Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gangster Gardening

Humbled by this real life story I feel I am spinning my wheels and not going anywhere, while in the food desert of south LA, this man is making it happen. What I so much want to do is unite people in a desire to bring food gardens to the streets and so to the gardens, homes and kitchens of Cygnet. The whole point is to make people healthy and responsible for themselves because in doing that, the whole planet will benefit. And, when it comes down to it, that is what I care about most.


Sure, I have a cute little patch of ground at the Cygnet Library that is a fabulous start and which I am unashamedly proud of. Everything to do with the effect that this patch has on our community is positive and, at times, quite remarkable. Linking food growing to the library connects people on neutral territory; with no age, sex, political or social barriers. Accidentally we have found a brilliant way of influencing everyone who reads as the library system of Tasmania is a model that should be adopted everywhere.

This man, however, is influencing those most in need of change and often these are the people who don’t or can’t read. These are people who don’t have a garden, don’t know about chia seeds, fish oil, organic carrots or detoxifying your liver. While I am doing superficial stuff in a rustic, gourmet little town he is turning gangsters into gardeners and giving people their health so they can make choices and move away from the fast food nightmare.

In a few weeks I am taking a tentative step into the equivalent of his world, here in Cygnet, when a group of mostly women, who have lived here all their lives, some of aboriginal decent but all suffering many health issues, come to my garden. Some probably can’t read. Over a couple of hours we will look, touch, smell and pick a few things then go in to my kitchen and make some soup which we will eat with some home made bread. I have no concept of how this will pan out but I hope that, in some small way, it sows a seed in someone’s mind. And I sure hope that I feel inspired to continue on trying to connect people and their food, through gardening.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Take what you need: Dealing with the stress of over-abundance

I hear it all the time…..”I have too many zucchinis / apples / plums / tomatoes…. I don’t want to waste them but what am I going to do? I don’t have time / energy / space / to make jam / bottle things / make preserves / visit my neighbour and give them away!”


Growing food is step 1 of sustainable living and dare I say it but most people never graduate past it because of the stress it can produce. They want a job AND children AND acreage in the countryside AND a food garden AND chooks…… etc.

So, if this is you, how can you remove some of the stress of over-abundance in your food garden? Bearing in mind that this is stage 1 of sustainable living and we are not asking you (yet) to change how you do things, we are just trying to stop you giving up growing food and make you more relaxed so maybe you will think about moving to stage 2.

My suggestion is to take what you need and let nature have the rest. Giving things back to the earth is simply recycling. Putting 10 zucchinis in the compost is wonderful. I recently tipped a large bag of plums that someone had given me, into the compost. I could have gone through it and picked out the good ones (most had gone soggy and some were all mouldy by then) but I thought “No, I am really too busy to deal with this, this week” and in they went. In a few months they, along with the rest of the compost, will be returned to the garden. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

imageSilver beet rules the whole of my vegetable garden if I let it, so I take what I need for myself, one meal at a time, and feed the rest to the chooks. There is always some that gets away and goes to seed, flopping all over its neighbours. So, I grab what I can and tie it up to a stake. Then it is out of the way and I can go on gardening around that 1 plant. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

In the photo above, my garden became overgrown with 2 massive, self-sown pumpkin vines and, at the time, I could not store them all so I swapped 98kgs of random pumpkins for other produce at a local organic grocer. (7 years later I still love this shirt!).

In this photo, I am taking my over abundance of greens to the same shop to swap for other things. (7 years later, that is still my favourite gardening shirt!!).

I have a wonderful, weeping Lady in the Snow apple tree with the most delicious apples you can imagine. Now it is laden and many are falling. I keep looking at it from the back door and remembering the year I did not waste a single apple. My chooks roam under that tree (keeping it free of coddlin moth) so they peck at them on and off but there are too many even for 5 chooks. Today it is raining (so I won’t be gardening) and I will collect a basketful and juice them for the freezer (my freezer loves apple juice Smile). I will take some to the friends at the community garden. I will pick one every day when I am gardening and stand there and enjoy it. I hope to wrap lots in paper and save them for later. The native honey eater birds love them too. Still there will be many dozens “wasted” but they will all go back into the soil and feed the tree for next year. That is the cycle of life and how it should be. You could rake them up and put them in the compost if you like. Problem solved, stress released, move on.

Think cycles. Then there is no such thing as wasted food from the garden (or wasted anything, really). The consumer is encouraged to think in lines: buy new, use, discard waste then buy again, etc. Nature revolves in cycles such as seasons and the recycling of living matter. By buying something from a friend or secondhand shop (or tip-shop or gum tree if you are in Australia) you are moving to stage 2, where you are re-using something perfectly good that someone else has thrown out because they are still thinking in lines and they want the latest model or fashion.

After my secondhand microwave stops working, I will use it as a seed storage cupboard out on my porch (with the parsley I wrote about on facebook today!). Then I will find another second hand one in perfect working order and, because it will only cost about $20, I won’t be stressed about it when it stops working after a few years, or if it is the best one! This is permaculture principles 10 (use and value diversity) and 12 (creatively use and respond to change). See below.

Permaculture principles in this post:

Design Principle 3: Obtain a yield3. obtain a yield


Principle 5: Use and value renewable resources and services5. use and value renewable resources and services


Principle 6: Produce no waste6. Produce no waste


Principle 10: Use and value diversity

10. Use and value diversity


Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

12.Creatively use and respond to change


Permaculture ethics in this post:

Earth care, people care, fair share

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Farmers as energy producers: World Bioenergy 2014 conference

An email I just received has highlighted the dichotomy of 20th century progress vs  21st century progress. Australia has sadly just voted in the former, while many European countries, including Sweden, are leading the way in the latter. The information below shows just what can be done and is worth reading. I did not know any of this before. We are very lucky that one of the 4 Australians going to this conference lives in Cygnet!

While we should be hearing from government and media the good facts on development elsewhere of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the jobs and benefits that can come from this, it is unfortunately rarely the case.  Granted ABC radio carries the occasional story, and the regional press, but by comparison with coverage of football, movies, fashion, or pop celebrities, it is as nothing.

Consequently, Sweden is not a country we hear a lot about in regard to its achievements in reducing national and per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by development of renewable energy, public transport and energy efficiency. We don’t hear about the simple and effective carbon tax implemented in 1991, we don’t hear about the 2003 legislation banning landfilling of municipal waste, and we don’t hear that now biomass is the greatest source of the country’s final energy (the combined total of energy utilised across electricity, heat energy and transport fuels), significantly exceeding either fossil or nuclear energy.

We don’t hear that in this country, that is double the population and the size of Victoria, that the per-capita GHG emissions are only about 6 tonne CO2-e, about half that of Europe (11 tonne) and a quarter that of Australia (about 28 tonne). We don’t hear that almost half of all new cars sold in Sweden are able to run on the low emission fuels of ethanol, bio-methane or biodiesel. We don’t hear that of Sweden’s final energy (energy actually utilised), renewable energy currently makes up over 46%, with 34% of this from biomass, 10% from hydro and only 2% from wind.

And we don’t hear of Sweden’s target for cessation of imports of fossil fuels of any type by 2030. This includes coal, fuel oils and fossil-sourced transport fuels. Already in Sweden’s largest cities of Stockholm, Goteborg, Malmö and Uppsala, municipal fleets run on upgraded biogas, and city buses are running on either 100% ethanol, or biomethane, or in some cases, a methane-natural gas mix.

In early July the World Bioenergy 2014 conference takes place in Sweden. No Australians from state or federal government departments are likely to be there (none have attended this biennial conference since the first in 2004), or from conservation groups, energy companies, consultancies, universities or manufacturing industry. However this year Australia will be represented by three or four people. These are the writer of this piece (who has got to the last four), a local government councillor from Tasmania, and a person involved with community, farm forestry and landcare in northern Victoria.

The most energy-efficient way to access the conference city of Jönköping (pronounced Yernsherping) is by train from Stockholm. The first part of this four-hour journey is in an electric intercity train cruising smoothly at about 160 km/hr and tilting on the curves. If you don’t know when to look you would miss seeing the new biomass and waste-fuelled combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant just south of Stockholm at Södertailje. One of many in planning or being constructed, this is fuelled by chipped forestry thinnings and residues and municipal solid waste. As well as putting 88 megawatts (MW) of electricity into the national grid it provides up to 200 MW of district heating into southern Stockholm’s apartment buildings and industry.

The train passes through a number of cities of under 100,00 population, each of which has power and heat coming from woody biomass, or from combustible non-recyclable municipal wastes, or with separate furnaces designed to be fuelled by each but supplying a common turbine-generator setup.

The oldest of these CHP plants is where you change trains at Nassjö to the train on the spur line to the conference city of Jönköping. This small CHP plant built in 1984 was Sweden’s first purpose-designed woodchip-fuelled plant. It supplies this small city of 20,000 with all its electricity and heat needs, and the ash from the furnaces is spread back in the forests where the fuel of woody residues came from. In smaller and larger cities, the putrescible (wet organic) wastes including sewage go into anaerobic digestors, which might produce only upgraded biogas for transport fuel or to go into the natural gas grid, or only heat and electricity, or both. At Linköping, one of the cities we pass, upgraded biogas fuels a regular freight train service.

The 3-day conference at Jönköping is widely known as possibly the best of its type in the world, attracting up to 1100 people from up to 60 countries. Presentations cover the full array of bioenergy technologies at all scales, that utilise one of the many feedstocks to produce electricity, heat and transport fuels, and other products, and cover all aspects of economics, environmental benefit, policy and sustainability. This year there is a parallel conference on bio-refineries, and so the products being talked about will include industrial chemicals, including substitutes for most petrochemicals.

Jönköping is a great place to have this conference for other reasons. Conference participants can visit the modernistic Torsvik waste-to-energy plant located 13 km outside the city. This annually turns 160,000 tonnes of sorted combustible municipal waste into 30% of the city’s electricity and 50% of its peak winter heat needs. Within the city they can visit the anerobic digestor that converts the population’s putrescibles wastes into upgraded biogas for the municipal fleet and private vehicles. Or they can take an afternoon bus tour to the nearby city of Växjö, rated as ‘Europe’s greenest city’, with its per-capita GHG emissions of under 3.5 tonne. Here over 80% of the municipal population’s domestic, commercial and industrial energy needs, including transport fuel and cooling, are sourced from biomass and waste streams produced in the municipality. Other afternoon excursions go to other bioenergy plants of all types, from small pellet producers to anaerobic digestors converting cow manure to biogas.

While I realise that not all of this biomass in Sweden is coming from farmers (much is coming from urban housholds), in Australia farmers would be a major source for much of this, just as they are in Germany and many other regions (i.e., China and India).
So to help fund the people going to the conference I have entered a project called ‘Farmers as energy producers’ into a competition to win $10,000. I ask all who have read this to go to the website
and vote for this entry. While three of us are presently going I hope it becomes more, and I am looking for others from among renewable energy groups, the Greens, EPA, Sustainability Vic, or local government.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 2: A new way of thinking about community gardens

Community gardening is changing. Young, creative, energetic people from all walks of life are taking the bull by the horns and bringing outside the square thinking to the whole idea of what a community garden is and whose it is.

In Australia, people have seen grants from all kinds of government, local, state and/or federal, as the way to get a community garden going and keep it funded. The recently elected Liberal Government  has closed this option and many at the Food 4 Thought conference are now without any funding.

Our Cygnet community garden does not work this way, although someone in its history did get a grant to build a green house and 2 rain water tanks for which we are very grateful. We rely on our own initiative, fund raising in small amounts such as selling to the local grocer when we have excess, having a pancake stall at the Folk Festival and selling plants at the Cygnet Market from time to time. We use water for some of the garden from an adjoining house for a small fee (water is cheap in Tasmania!). The local hardware shop gives us a 10% discount when we shop there, which we often do as it is just across the road. Although this is working well for us, we have not gone any further, unlike a small group in Darwin.

The Darwin Garden Education Network has evolved under the outstanding and creative leadership of Lachlan McKenzie and Emily Gray, both of whom look to be in their 20’s. In essence what they have done is simply link all interested parties. So, local businesses, chefs, schools, councils, health departments and commercial kitchens have been linked with community gardens, sharing events and facilities to promote one another.

For example, in order to teach people how to use a particular seasonal vegetable growing in the community garden, they invited a local chef to run an after school workshop for anyone interested. The chef promoted his restaurant, the community garden provided the vegetables and promoted their garden and the school made use of their facility and encouraged students and parents to join in.

At their annual fair, community gardeners from all over Darwin collaborated in running a pop-up cafe, with all food cooked beforehand by the gardeners, tables and chairs provided by a local business, straw bales by a garden supplier, all of whom could have their own stalls. The profits were shared by all participating community gardens. Schools were given the job of decorating a combined zone with anything they chose to promote their schools in exchange for each running a 1/2 hour workshop on something garden related. Businesses were encouraged to have a stall, the payment being simply a gift voucher which was then given as payment to anyone who ran a workshop, thus reducing the need for book keeping on the day.

On Friday afternoons, a local seedling nursery gives all its leftover punnets of seedlings to any group that shows up at the gate and also offers work experience to local schools. People talking and connecting really make things happen.

By being in touch with local health authorities and councils who are keen to promote such self-motivated and healthy events, compliance fees and rentals could be waived. And so the linkages have extended until now there are about a dozen community gardens, some in very close proximity to each other, where only a couple of years ago there was only one. Working together to achieve common aims is far easier than everyone re-inventing the wheel and competing for limited funding.

These are real community gardens, linking every level of the community with every other under the umbrella of encouraging local, organic, affordable, home grown food with associated education and workshops; using common land to connect people of all cultures, ages and abilities with nature, each other and their food, in a full circle.

Interestingly they don’t have a website!

I am REALLY excited to say that Emily was voted in as the new president of the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network, the body that gave us this fabulous Food 4 Thought conference. I can’t wait to see what she and Lachlan come up with!!



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Food 4 Thought: The 2014 National Community Gardens Conference, in Hobart, Tasmania

My fingers want to race over the keys, exploding with words to describe the breadth and depth of discussions at the conference today. However, I cannot do justice to all the speakers as my brain is still too active to assimilate all the information and turn it into something coherent so, for now, I am going to list some links, as much for my own benefit than anything else.

Dr. Nick Rose: Amazing man. Huge ideas with the research, the language and the will to make things happen.

Food Sovereignty Alliance 

Fair Food Week

Let’s reap the economic benefits of local food over big farming

He suggested reading:

Re:imagining Change

Bitter Fruit

The Spirit level

Film to be released mid year:

Just Food

Frank Strie: Now living in Tasmania, Frank is a wonderful and approachable authority on all things biochar.


International Biochar Initiative

He recommended this book:

Biochar revolution

David Stephen: David started a community garden at Creek Road, Lenah Valley, many years ago and still runs it for the good of those wanting to grow food. His compost is second to none and you should see the vegetables it grows! I saw all this on the bus trip yesterday and learned so much from him today at his conference session. There’s nothing recent on the internet about him, which is a shame because he is a real life character with a life time of knowledge and dedication to food gardening in Tasmania. He was Australian Gardener of the Year in 2000.

Other fabulous links to follow up and people to connect with:

Australian Food Hubs Network

Totally Locally

Cultivating Community

The Cooks’ Co-op

Australian City farms and Community Gardens Network

Recipes for Living: Gluten free food everyone can enjoy

Tomorrow is another day at the conference!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Breath-taking Tasmania… 5 days by kayak and on foot

It was like paddling a kayak through a mirror reflecting a rain forest so dense and so full of diversity that we felt the silence fill our senses and it was hard to tell where the surface of the water was….

Nothing between me and South Africa… paddling to Ocean Beach, down the Henty River in the unusual and glorious, summer sunshine where 3 days without rain is a very rare treat!

And paddling on Lake St. Clair, where wilderness meets hydro- electricity…. see the pumping station, built in the days when beautiful architecture ruled.

Shadow Lake…. a full day’s walk up to a hanging lake through another magical forest…


where I had never seen so many fallen trees, many from the storm I wrote about recently but many more from the long life of this forest…. this one had had a slice cut out to make way for walkers.

You can see more photos here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Singing Swans are born!

Cygnet Sailing Club’s 150th Regatta…. Everything, from the tiniest rowing and sailing boats, through every shape, size and age boats to these gorgeous ships will be in Cygnet this week!

This morning the autumn mist sat on the hills, the sea was glassy calm and the weather mild as we set off rowing our skiff, 6 women, some who built her too. We started to sing! Our ideas and courage grew as we rowed…. we formed The Singing Swans… one of the group is going to teach us sea shanties and we will sing our way up and down the Tasmanian waterways, every Monday morning!!

Life is good. Again. At last.