘novel supply chains’ in a recent consultation exercise” said Tammi Jonas, free-range pig farmer, butcher and President of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA).
“A regulator that thinks it is ‘novel’ to sell food directly to people and allegedly more risky than long, industrial supply chains has lost sight of where the real risks to food safety are,” said Jonas.
Poultry farmers also expressed concerns over the narrow options available to them in processing their products. Many indicated their willingness to work with government authorities to build acceptance of safe, on-farm micro abattoirs such as that at Southampton Homestead in Western Australia.
Labour on farms was identified as another critical issue that concerns not only affordable wages and fair conditions but the need to ‘grow the next generation of growers’ in rapidly ageing rural communities, where the average age of the Australian farmer is 52.
The Gathering highlighted the role of connectors or ‘ethical middleman’ throughout the food system such as Open Food Network, Food Connect, co-operatives and farmers’ markets.
These innovative, community-building ventures were celebrated as promising alternatives to the systemic disconnection embodied by the duopoly of Coles & Woolworths (‘Colesworth’) which dominates 80 per cent of the grocery retail market in Australia.
In facing the challenges of developing a fairer food system those who attended the inaugural Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering demonstrated a spirit of optimism, engendered by the deeply practical work they do every day to connect people to fair food in their communities.
Paulette Whitney of Provenance Growers in Tasmania summed it up this way. “I've come home with knowledge, ideas and inspiration, and best of all with some incredible, true new friends, but most of all I've come home with a fire in my belly to fight the paradigm that says efficiency is dollars per acre, when for me it's health, happiness, and good land stewardship that is true efficiency. ”
Contact: Tammi Jonas, AFSA President 0422 429 362
Tweet: #winteragrarian #deepwinter2015
By Merran Laver. First published on www.southernharvest.net.au
Diversity in food production and supply is important in creating a resilient local food system.
There are many reasons to increase diversity in our food supply at a local level. One is to promote access to fresh, seasonal foods that consumers will choose to eat. Foods available locally have a reduced ecological footprint compared with those from the large-scale, conventional system upon which we’re all at least partly dependent. Another is our vulnerability due to reliance upon only a few crops.
This is a local as well as a global issue.
Simran Sethi, an environmental journalist from the US, discussed the recent global decrease in food diversity in an ABC Lateline interview. She talked about the vulnerability we’ve placed ourselves in by relying on a reduced number of crops: 75% of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants. This, Sethi believes, fits in with dominating agricultural enterprises that are based on crop monocultures. She stated that we need to increase diversity in our farming and that consumers also have a critical role by choosing to diversify their diets.
"Eating locally is a revolutionary act and I really don't want to sound trite about that but you know, this globalisation has happened in our lifetime. In 20 years we've seen the entire food system kind of upended and I think really the solution to this challenge is to start to think differently about how we grow food and how we consume and purchase food."
"It makes very little sense in some instances to procure food from faraway places. It increases the ecological footprint of that food, it increases greenhouse gas emissions of that particular food."
Many regions throughout Australia are undergoing fundamental shifts in diversifying their food supply and promoting local production to consumers. This is happening both in cities and in rural areas, and where these overlap, such as in the Southern Harvest Region, which incorporates the growing city of Canberra as well as smaller towns and communities surrounding the ACT.
Examples of how diversity in local food supply systems is increasing include: the growth of farmers markets and community gardens; promotion of encouraging people to grow their own produce; value-adding enterprises (eg small businesses, such as baked goods, juices, smoked meats/fish); farmers trying out new products for sale (cheeses/milk, different varieties of apple/pork/etc.).
These examples involve those who currently work to supply food to the population as well as the consumers who ultimately determine demand. As Sethi says,we need to "recultivate our relationships with local farmers and ensure that those relationships are strong and supported and in place, and the only way to do that is through consumer support".
Our diverse seasonal produce is sometimes showcased at local annual food festivals that are mushrooming all over the country; including the pumpkin festival at Collector, chestnut festival at Hoskinstown and cherry festival at Young, to name a few. These highlight and celebrate the production of particular foods during their harvest season, while bringing communities of producers and consumers together for a day each year. A quick scan of food annual festivals everywhere shows that diversity is one aspect that is also celebrated – both cultural and in relation to the produce.
Sustainable food initiatives that encompass this diversity are increasingly of interest to people who care about how and where their food is produced, and the increased security or resilience of their food supply. It is also of great interest to the producers of our food, some of whom are successfully venturing into products not traditionally grown in the region but suited to the climate – such as nuts, olives, herbs, truffles, saffron etc.
A current food production strategy for urban Victoria outlines how "Council and the community will work together on local food initiatives which enhance health, wellbeing and community connectedness, improve the environment and regenerate natural resources".
"An integrated response is called for to deliver better and more resilient food production models. This requires Council to form innovative partnerships with the community, local business, professional stakeholders and all levels of government."
The strategy also points to its community’s ‘rich diversity of food cultures’ and the increased biodiversity that can come from promoting local food growing.
MY ARRIVAL in Tasmania coincided with the collapse of the state's apple industry. I remember it… farmers in despair as their orchards rapidly fell in value, people expressing their fears about the state's farming future, lots of apples but nowhere to sell them.
I was living in Hobart then and I had learned that Tasmania is that type of place where the cities are small (around 200,000 in Hobart, 65,000 in the state's second city, Launceston) and the rural is never far from the urban. Unlike the metropolises of the mainland, the urban/rural separation is a magnitude less on the island state.
[pull_quote align="right"]" …in 1973 the death knell for the Tasmanian Apple Industry sounded. There was little warning and the export market was stopped in its tracks."[/pull_quote]Those orderly lines of apple trees encroaching timber farm houses with rusty iron roofs are largely gone now, replaced by the open fields of green you drive past when you go down to the Huon. It's a landscape changed these past 40 years.
Why I dredge my brain for memories of those times I lived in Tasmania — an island so physically close to the mainland but so mentally distant — is thanks to coming across a story of the history of the apple industry in the Huon on the Tasmanian Geographic website.
Growth and collapse
Author and Huon resident, Beth Hall, sums up the situation as it developed in the seventies when she writes that " …in 1973 the death knell for the Tasmanian Apple Industry sounded. There was little warning and the export market was stopped in its tracks."
She writes as if the collapse of the industry was a surprise, and that's how I remember it too, a rapid collapse directly attributable to the opening of the European Common Market, an event looked upon rather unfavourably in the Tasmania of the time.
"So many growers were in financial difficulties that the Government was forced to sponsor The Tree Pull Scheme. From 1972 until 1975 many Huon farmers took advantage of this scheme. Over a decade almost seven hundred orchard owners left the industry.
"The number of commercial apple growers eventually fell to just sixty from more than thirteen hundred," writes Beth.
That sums up nicely how something that was taken for granted, the export apple industry in this example, can suddenly crash. We again saw something of the kind at the end of the nineties with the dotcom crash, however that industry came back stronger than ever. Perhaps apples in the Huon will too, as Beth mentions attempts to create a Tasmanian apple export market in Asia. My gut feeling, though, is that we will never again see hills and valleys covered in the blaze of flowering apple trees as they were when the export industry covered them with its edible forests.
The big picture
Let's take the big picture view. If we do that then the lesson we extract from the collapse of the apple export industry to the UK and Europe is that global markets for food products are fickle and can rapidly become the victim of political decisions.
This is something to keep in mind as Australia contemplates an Asian export market for northern Australia produce, the 'foodbowl of Asia' model peddled by politicians in distant Canberra.
Asia is not some homogenous entity sitting up there just to our north. It's a place where economic growth, presently led by China, the communist nation that rapidly embraced capitalism when it suited it, is likely to be challenged in the not-distant future by India's economic expansion. It's also a place where there's the potential for small scale regional conflict — political at this time — such as between China, Vietnam and Japan over the Spratley islands in the South China Sea and the known unknowns around political instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan and that nation's relationship to its nuclear-armed neighbour, India.
These might be regional things but they could quickly affect an Australian food export market to Asia. It's just something to keep in mind to temper the boosterism that accompanies ideas like us becoming the foodbowl of Asia.
Island of apples
[pull_quote align="right"]Among mainlanders, Tasmania has a 'green and clean' farming image and maintaining and improving this can take the island far along the national and international food trail. This is why state governments would do well to support, propagate and protect it.[/pull_quote]For those Tasmanian orchardists producing for the Australian domestic market, it's the apple varieties themselves that have changed. Beth discusses this where she writes that: "Since the millennium the supermarket requirements of size and colourful display have dictated the apples grown in Tasmania. Pink Lady, Royal Gala and the new variety Jazz, are supermarket favourites. Another apple called Envy is about to enter this market".
As farmers on the mainland have found, appearance counts as much as price when it comes to supermarket buying policy. Beth doesn't mention it, but my guess is that it's likely that apples not complying with the size, colour and appearance demands of Australia's supermarket duopoly go to waste or, hopefully, the cider brewers.
Tasmania’s farming future
Among mainlanders, Tasmania has a 'green and clean' farming image and maintaining and improving this can take the island far along the national and international food trail. This is why state governments would do well to support, propagate and protect it.
It is an image easily lost, however, an image easily destroyed by bad political and farmer decisions. Make the wrong decision about agriculture and the bad news will rapidly spread far and wide. Like so much else today, farming is part of the reputation economy and in that economy it is perceptions that count.
A resurgent apple industry would be a good thing in Tasmania, especially if some of the tastier old varieties could be resurrected and cleverly marketed to Australian buyers. To do this would requCamdenville Public Schoolire not only knowledgable farmers but savvy marketing much like we saw when the New Zealanders coopted and cunningly renamed the Chinese gooseberry the 'kiwi fruit'.
There's today a growing demand for authenticity in the food we eat, and Tasmania can go far riding this surge. It's done so with its leatherwood honey, a distinctive, Tasmania-only food that relies on the island's cool temperate rainforests as forage for its bees and, in those forests, it relies on only one species. It's a similar story with King Island dairy products, especially the cheeses. Could it be so with heritage apples marketed for their uniqueness?
Read Beth's Apples of the Huon at Tasmanian Geographic:
[button_link url="http://www.tasmaniangeographic.com/apples-of-the-huon-part-one/" target="blank" style="" title="" class="" id="" onclick=""]Read Part One...[/button_link]
[button_link url="http://www.tasmaniangeographic.com/apples-of-the-huon-part-two/" target="blank" style="" title="" class="" id="" onclick=""]Read Part Two...[/button_link]
I ATTENDED two of global food sovereignty advocate, Vandana Shiva's appearances in Sydney this February. It was the second event that I found most interesting, but more on that later.
To walk past the display tables at Vandana's Friday evening presentation at the NSW Teachers' Federation hall was to pass by some familiar faces. There was Alana Mann from Sydney University and Fiona Campbell who does IT and communications support for the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance below the organisation's banner. There was Nick Ritar from Milkwood Permaculture at their table. And there were other tables with faces I did not know, mainly those of the anti-GMO lobbies. And, as is usual at such events, there was a plethora of familiar faces in the milling audience before and after the event itself.
Vandana's presentation followed that of innovative US farmer, Joel Salatin. I've seen Joel before and he didn't add much that was new—he was the supporting act, after all—other than to say that his neighbouring farmers didn't much like his approach to agriculture. Milkwood had scheduled Joel for a weekend of specialised courses in farming.
A familiar message
What Vandana said would be familiar to those who have heard her messages before, on the importance of maintaining the food sovereignty of smaller and medium scale farmers worldwide, of maintaining the supply of traditional, non-hybridised agricultural seed through seed saving and distribution and of the danger of corporate control of our food systems. I was happy that she addressed recent allegations by a US-based pro-GM advocate that she received US$40,000 per appearance and travelled first class, among other alleged misdeeds that read more like an attempted character assassination. She ridiculed the dollar sum without disclosing what it is that she actually receives for her appearances.
The US advocate also alleged that Vandana misrepresented her scientific qualifications and that they were in social sciences. She repeated what has been widely reported before, that she was trained as a physicist specialising in quantum mechanics.
Vandana started the Navdanya movement, a seed and farming education organisation. She is a middle aged woman who wears her dark hair tied back in a bun and dresses in traditional Indian clothing. She wears the traditional Hindu tilaka on her forehead. Her reputation and work brings her what I can best describe as a commanding presence (cliched I know that term is, but it does describe the perception of intellectual authority that she emanates). This is reinforced by a paced delivery, neither too fast or too slow, her voice adopting a suitably deepish tone.
The impression that comes across is that Vandana is delivering a serious message. She uses emphasis but does not indulge in the name-calling, blatant condemnation and emotional rhetoric that so mars many the messages of anti-GMO advocates. Vandada does not pull punches when it comes to the machinations of global corporations and their seeking control over our food systems, but she does so in a measured way that affords greater credibility to what she says. You get the impression that Vandana calls upon the objective, analytical part of her brain in delivering her messages, rather than the emotional.
The secondary benefit of events like this is networking, catching up with friends and colleagues, and there was plenty of that, the organisers wisely having built the opportunity into their program.
Preaching or educating?
Vandana's Friday night appearance would have been empowering for those who filled the hall—it was standing room only at the back. Hearing what may be now-familiar messages again is a reinforcing thing that keeps them alive in individuals and the organisations they participate in.
People might call this preaching to the converted. But that mistakes how social change works. That preaching is actually a reinforcing of message and motivation for those already involved. It is best seen as educating-the-educators and change makers who go on to enact those ideas in the world and influence others.
Saturday more focused
Saturday morning was one of those humid, sticky, late-summer days in Sydney and it was the morning of the invitation-only meeting that I found the most interesting of the two Vandana Shiva events I attended.
It took place in the Surry Hills Community Centre in the City of Sydney's newish library building on Crown Street. It was a conversation with people who play some role in the fair food and food sovereignty movements.
How to structure a movement?
There's a tendency even among organisations that would think of themselves as socially progressive to adopt old and conservative models of organisational structure and operation.
With this in mind I explained to Vandana that there are numerous small organisations focused on fair food but they often act independently and are scattered. I suggested this reduces the overall effectiveness of the fair food movement and asked her for any insights she has developed as to structuring the fair food movement in Australia.
I should have anticipated that her answer would be based on the model of the agricultural biodiversity she promotes and on a pattern in nature. First, though, she started with a critique of the conventional, old and tired organisational and movement model we are all familiar with.
"The pyramidal model of organisation is finished. The top forgets that the bottom supports it", she said.
"The model for movements is biodiversity. It is like overlapping circles of organisations that are independent but that cooperate in working together."
Sitting in the armchair in front of the 50 or so in the community centre, Vandana expanded further on this by drawing an analogy with multicellular organisms.
In life, she said, "There is no master cell. Life happens through self-organisation".
Here was Vandana the scientist speaking, drawing on systems theory in explaining how life, nature and all complex systems self-organise. There is no master cell, no CEO, no board of management, no planners, no central committee. It is life emerging from the interaction between elements in a system and between those elements and their environment. And so should it be with organising a social movement, was the message. It would have been good to spend the rest of the session on this topic alone, to open it up and explore its innards, but there were plenty of others with their hands raised to ask their own questions.
One of those questioners was a young woman from the Youth Food Movement (YFM), an organisation that has now expanded interstate beyond its Sydney origin. Her's was a similar question to mine, about how to proceed and about their relationship with commercial entities. Vandana advised that the constituents might be rather young to offer advice to others as their age might reflect a lack of experience. She asked the YFM to be humble. My thought was that she was suggesting caution while being supportive of the YFM's work in food sovereignty.
Another young woman (yes, it was a female-dominated event, not that there's any problem there—it's like they say in organising Open Space events— the people who come are the right people, and that's irrespective of gender and other characteristics often the focus of the politically-correct mindset) asked whether GMO's have potential based solely on their science and devoid of the politics of patents, seed ownership and control around them.
This is a frequently-encountered question often coming from those in science and technology or who make use of those approaches and mindsets. It's a fair question because it breaks down the complexities around GM—ownership, control, agrochemical dependence, farming systems, any potential for GM to adapt crops to the conditions of climate change, the drift of GM materials and so on. The value of doing this is that you can explore the nuances of GM technology and it can lead to the conclusion of many that the scientific potential of GM is separate to its economic, cultural, environmental and cultural impacts.
Being a scientist with an understanding of systems, however, Vandana answered the woman with a simple statement: "The reality is you can't separate the science form everything else. They are part of the same thing".
Another participant asked for a short video clip of Vandana voicing support for the March Against Monsanto his organisation was planning. This she did after the meeting.
Too short a time
There, in the Surry Hills Community Centre that sticky summer morning, we had only an hour with Vandana. Far too short for the depth and range of topics on people's minds.
In afterthought, How good it would have been to organise a follow-up gathering of those there.
Vandana's visit was made possible through the support of a number of organisations through the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance and was smoothly organised by Catriona McMillan, a veteran of the organics industry in Australia and a fair food advocate.