By Sally Ruljancich
I am honoured to be stepping into the role of President of the National Committee of AFSA, a position which I feel ready to assume and which I will grow into quickly and thrive in. I’ve been participating in the politics, ethics and advocacy of food sovereignty, through my studies and my farm business for many years; this positon just makes it a little more official. With AFSA’s wonderful committee, I am confident that we can continue, and build on, the momentum of 2016.
Firstly, a resounding and applauding thank you to Tammi Jonas for her leadership in the role of President over the past two years and a congratulations on her new role as Chair of the FFFU. There is no doubt that Tammi will do amazing things in this role, her years of activism and passionate public speaking ensures the voices of farmers will be heeded. Her legacy of leadership and absolute commitment to food sovereignty is tangible, and the creation of the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is testament of this.
I joined the committee of AFSA in May 2016, slap bang in the middle of the LDF campaign, diving straight into strategizing the #youcantbuywhatieat potluck events and attended a number of them – they really were amazingly delicious gatherings – and the online community rallied around the cause in the public space. It was exhilarating. I, with fellow committee members, also met with parliamentary members throughout the second half of the year as AFSA continues to have its voice heard. We will be seeking meetings with legislators and policy makers in 2017.
Like most people, I wear a number of figurative hats. I’m a researcher at The University of Melbourne, working in fundraising, a position I took on after fleeing my PhD thesis and moving to a farm in South Gippsland with my husband. We established Colin and Sally’s Organic Lamb and Beef in 2013, selling our meat direct to the eater and along the way, created and grew, a community of conscientious eaters. Our beautiful children aside, it is the achievement I am most proud of. From this position, I have always championed other small producers and am often the first point of contact for advice on selling direct and connecting farmers to a wider audience. If we want the CSA and direct sales movement to grow (hint: we do), then we must publicly support each other and collaborate more often, and better.
I didn’t start life as a farmer. I wasn’t always writing from a farmhouse, gazing at sheep grazing on the hills. For many years an inner-city vegetarian, I abhorred the treatment of animals prior and during slaughter and simply did not want to participate at all in a food system that condoned it. University days were a blur of too many long shifts in a fish and chip shop, lectures and bad food from the supermarket. I wrote about food regulation in my thesis, but I didn’t yet know how to engage with the food system of my dreams. I now know what I’m fighting for. Systematic change.
The concerns raised at the Fair Food Convergence in late-October 2016 were many, but the ones which stood out as most pressing were the lack of processing infrastructure accessible to many meat farmers (particularly for poultry), the disconnect that many eaters have to the seasons and a lack of confidence and knowledge of cooking with a variety of meats cuts and produce; and how we can continue to create a ‘space’ for farmers and eaters to connect, one which works for both.
AFSA’s mandate for 2017 will be to support, fundraise for, and run the LDF and to continue to cultivate the nexus between farmers, producers, and eaters, by way of advocating food hubs, CSAs and direct models of sale, eating seasonally and using all the cuts, from cheek to eye fillet. Nationwide seasonal feasts anyone? Also, more championing in the public realm is needed of those chefs and eateries that DO walk the “paddock to plate” talk and AFSA will be vocal in our appreciation of the ones that do. AFSA will also explore models of small and community-run meat processing facilities in regional Australia and sharing the successes of the models around the country that are operational or near to being. Unlocking the access to processing and distribution infrastructure are key to more small scale producers feeding their communities. Imagine that.
Thank you to Michele Lally, Paul West, Alana Mann and Sophie Lamond who are stepping away from their positions on the AFSA committee, and to Wendy Lehman, who left the committee in June; all to continue their respective and wonderful projects within the fair food space. We all look forward to hearing about your successes; AFSA is richer for your input.
To the committee going forward, Chris Balazs (Vice-President), Jo Hall (Secretary), Ben Mac, Phil Stringer, Serenity Hill, Samantha Hawker, I genuinely look forward to the coming months of lobbying, seasonal feasting, strategizing and collegiality. A special thank you goes out to intern Courtney Young, making the lives of committee members easier, one mail chimp at a time.
It was a fateful day that morning I rolled up Jonai Farm driveway to learn how to make sausages with Tammi. I left with bacon, knowledge and a collectivist spirit reawakened. A community of knowledge-sharing and peer-to-peer support, the likes of which I hadn’t previously encountered drove home my sense of purpose to create a food system that is determined by the farmer and the eater rather than corporations, is respectful of the animal, and works on and with the health of the soil. And delicious. I joined up immediately.