Thursday, March 18, 2010

Robert's Rant - Local food: Is it good or bad?

There's a blog debate happening at the moment between a Locavore and a Toronto University Professor who thinks globalisation will solve the world's sustainability crisis.

Dear Pierre,

I hope you don't mind if I call you a local food naysayer.

Right now, our industrial food system is not sustainable. It uses too much fossil fuel and is destroying the environment – we are eroding our soils, chemical fertilizers are destroying our waterways and oceans. The only way we can feed ourselves into the future is by cultivating local and sustainable food systems.

Dear Sarah,

I hope you don't mind me calling you an eco-doomster :)

Soil erosion and unsustainable agricultural practices were what made environmental activists tick in the first decades of the 20th century. But back then, the main fear among activists was that traditional agricultural practices were not sustainable. You might have heard of the dustbowls of the 1930s, but many people believed that the problem was truly worldwide at the time.

Fortunately, modern agricultural practices, especially innovations such as no-till agriculture that are based on the development of new seeds and herbicides, have gone a long way in addressing those problems. Modern farming in the best locations and increased international trade is the way to go to improve human nutrition while addressing environmental degradation.

This is my response:
Common sense needs to prevail here. The solution is a mix of mostly local produce grown by small / medium scale farmers and the non perishable food stuffs sourced from the closest countries that grow the best Coffee, rice etc.
Any one who has farmed both a monoculture and a highly diverse small scale farm knows that the productivity per / acre for both food and ecological services if far better in the small scale poly culture. The green revolution and the mainstream UN (FAO) goals have produced huge problems both in poverty and ecological destruction not to mention increased farmer suicide rates and dis-empowerment of whole countries.
The only problem is the food system is controlled at the moment by distribution monopolies only interested in profits. That is a pretty hollow use of our potential as humans. When we know what we are potential of (and we are only just starting) we can feed more than 10 billion easily and affordable. Wow, you say, how do you come at that.
I billion are hungry, I billion eat three times more than they need, while the developed world can easily drop probably 30% of what we eat. We currently waste at least 50% of the food we grow through the long distribution supply chains and the ridiculous 'glamor' criteria placed on produce and last of all some of the best farmer I know can grow enough F & V for 50 families / acre (without any new fan-dangle bio-tech seeds or any other industrial and costly inputs on way less water than the best intensive mono-culture's. When you work all that out out you can see it makes sense. We just need more Social businesses in the Food system working with farmers and consumers not separating them!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Topping up on Intellectual Inspiration

It was a dark, rainy morning (the tenth in a row) in Brisbane, but we were oblivious to the weather as we wheeled in the bananas and grapes for the punters to enjoy over morning tea. Today was the day we'd been excited about for quite a while. Finally, the legend that is TED, introduced to us by Morgs at Paddington's Urban Grind many years ago, had come to Brisbane.

For a few years now, Robert and I have enjoyed the inspirational talks, and the chats with fellow devotees like Adz (whose photos I've stolen for this blog) and Carl in Morgs' cafe, freely available online by In fact, TED is pretty much solely responsible for our complete abandonment of our television set. Apart from the odd BBC murder mystery series, and the occasional need to pop in a DVD for the kids, we'd have given it away long ago.

Even more exciting was the fact that Robert had been asked to line up alongside twenty or so other speakers and 'brain bursters' to tell his story and the plight of farmers in today's global industrial food system.
It was one of those days you wish could go on for a week. Where your brain is so enlivened by the subject matter and the personal stories, interspersed with urgent chatter in the breaks while our lovely friend, Morgan Daly from UrbanGrind, served the world's best coffee under the Bedouin Tent. My personal favourites were Nigel Brennan, the photo journalist who was held hostage in Somalia for a record 463 days, and Chris Sarro, the inidgenous educator whose aim it is to 'furnish the dreams' of young Aboriginal Australians.

Organised by Carl Lindgren, founder of map magazine, and his friend Paul Fairweather, these two blokes have conspired to feed the collective Brisbane enthusiasm for TED talks to bring us our own Brisbane version. It's taken them over three years since the seed of the idea took form, and we can't thank them enough for having the foresight and capturing the right sponsors to support such a wonderful concept. A totally free event, and purposefully inclusive, their aim was simple:
"We hope that we can get the community together and get them fired up and get them thinking in perhaps ways they haven't thought through some of the discussions - that people can get connected and be part of a network that can help change our community positively for the better."
Within minutes of Robert's talk the twitter activity was wild. We had to email the conversation department at Food Connect to expect a busy day on the phones on Monday. Now I call that 'fired up' Carl!
Elsie enjoying the TEDx fun - Adam Sebastien West, Zenstick Photography

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Fingers Are Yellow With Aphid Juice

I spent my morning smooshing as many aphids as possible on my chilli bush. Those succulent new sprouts of growth must taste damn good, because the poor thing has no chance! I stole a poem in my disturbed state from a fellow frustrated blogger, but tweaked it to suit my chilli tree:

My fingers are yellow with aphid juice
I won't be calling any truce,
won't be waiting any longer
to quench my aching hunger.

Aphid guts. Aphid guts.
For an hour in the Autumn wind
I pressed aphids for their sin!

For an hour dodging 7th floor rain
I chase in maniacal vain,
squirting the slaughtered aftermath
in a rush of white oil bath.

In the evening I'll raise my hands
against the window, cover the setting sun
with the fading yellow almost undone--
on my skin, in my eyes... aphids, aphids, aphids

Oh and don't get me started on my poor little lime tree and the leaf miner turning its leaves inside out...