Local Food Odyssey in Melbourne

On a recent trip to Melbourne, Australia, I took a little time out of my much needed vacation to visit a few of the people and organisations who are doing great things for local and organic food in the area.

First stop was to CERES Environment Park, which has been home to an urban sustainability movement since the 1970’s, with a big component being organic food production.

The park is a monument to the various people in the community who have not only believed in the dream, but let sweat trickle down their brows doing the hard work needed to turn a landfill into a thriving hub for sustainability education, action & innovation at the heart of a rapidly sprawling city.

This is one project to keep an eye on; delving a little deeper into CERES’ plan for the coming years, I learnt that they are taking grass-roots Community programs to a new level to add to the amazing array of projects already on site, including; an animal farm, community gardens, café, training kitchen, Education program, community bicycle recycling & workshop, demonstration and research Facility for sustainable water projects, nursery specialising in permaculture/natives and bush foods, and The EcoHouse, showing sustainable living retrofit options.  To add to that CERES was opened in the year I was born.

Delivering local and organic food to MelbourneFrom CERES, I took a wander across to one of the spin off projects – CERES Fair Food to meet Chris, and another Melbourne local foodie – Kirsten of Eaterprises & VEIL.

CERES Fair Food began from the market garden concept within the main park, and was so successful that they decided they should kickstart a vegetable box delivery scheme to reach more people with good organic, local food from the region.  Only 18 months later, they’re doing roaring trade, operating as a social enterprise, and forging a path of ethical food distribution.

It was great to sit and chat with the people we are working hard to support; the people creating local food enterprises, proving that not only can vege box schemes work, but they can thrive and bring nutritious organic food to the masses whilst creating jobs, feeding the local economy, and giving farmers a fair go.  Check out CERES Fair Food’s video:

Designing and nurturing fair sustainable food systems in VictoriaKirsten from Eaterprises – an organisation promoting regenerative food systems – was also a delight to chat with. Her plans for designing & nurturing food systems which take an ecosystem approach; using resources more wisely, and collaborating instead of competing, was a breath of fresh air.  The potential in a city the size of Melbourne is huge, and we have faith that her extensive connections in the area will lead to a better, fairer food system emerging.  Keep up to date with their progress at @eaterprises!

A final visit of the Australian Odyssey was to a slightly different group – those that tackle hunger & poverty head on.  The friendly Marcus from FareShare was good enough to afford me some time to give me a tour and then sit down for a coffee for a yarn about FareShare’s model of food rescue, cooking & distribution.

FareShare Volunteer bakes food to tackle poverty & hungerFareShare runs entirely as a charity, and does an amazing job of attracting donations of fresh & preserved food, which lands at their base in Abbotsford, before getting whipped up into new tasty nutritious treats by an army of volunteers and a couple of paid staff in their commercial quality kitchen.  It was an eye opener to tour the facility and see what is involved in a decent size food rescue organisation, which at the time was a’buzz with Bunnings Warehouse volunteers creating savoury pies, big trays of chilli and quiches.  Marcus told me that FareShare have several trucks on the road constantly picking up and dropping off – around 345 tonnes of food had been rescued this year alone.

The food is redistributed out to a variety of food banks which in turn will get the food to the charities who work hard to get it to the people who need it the most – in all 335 charities have benefited from FareShare’s work this year, and well over 821’000 meals have been served to people who aren’t able to feed themselves or their families.

We are so thankful that people like FareShare exist.  Much of this food might go to waste, so we’re really appreciative of all the food rescue organisation who’ve popped up around the world.  Our local crew here in Wellington, Kaibosh, are also doing a fantastic job.

Social Enterprise & Innovation co-working space in MelbourneA little time spent in Hub Melbourne also gave me a chance to catch up with the ever interesting David Hood of Doing Something Good, and Will Donovan of Ideas for Melbourne fame (among other things).  It’s always good to drop into the Hub to see who is around, and Will pointed me in the direction of one or two other people doing good stuff in local food, after his involvement in the OpenIDEO Local Food initiative earlier in the year.

My visit was complete, and I left Melbourne with a warm glow, knowing that there are some awesome people working on some great projects.  Hopefully I’ll be bringing back some of that innovation, excitement and depth of experience & energy to New Zealand, and then spreading it out around the world as Bucky Box begins to reach new people and places.Melbourne, VIC, Australia by night

Local & Friendly Food Champion showcase: The Dirt Doctor

Announcing our fourth Friendly Food Champion partnership!

Biological Farming Advocates The Dirt DoctorThe Dirt Doctor may not be known worldwide, but they have the knowledge that should be.

You can read more about our visit to The Dirt Doctor, and our first hand recognition of the remarkable achievements of Jim, through his ‘biological farming’ techniques.

We’re excited to say that we’ll be helping spread the word of Jim’s organic farming methods which yield greater than chemical farming, as well as finding ways to support the workshops, resources & tool designs which Jim & his team work hard on.

We’re already talking about our shared vision of working in developing nations, for a rich, diverse, prosperous, local food system where local crops can thrive in healthy soils.

So, for a better world of bountiful harvests, not at the expense of the earth, check out The Dirt Doctor. Want to feed a family of four from 10m of earth & half an hour work each week? Check out The Dirt Doctor’s Urban Eden program!

Local Food made possible by high yield agiculture without chemicals

 

A Visit with the Dirt Doctor

I’m sitting here in my campervan with a belly full of the tastiest vegetables one can grow, produce that’s literally fit for a prince. That’s because I’m on my return trip from a visit to the far south of NZ, to Jim O’Gorman’s farmlet in the sea-side town of Kakanui, just South of Oamaru. Jim is also known as “The Dirt Doctor” and it was many of his ideas that contributed to the inspiration behind Bucky Box over a year ago.

Jim lives simply, very simply. His house is a 9.9 square metre hut with no power, phone let alone luxuries such as a inside toilet. He came onto this property 18 years ago, looking for the most toxic soil he could find to demonstrate something wonderful…

His was an experiment in healing the soil. And doing it “from nothing, with nothing” as he likes to say. What he has today required no input of resources or investment, it was created from what he found on the land and by working smart.

When he arrived the soil was so hard from previous years of chemical farming that the ground would break steel machinery. Jim holds up to me a rusty relic he found buried on his property, it’s a curved piece of metal an inch thick, it used to be part of a tractor tool to break up the ground, “it’s been warped and snapped off by the soil” Jim tells me with gusto.

In the first two years they’d greet Jim at the local hardware store with, “looking for another spade handle?”, but in those two years he managed to revive his soil. He calls his techniques biological farming, that is agriculture based on an intimate knowledge of the complex microbial eco-system that keeps our soil vibrant. The techniques seem quite radically different from standard organic practices, he proudly states “It’s 15 years ahead of existing organic farming”. Indeed Jim is considered one of the world’s top 10 in his field.

Today Jim produces from 1,000 square metres of land $45,000 of premium produce that goes out to our country’s best restaurants. “The executive chef from Government House requested my produce to feed Prince William”, Jim tells me with a smile.

His yields are 20% higher than equivalent chemical farming practices, all without costly and damaging nitrate fertilisers and pesticides.

That’s a small sentence, read it again, as the implications are vast. In one sweep, it discards the myth that chemical farming is needed to feed our growing population, and holds promise that we can mitigate 33% of the world’s carbon emissions for which industrialised agriculture is responsible for. That’s not even mentioning a massive reduction in oil consumption, around 15% of the world’s oil is used in fertiliser production from memory.

Needless to say, we at Bucky Box see his work as a important part of the puzzle to a new food system and are laying down a commitment in helping him spread his technology worldwide.


Jim O’Gorman runs regular workshops through his charitable organisation, including The Urban Eden program where one can feed a family of four from 10 square metres of land with no more than half an hour in the garden a week. Contact details are on their website.

Disrupt & Support

I’ve spent a bit of time on Twitter lately, for my sins, and have been simply astounded at how many people are out there who’re working on a more planet & people friendly food system.

I’ve seen everything from hydroponics to beekeepers, urban designers to organic cosmetic boxes, bloggers & restaurant owners, environmental engineers to grass roots GMO activists.

It’s been really encouraging – we know we’re backing a swelling movement, and we’re here all guns blazing ourselves.

Our view is one of disruption of the status quo, and support of the individuals, communities & organisations who’re getting on with creating a better world.  We aim to disrupt the existing food distribution system – one which wields so much power – by directly supporting the farmers, community food enterprises & small scale food distributors with the tools to enable a local food movement.

Software is our team’s background (well except for mine which is environmental conservation & business..) so we were in a good position to create the web 2.0 tools for the people we know can create the kind of food system which will support people & planet more readily than the holders of the power in the industrialised food distribution, who are simply ‘working for their shareholders’.

Too much power in food distribution will cause a problemDisruption is important – it can create systemic change. Take what Napster did to the music industry for example; one simple innovation in digitising and sharing files has blown apart a system which is still re-sprouting in its wake – those that try to fight or cling on to the old paradigm will eventually be left behind. Those that embrace, innovate, and find new ways – will be rewarded with inheriting a new system.  We see disruption of the power balance of food distribution in the same way.

We realise of course that we are not going to do this on our own – in fact the ground work is already well underway – food hubs, vege box schemes, organic farmers, fair food bloggers, sustainability consultants, local food enterprise resources, education & future thinkers are already doing stirling work in this area.  That’s why we’re working with local & friendly food champions like Food Connect and the Soil & Health Association, who are doing great work in education, advocacy & research into what a sustainable food system looks like.

In the meantime, before our launch, we look forward to hearing from you about what your view of a better food system is, and how you’re working towards it.

Urban Food Hui : Wellington

Last night, Sam from the Bucky Box crew, was able to make it down to a hometown meet up for ‘The Rhizome Effect – Urban Food Hui’ in Wellington (New Zealand).

 

The Hui (Maori for meeting / discussion) was all about bringing together Wellington’s community food growers, facilitators, interest groups, and backgarden producers.  We don’t yet have any form of Food Alliance like Auckland, but this is kind of where the night was pointing.

 

The Sustainability Trust & Innermost Gardens were good enough to throw together an event, and our favourite props were all in place when we got there – butchers papers & coloured pens!!

That only meant one thing ~ World Cafe!

 

And so it was, after an initial introduction round (incidentally we were the only “Software for the local food system” in the room…) we jumped into conversations around “what’s working” in Wellington.  20 minutes later, it was heads up, and a harvest of the ideas which came out of the small group conversations ~ then a big switch around to new tables, and into another conversation topic: “what could we do better to strengthen & catalyse the urban food movement?”.

 

Wow… what a couple of conversations they were! Some really great ideas floating around the room – both rich, nurturing, learning experiences through field trips & better cross-fertilisation of ideas among groups, as well as calls for better connection, communication and sharing of knowledge online and offline.  Finally – we all shifted tables once more, and found our final ‘friends for the evening’ and discussed the $100’000 question : “If we had $100’000 to make some of this stuff happen, what would we use it for?”.

 

Some amazing ideas popped up, including training & capacity building programs, website portals, and my particular bent ~ seeding social/community enterprise which would keep a sustainable revenue stream to benefit the urban food movement.

 

I’ll share the links to the harvests as and when the Sustainability Trust are able to get it all online.

 

In the meantime, if you know of any good resources on the Urban Food movements around the world – we’d love to see them!