8 May 2013
Well we're back in drought. It doesn't matter what the official declarations say, we are in drought. Our dams are the lowest I have seen them, soil moisture is non existent and pasture growth has ceased. We have had no stock in the paddocks since late October 2012 and there is very little dry standing feed. I moved all the cattle into a sacrifice paddock to prevent soil degradation and have been buying in hay to feed them. I have also sold as many of the old girls as possible, and am not sure what happens next. We can't afford to keep feeding the cattle forever, and I am looking down the barrel of unloading all stock if we don't get any rain in the next month - things are that crook.
22 April 2013
This is interesting. Having fuel potential and energy independence is one thing, extracting it efficiently is another. The concept of EROEI needs to be rigorously applied to any biofuel - energy return on energy invested. Otherwise we risk robbing Peter to pay Paul.
A total systems audit and approach would be a start. Even if we managed to produce algae biofuels in an energy positive way, the fuel then gets used in a dysfunctional system where roughly 10 calories of the new fuel delivers 1 calorie of food to the end user. Food is energy and we are talking an energy delivery system that is incredibly inefficient and dysfunctional because it only examines the financial bottom line.
Now imagine the energy efficiency of a food system that delivered 2.3 calories of food energy for every 1 calorie of fuel energy. Now that is an efficient system, and we had that in 1940! So the questions we need to be asking are what happened and why, where and how did we become so inefficient?
4 December 2012
Introducing My Farm Shop. My Farm Shop is the social enterprise joint venture that will improve the availability of great produce from great producers who are doing the right thing by their animals, whilst simultaneously improving the environment (their natural capital). In other words genuinely triple bottom line farm produce promotion and sales.
This is early days of an ambitious project, and early days of the website which we hope will be an open source resource as well as a place to get great food. Meats only at this stage but the range will improve as we identify and include other farmers who can benefit from an association. Anyway please check out the website and let us know of any errors or bugs.
How will this affect Mountain Creek Farm? For the better as it will mean I can concentrate on farming, and My Farm Shop will take care of sales logistics. Obviously due to my involvement, My Farm Shop shares the same philosophy with Mountain Creek farm, only this time we will be putting hard numbers on the claims we make. A work in progress, so keep an eye on it.
All the best.
21 November 2012
Yesterday we took 2 Belted Galloway steers and 2 Belted Galloway heifers to the abattoir. These lovely animals have had a great life, and had one bad day yesterday. Even that wasn't so bad, we transported them as familial group and the end was quick and as stress free as you can get from an abattoir.
We are using a different abattoir, and of all the ones within striking distance of our farm, this one is by far the best. It is a bit further to travel than Cootamundra, but I am so glad we did. Milton meats is a small family owned facility where care and quality are paramount. We toured the facility and saw all the processes from the kill to the chilling room. Everything was spotless and extremely well ordered. Interestingly this is the first abattoir I have ever visited where there was no smell - and I mean nothing, zip, zero. If any of you have visited an abattoir, or even driven past one, the smell is unmistakeable. No smell = best practise, because when I kill on farm the is no smell either. I have to say that is a great relief to have found a good abattoir for our animals - truthfully I was beginning to despair.
So what all this means is that we are back on track to be able to deliver great meat for that Christmas BBQ. Next week both our Wessex Saddleback pigs and Wiltshire hogget (older lamb) go to meet their maker at Milton. This means beef, pork, hogget/lamb and Christmas hams will be available in approximately 3 weeks time. NB all will be in very limited supply (especially the hams) until the new year when big changes for the better occur.
The Canberra Times were here this morning. Apparently they are doing a special on what makes the perfect Christmas ham. I am biased of course, so I said, "You start with the perfect pig." We'll soon see how the story pans out, they might not run it, but they took lots of photos of very cute pigs and one not-so-cute farmer.
The People's Food Plan project has been an outstanding success and I am pleased to have had a minor role in it. If you haven't found or heard of it yet, look here. There was much radio coverage and press coverage, and we have written policy suggestions for the National Food Plan around the re-localisation of our food systems.
16 November 2012
OK so the symptom is bird flue H7 but what was the cause? Couldn't be tens of thousands of birds being kept in unnatural conditions could it? I know sarcasm doesn't translate well onto a website, but really! http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/201211/s3633607.htm
15 November 2012
Joint Venture Mk3 is getting closer and will involve; a new website, an increased product range, more continuity of supply, and greater impact for the common good. Sounds impressive - and it is - stay tuned as there will be good clean and fair produce available for Christmas.
3 October 2012
Well I have past several mile stones in the last few months - hence the lack of activity on this site for which I apologise.
I have now been farming for a decade - and I am still a beginner! If you know the 10,000 hour or 10 years of training rule, to be a master or expert in a field, well it may be true for something as simple as elite sport, music, or academia, but it is totally wrong for farming! Farming is much too complex with far too many variables to master in one's three score AND ten years. Anyone who claims to have mastered a mixed farming enterprise is frankly self-deluding and/or full of it (either that or they have turned their farm into an input output industrial process). Multi-species farming and food production from paddock to plate is the one activity that I will never tire of - I just love the complexity and paradoxes.
Also just back from Tasmania - if you haven't been to Tassie you really must, such a stunningly beautiful part of the world. I was there for the final leg of the Australian Rural Leadership Program A fascinating week of visiting rural communities and farms, then listening to their stories of triumph and failure. So many wonderful people doing great things for their communities, it was humbling and inspiring. Anyway I graduated from the program and am now a fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation. I simultaneously completed the post grad cert from James Cook University in rural leadership. All in all a fantastic journey, one well worth doing that has changed me forever - and the best bit? The lifelong bonds and friendships with amazing people I may never have met otherwise.
Next, the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance has just launched our People's Food Plan discussion paper. This has been an amazing effort extremely well supported by all who have read it. So please consider joining the alliance and taking part in the discussion.
I am off to Italy! :-) Only for 5 days, but I love Italians - all that passion and wearing of hearts on sleeves. So this is where I will be and what I will be enjoying. I have been invited to address a plenary session with two great exponents of slow food from the USA and Germany. We each get 15 minutes and then there is a Q & A for an hour or so. Q & As are the best bits as this is when we get into the cutting edge stuff.
There has also been a suggestion that I might like to address the Slow Food International Congress. This will be outstanding if it comes off, as I have a few novel ideas I want to share with 5,000 of the world's best food leaders ;-) These ideas are coming together in an essay and a book, but more on that later. So for all of you who suggested, cajoled, harangued, badgered and even asked nicely that I write a book or two - well be careful what you wish for.................
Joint Venture mark 3. Mountain Creek Farm has had several failed attempts at partnering and joint venturing on farm. Well we must be suckers for punishment, because I will not give up on this idea that only needs the right people to appreciate the opportunity and run with it. So we are once again investigating a JV, but this time the object is to benefit as many farmers who are trying to do the right thing and eaters as possible. I can't say more at this stage, but it is exciting and will mean greater convenience and range for all concerned.
OK, for those of you who have been extremely patient and are waiting for our produce to be available again; we will be back up and running in a months time with some superb grass finished belted galloway beef, quickly followed by some of nationally acclaimed wessex saddleback free range pork (we have standing orders for much of this pork, so first in best dressed. I am committed to keeping our prices affordable and there will be a small price rise - our first in 3 years.
This website is due a major overhaul, and will be getting one before Christmas too!
2 October 2012
Spring is well and truly upon us - 23 degrees C today and a perfectly clear shy and a very soft breeze - simply glorious. I am off to tend to my pigs who have been somewhat neglected for the last few months. They can't have been too neglected, they are as fat as...... well pigs actually. Mind you I might end up like this http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-03/american-farmer-eaten-by-own-pigs/4292338
It must be the season for odd happenings when we have this http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-02/gm-cow-produces-allergy-free-milk/4291226
What are they thinking? More proof that the world is off the rails. Just because we can ought we? Yes allergies are a problem (I have a potentially lethal one myself), but this is not treating the root cause and in fact may make matters worse - if the cow is missing a tail, what else is there that is out of whack? "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."
9 May 2012
Much has been happening on farm, but first things first. Sasha, our gorgeous maremma bitch has had puppies - 5 girls and 3 boys. They are now 4 weeks old and I have commenced bonding them to chickens. I have to move some of the sheep into a smaller holding pen so I can start them bonding to sheep too. In another 4 to 6 weeks these beautiful balls of fluff will be ready for their new homes and duties. Of course we will have a strict vetting process for where they are to go; only to rural properties and to people experiences with dogs and animals.
The farm is changing course. Yes we still be farming ecologically, diversely, rare breeds and heritage plants etcetera, however we a moving away from selling food to our wonderful co-producers to selling the animals live. There are several reasons for this:
- the first is that we are way too small to supply the demand for our produce. We have become victims of our own success, but the good news is that since we started selling direct to eaters, there are a great many more good farmers doing similar good work.
- my limited skills should be used for the greatest and common good. This means teaching and influencing others to farm and source food responsibly.
8 May 2012
Last week I was honoured to be invited to run a workshop and help launch the Urban Grown project at Port Kembla. I believe this to be the development first integrated food hub in Australia. Social justice and inclusion are the drivers in an area with systemic 3rd generation unemployment, and youth unemployment rates around 30% or more.
In essence they have partnered with Warrawong High School where a permaculture and biodynamic farm is well under-way (they have many acres to play with). They plan to run urban growing courses, incorporate a commercial kitchen to value add to produce, teach food processing and handling, build a Yurt, sell the produce in a retail environment (actually it is already all pre sold), act as a centralised food hub as an outlet for other growers and much much more.
The community support for this project has been universal and overwhelming. They have funding for 3 years and once this project is well under-way, Adrianne, the project co-ordinator and catalyst, plans to offer it as a model for others to emulate - and it is well worth other communities emulating and adapting to their needs.
27 April 2012
Back in the mid 1990's I was given a book that changed my life and is still doing so today. That book was "Your money or your life" co-authored by Vicki Robin and it made me re-evaluate my personal and societies relationship with money. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Vicki has discovered food and has come to many of the same conclusions I have. The following link to an article in Yes magazine will explain http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/vicki-robin-my-10-mile-diet/8-food-rules-from-my-10-mile-diet
Two days ago, on ANZAC Day, we had a small gathering on farm and enjoyed a meal that was 99% from farm - a zero mile meal. Pork, beef, carrots, potatoes, spinach, garlic and much more direct from field to fork. The meats were farm killed and butchered and nothing had travelled more than a few hundred metres.
We also had our inaugural ANZAC bikkie back of too. There were biscuits that looked like tanks (well the cook is an officer in armoured division), there were soft and chewy ones, crispy edged sweet ones, Turkish spiced ones with dates, even a shop purchase secretly inserted to confuse the judges. And the winner was ............ the traditional round, crisp outer edge, chewy centred, golden syrup flavoured usual suspect - some things should remain traditional.
19 April 2012
As someone who has been in business for 4 decades, I would like to share an insight with you. Time is not money, "time is life". Mark Spain (Global Learning) sent me a link to a talk by David Korten (when corporations ruled the world) and he mentioned Bhutan's Minister for Gross National Happiness, who in turn made that statement.
We have all heard the cries of desperation "time is money", and I guess this originated in the corporate culture that revolves around billable hours. What a difference it would make if we approached everything we do with the question, "time is life, so is this really what I what to be doing with my limited time on earth?"
I recommend you listen, really listen and enjoy John Lennon's song Imagine. And whilst you're at it, listen to his song to his son Sean too - "Life is what happens whilst you're busy making other plans" is the line I remember.
OK so I am having an existential moment, but bare all with me for a moment, and I'll share a light bulb or two that went on in this small brain a month or so ago.
LED light bulb. A fascinating field of enquiry (and profit) for engineering and science based businesses is biomimicry. People are studying the results of billions of years of evolutionary forces that have produced solutions to all sorts of technical problems. They are discovering and developing great products - Velcro is probably the most famous example. People are studying the system and yet only extracting bits they think might have commercial applications.
The connection that is missing however is this; if the biosystem is the factory of all these great ideas, why aren't we biomimicing the biosystem itself?
Every biologist I know will confirm that a system's resilience is directly proportionate to the breadth and depth of diversity in the system. The most resilient systems are incredibly diverse - think of the internet. So why is it that business systems want to KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid? Does this explain why businesses fail - repeatedly? I strongly suspect it does.
What this means is that all businesses based on narrow linear and reductionist models will fail. And size is irrelevant, it only a matter of time before they fail. Do I have the solutions? I understand what needs to be done, but how this is done will be business and industry specific.
Compact fluorescent light bulb. I was speaking to someone from Lloyd's insurance at the National Sustainable Food Summit. He was saying that Lloyd's have been in business for 250 years and plan to be in business for another 250 years at least. Robert Pekin then gave his excellent talk at the summit and mentioned corporations having to make a profit for shareholders "in perpetuity". Putting these together and you have a new mindset for business.
The short termism of single bottom line profit maximisation must end if corporations are to fulfil their "in perpetuity" obligations to inter-generational shareholdings. This is a profound shift that corporations must do if they want to be here in 250 years or more. Those two extra words bring into play ecological and social parameters that are not addressed by conventional CSR proclamations. If the directors of corporations are serious in fulfilling their obligations (and they must be or they are breaking the law) they need to start thinking past the next budget approval meeting and 10 and 50 years hence.
This new mindset will take some time to filter through, but those who get it early will be around in the long term, possibly in perpetuity. Those who don't 'get it' will be consigned to the dust bins of corporate failure.
Yet another low energy light bulb moment. The food meta-system and the dominant economic paradigm are mutually exclusive. There, I've said it! The current way we do business is killing agriculture, and with it the planet. The finite, circular energy flowing, biologically based, real food system has come up against the theoretical mathematical constructs of economics where infinite growth and externalised costs are possible.
This is the most serious of issues as it is a clash of system values. We have tried to force a holistic biological system into a linear reductionist industrial process and have failed. All the evidence says we have failed, and this is a systemic crisis of planetary proportions. The symptoms of failure include; desertification, mass rural migration to cities, dying rural communities, dying and struggling agricultural colleges, farmers telling their daughters and sons not to farm, the average age of farmers at record highs, the low numbers of farmers in 'developed' countries, skills shortages, the diminishing returns on investment, the supermarket ownership concentration, the death of co-ops, and on and on.
We treat these symptoms individually and have yet to address the root causes, because they are systemic. Addressing systemic issues requires a different level of thinking than the usual linear and reductionist strategic investments - if you do more of the same, you will get more of what you've got.
18 April 2012
First a sincere apology to all my friends and co-producers who follow this site. I have neglected the website for some time as I have been extremely busy doing other food related work. Yes the media tart in me is a live and well with numerous press and radio interviews having occurred - have another tomorrow and this all takes time.
I have been to numerous conferences and symposia lately trying to get a better birds eye view of the food system. Some of these were: The Law and the Future of Food, Green Skills - Green Economy, The National Sustainable Food Summit, Australian Rural Leadership Foundation - Lead Day and several others I've forgotten the names of (but not the content).
In addition I was nominated as the president of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, and that comes with certain obligations.
This work is all unpaid and the farm income has suffered to. Why am I doing it then? Someone has to! The system won't change itself for the better without prodding. I just have to figure out how to get paid to do what is necessary and what I love - at least I won't go hungry :-)
17 April 2012
Had a wonderful private dinner with Michael Ableman last Saturday night at Mulloon Creek Natural Farms. Our generous hosts, Toni and Tony, put on a show that is close to my heart - good food, good wine and great conversation with engaging people. We stayed the night and then Michael did an amazing days presentation on the Sunday.
For those who don't know Michael or his work, he is celebrity farmer now based in BC Canada. He has multiple books and a dvd or two under his belt. To say that I connected with him is an understatement - he was using the same quotes in his talks that I use - philosophy as well as farming. At times I thought he was giving one of my talks, it was uncanny. Funny how we have independently studied the same system and come to the same conclusions. I guess that's not that surprising, but he even goes off on similar tangents. Anyway Elizabeth and I have an invitation to visit him any-time and we would love to go - pity about the pacific ocean being in the way.
27 February 2012
The Union of Concerned Scientists gives Monsanto an 'F' in sustainable agriculture. http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/monsanto-fails-sustainable-ag-1368.html
27 February 2012
There has been a gap in communications on this site for which I apologise. Been extremely busy and just back from two weeks in India as part of my rural leadership scholarship - amazing place, my first time there and much to relate over the following weeks.
For those interested in food genetic resources, the history and state of play, this http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/origins/article.cfm?articleid=64 is a balanced academic backgrounder.
26 December 2011
Please take the time to read this http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/2962/ It shows where and how we were/ are being steered in the wrong direction. For the 99% of us being asked to deliver a 4% efficiency dividend or similar, and/or working 50+ hour weeks, what can I say ...................
Aux armes, citoyens!
16 December 2011
Tempus fugit doesn't it and, since Christmas is upon us, this is my gift to you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWQuDtxD2-c It is exactly how I feel about Christmas, right down to the Flying Spaghetti Monster poster above his bed head :-)
What's been happening on Mountain Creek Farm? Heaps! We have sold several cow calf units to people passionate about good food and genetic diversity, piglets have arrived courtesy of our oldest sow (I thought she was past it and due to meet her maker), 50 light Sussex chicks are growing at an alarming rate, our fish (eel tailed cat fish) are progressing swimmingly in or recirculating tank/dam system, vegetables are bursting out of the ground (you should see our spuds!), fruit tress are covered on fruit (and Cockatoos - the trees will be under nets next season!), shade house mark 1 has been built (the first of many), wicking beds are in trial mode and growing well, interns are lined up for January, an enabling learning centre is on the drawing boards, and much more I have no doubt forgotten. To say we are exhausted is an understatement. Will we get a break? Although needed, probably not.
Open Day 2012 - tentatively Monday March 12 (Canberra Day public holiday). I only say tentatively because there is so much work in progress that the farm looks like it took a hit from a stray smart bomb. That said, with the help of the interns we should be able to have the place presentable by early March, even though I will be in India for two weeks late February for stage 4 of the rural leadership scholarship.
Speaking of which, the ARLF scholarship has been life changing and there's more to come. I know this sounds implausible coming from a near geriatric - old dog new tricks and all that - but fundamental changes are occurring in how I perceive and interact with the world. As an early adopter and pioneer I have always come up against 'the system'. It is very easy to adopt an adversarial position when this happens, and I have often been 'guilty as charged'. Well I am mellowing - but perhaps this is just old age creeping up on me :-)
I was invited to a meeting by the South East Regional Organisation of Councils the other day on 'closing the food loop'. Dr Mike Kelly MP (Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture) was there and addressed the assembled. He started with the usual polly speak, and then he repeated the lie about the the need for more food production. Of course i couldn't let that one past (so much for mellowing) - so I informed him the UN FAO has quite clearly proven what he is saying is false. In return I got a politicians answer that less than skilfully avoided the question - where were my reporter and journalist friends when I needed them!?
It's quite scary when you can quote empirical facts to people in power and, when it doesn't suit their paradigm or agenda, they simply ignore the facts and move on. Now I believe Mike Kelly is a talented and intelligent human being, so if he can't or won't see facts, what do we do? All suggestions will be greatly appreciated as I mull on how to crack this nut for a bit.
7 November 2011
Today, by invitation only, I attend a meeting with Professor Tim Lang and other academics from around Australia to discuss how we might influence government food policy. This very recent15 minute video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4I2pIkNJc8 might help explain where he is coming from. btw, Tim coined the term 'food miles' back in the 1990's and has been instrumental in getting a holistic food policy on the national agenda in the UK.
Also today, I hope to incorporate the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) as a not for profit association. This will give AFSA a legal entity and basis from which to operate and influence policy.
6 November 2011
Vegetable Growing at Mountain Creek Farm has commenced.
After a long wait, and several wrong turns, we have at last commenced vegetable farming. This is a new style of community farming which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been tried before in Australia and is a social entrepreneurial venture.
The idea is quite simple; interns are trained to be holistic, organic, field to fork farmers. They are then offered a joint venture opportunity to cut their teeth on for a few years before they either chose to fly on their own or remain in the joint venture. More details on this exciting development soon, but suffice to say it is planned as a triple bottom line win for all concerned.
So far we have a small potato area planted that should yield about 10 tons of mixed varieties. We are using pigs and chickens to break new ground, fertilize and clean an acre which we have started trial plantings of various salad greens. I have deep ripped another area where we plan to plant around 100,000 garlic plants for next year, after the pigs and chickens have done their work. Poly tunnels and shade houses are in the pipeline to extend the seasons and keep our abundant wildlife at bay too. All in all a major undertaking - and the reason this blog has been a little quiet of late.
Forgot to mention that calving is now over and they are so cute this year, our new bull has been up to the task. However, for the first time we have a dwarf calf; the bull calf appears stocky and half the height of the other calves his age. This is a congenital defect and I suspect the carrier is his first time mum. Depending on how he grows, I think we'll tame him as a pet lawn mower as he is very cute.
6 November 2011
In August I attended part 3 of my Australian Rural Leadership Scholarship. This was ten days in Adelaide where half the time was spent in a personality profiling intensive (Myers-Briggs). For those interested I am an E, N, T or F, P - off the scale in the E,N and P areas and borderline between a T and F. All in all I learnt a lot about myself and others and, as sceptical as I am, I can see that broad generalisations about working types have merit. One fascinating statistic is that 90% of public servants (the bulk of my clients, associates, friends and family) are ISTJ's - so you have good cause to think I'm a little odd :-)
The other half was a media training exercise where we role played crisis management and interview techniques. My inner media tart was tempered by the fact that Paul Williams (former ABC 7:30 Report and currently with SBS Insight) was doing the interviewing, and I am a fan. This was also a 'sand pit' experience where we were to 'play' and experiment. So I did and made the mistake of trying to 're-educate' one of the best interviewers in the country - and lost ......... Great experience though :-)
Talking of media exposure, the October issue of Gardening Australia has a piece on food security here Julian Cribb and I say a thing or two about it. I also get to say something else about the future of food in the November issue of R.M Williams Outback Magazine. Unfortunately it's behind a pay wall, or you have to buy the magazine or subscribe - sorry.
I have also been interviewed by Japan's TBS TV (Tokyo Broadcast Systems) about the proposed TPP (Trans Pacific Pact), a free trade deal which will be a disaster for all but the biggest of Australian farmers and hurt absolutely all Japanese farmers. They have promised to send me the link and I will post it in this blog - in English with Japanese subtitles.
There have been some other media appearances, some were telephone radio interviews and I can't remember the details. A fun event included talking 4 times at Floriade in the Victory Gardens. The Victory Gardens were a recreation of the "dig for victory" survival food gardens of the second world war, and sponsored by the National War Memorial. There was no better venue to talk about food security and sovereignty issues. I followed the author Jackie French on one occasion, and you should have seen the crowd thin when she left - this put my ego back in it's box ;-)
I also went to Melbourne the week before last to the On the Edge forum. About one hundred people gathered to discuss the future of food production in the peri-urban areas of Australia. We (academics, town planners, federal and state govt. peoples, farmers, ecologists and more) came away agreeing that this most valuable agricultural land needed to be prepared for posterity and food security. Now the work begins on figuring how to co-ordinate councils, state and federal governments to stop using the single bottom line principle of 'highest and best use' in determining agricultural land's, and ultimately our collective, fate.
5 November 2011
And now for something completely different http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVrIyEu6h_E
You have to be a certain age and demographic to appreciate it - enjoy. May the Farm be with you.
10 August 2011
Some random thoughts on the future of farming in Australia - always an exciting topic!
I see a two-speed farming economy developing. The first is existing and successful, but in trouble. This is large scale industrial farming systems with many environmental and social costs externalised. It also has centralised command and control systems dominated by corporate interests driven by remote shareholder interests. The drive for "efficiencies of scale" by price taking commodity producers means less people working the land and contributing to rural communities. This is the industrial paradigm Australia has pursued for over 60 years with winners and losers. Among the losers have been the rural communities as witnessed by their steady decline since the second world war. In this paradigm farmers produce commodities, what economists refer to as 'fungible' product, and the only determinant for these is price - single bottom line.
The second farming economy is in it's infancy, growing fast, and is a decentralised (localised), diversified, autonomous, interconnected, vertically integrated version of the food system that existed before the industrial paradigm dominated. This new system is very different from it's parent and remains rooted in local economy and people. The examples are the farmers markets and those paddock to plate/ field to fork operations that eschew the adversarial divide between rural and city. In this new paradigm the farmers produce food, and food has qualitative measures that include local social, ecological parameters and so on that are not 'fungible' . In other words the new food farming economy is triple bottom line and has values in addition to price.
In essence I believe we are living through a reversal in the priority of values that surround farming. As a gross generalisation; Australia currently farms for profit first, considers the social implications second and the environment gets what's left over. This will change as farming is increasingly seen as an ecological activity, performed by humans, to generate a surplus - in that order of importance.
One thing all economic commentators have missed about the future of farming for Australia is this: Australia is entering a new golden age of agriculture that will be both extensive and extended. It will last much longer and be more profitable for more Australians than the current mineral boom. The reasons are demographic and the increasing affluence of south and south east Asia. With affluence comes an increase in demand for high quality protein, and this demand will be huge and ongoing - even perpetual for Australia if we get the formula right.
So this is what I am witnessing/experiencing, and I am still digesting the implications for Australian farming and communities. I believe those who can step out of the current paradigm are also witnessing the demise of the universal dominance of industrial farming. No doubt industrial farming will survive, but it will be very different with greatly reduced and/or eliminated externalised costs. We are also present at the birth of a new agricultural era and golden age, which is very exciting - as the potential environmental, social and economic benefits for rural Australia are enormous.
I had a tangential thought as I wrote the above, the very term 'regional Australia' is marginalising rural Australia. First we were rural Australia, then became rural and regional Australia, now we are simply 'regional Australia'. This is the language of marginalisation in action. Why? Because you can have a vibrant region with a dying rural heart. In this way the death of the rural is excluded from the discussion.
10 August 2011
Beef is back on the menu! We have a full compliment of our Belted Galloway beef available for the discerning. This will be our last beef until late spring, and there are limited quantities, so please send those orders in to avoid the wait.
I am in discussions with other biological farmers to create our food farm learning centre. We are talking about combining skills and efforts to create a teaching environment where people can contribute and acquire the skills and experience to feed and change the world. This all sounds very grand, but in truth it is in the small is beautiful mould of diversified, vertically integrated, closed loop farming. what this means is that our long held desire to grow small scale commercial vegetable crops is coming closer to fruition (pun intended). A few things will start to happen this spring and summer, but much more will happen in the autumn and winter of 2012.
In addition to running short courses, there will be opportunities for residential internships to learn and ultimately run their own food farming projects with supervision and support. It is early days in the planning, but we are all very excited about the possibilities for the fertility of our ecological, economic and social environment. Needless to say that the long long overdue revamp of the website will be an essential requirement.
Am off to Adelaide next week for the second stage of the Australian Rural Leadership journey. My daughters will mind the farm as Elizabeth joins me for the last few days. This time the theme is media exposure and training and personality profiling. I am really looking forward to this leg of the journey as I really need to add some professionalism to the media exposure I receive. I also need to understand how personality types affect message reception and delivery at all levels.
19 July 2011
A comment or two on the Murdoch Press and the current phone tapping scandal. It is inconceivable that Rupert Murdoch, as the self proclaimed "captain of the ship", can deny responsibility for the direction and culture of the same ship - yet he has. To extend Mr Murdoch's maritime and leadership theme, a fish rots from the head down - even a big one.
I have been researching leadership for the last year to better understand my own, and Mr Murdoch's denial of responsibility is straight out of the text books. Ultimately he is responsible and the best he can claim is that the organisation he heads is so large that things escape his notice. That still does not relieve him of the responsibility for the creating the culture that effectively sanctioned dubious ethics and rewarded law breaking.
The denial of responsibility reveals a credibility gap and an incongruency that will hound the man and company until it is resolved. Money cannot buy integrity, nor can it cure cognitive dissonance. Money may temporarily deal with the symptoms, like paying people to silence them, but the underlying cause remains.
6 July 2011
We got hammered yesterday with a blizzard and 100km per hour plus winds. Scores of big trees are down and I marvel at their ability to always land on a fence! So today is chainsaw and fencing on the boundary fences, and for the next two weeks I'll be resurrecting the internal fences and cleaning up the trees. The good news is we received 46mm of much needed rain with all this wild weather.
I went out in the worst of the storm to clear the road past our place of a large gum tree, and was interested in the number of people who didn't stop. Yes the locals stopped and offered a hand, but the non locals just drove past without even a wave. What is it about living in a city that disconnects people from their humanity? Answer this with a remedy, and I suspect many of the world's problems will be solved.
Beef. There are 4 more steers now ageing nicely in the coolroom of my butcher. So for those who are waiting for beef packs, they will be available in the last week of July.
And lastly an apology to all those who emailed asking for advice/assistance following the latest ABC interview. The interview has been replayed a few times and I have been inundated with polite requests and simply can't get to you all.
For growers who are wanting to direct market, I will post something here in a few days. Just a skeletal version of how where and what to do.
For eaters wanting to patronise ethical growers I will post rules of thumb on how to find and support them here too.
29 June 2011
The discussion paper for the National Food Plan has been released http://www.daff.gov.au/agriculture-food/food/national-food-plan/issues_paper_to_inform_development_of_a_national_food_plan This "issues paper" has been developed by 13 government departments in consultation with the National Food Plan Advisory Group, all overseen by the Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig and his office. I don't know where to begin to express my dismay at the collective ineptitude of those involved.
The issues paper is 115 pages of selectively referenced material, complete with internal contradictions, omissions and false assumptions, all based on a series of flawed paradigms. It is much worse than the PMSEIC Report on Food Security I de-constructed (posted in this blog dated 29 April). I can't believe that in the 21st century it still takes a simple intellect to point out the Emperor's lack of attire.
Speaking of all pervasive bureaucratic bull dust; in 2002 I rolled over some funds from one superannuation fund to another and the form required to do so was 2 pages long. In 2007 I did exactly the same thing and the form required was 4 pages long. Yesterday I did exactly the same thing again, and the form required was 6 pages long. The activity was identical on each occasion, but the bureaucratic hoops have tripled in 9 years.
I can just imagine some petty bureaucrat, so pleased with their performance "but what if the funds were from the proceeds of crime, don't we need another box filled in for that?" - as if any self respecting criminal would fill in that declaration! The same box asks me to indicate that I am not a terrorist and that I am not laundering my funds by the transfer - No I am not kidding! OK, so I have reworded the intent into plain English, but that is what they want to know. Another entire page is devoted to "You are who you say you are, aren't you?" I'll swear Australia is being governed, advised and administered by very earnest primary school debating teams!
27 June 2011
On Saturday night we had a mid year/winter/solstice celebration; a gathering of 30 interesting people for good food, good wine and good conversation with a warm fire. We managed to seat and feed everyone two mains; a rather nice beef burgundy, a pretty good blood orange and fennel osso bucco, baked spuds and veggies in a glorious white sauce. Our cheese plater featured a rather nice triple brie of a mere 71% fat content - so much for our health conscious friends who enjoyed 2 kilograms of it!
We also tasted new local olive oils; one was truffle infused, and another wild lime and chilly infused, and both were outstanding. Dukka and sour dough breads featured, again with superb local oils. Our friends bought a mountain of deserts including 3 different and delicious apple pies, and assortment of cheese cakes (special mention goes to the sour cherry one) I have also taken 20 empty bottles to the recycling of what was rather good wine - a couple of exotic well cellared reds were very very good. Mind you early the next morning I had to start the second day of the Rural Fire Service training for Crew Leaders - if I don't pass the test I'll blame those reds.
The evening was a lot of fun and we will do this slow long table affair again soon - Christmas in July perhaps. We can do better in July and lessons learnt are; to limit the number to 24 or 26 so we can seat them all with ease, move the drinks area so people don't clog the kitchen. What is it with people congregating in kitchens anyway, they enter the kitchen and then stay put?! The conversations were lively, enlightening and the volume level indicated all were actively engaged. We do enjoy our environmentally, socially, politically active and engaged friends.
23 June 2011
A friend sent me the link to the interview I did yesterday http://www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2011/s3251832.htm?site=canberra There is a picture of some lovely cows and one of an ugly bloke. I'm told there is more to come on a different program, as I talked flat out for an hour or so.
23 June 2011
The days are getting longer and I'm told spring is around the corner. Well you could have fooled me. Yesterday I again had the pleasure of being interviewed by ABC local radio. Julia Holman wanted to do the interview in the paddock, something to do with the ambiance of being amongst the cattle whilst talking. It seems radio listeners like the visual/sensual imagery (yes it was a radio interview), but what the audience won't see and feel was the sleet and the - 4 degree wind chill factor - it was bloody freezing standing around for an hour chatting. All went well though, and I think I made less of a fool of myself than usual.
The Maremma pups have all gone to good homes. Four went to a free range egg producer near Goulburn, one to a sheep farmer also near Goulburn, and the last to someone who had an older Maremma as a companion. The farm will be much quieter without those bundles of fluff running around exploring - they were delightful. I am not sure if I will breed Sasha and Fred again as, although they produced wonderful pups and Sasha was a great mum, I found the process painful. OK, so I fell in love with all the puppies and didn't really want to give them up.
The leadership journey is interesting. One realisation for me is that good leaders facilitate or enable others to lead and excel. No problem, I thought, I can pass the buck and/or baton. Well I was surprised and found it tough to let go of pet projects. Truth is part of me likes the minor (very minor) celebrity status I have acquired, and consciously stepping out of the lime light so that others can shine is resisted by ego. However I have started doing it and am finding it quite liberating. The projects sre no longer mine exclusively, but I remain connected.
Now to share a disturbing insight. There are calls, by many well known international and national organisations, to stop the push for geo-engineering of the climate to tackle climate change. see the petition http://www.handsoffmotherearth.org/2011/06/lettertoipcc/ The list of signatories on the petition to the IPCC is impressive and represents hundreds of millions of people, it is well meaning but flawed. Upon reading their definition of geo-engineering, it appears carbon sequestration and storage by agriculture is included in the proposed ban. To cut a long story short, the definition includes all deliberate attempts to modify the climate. So that includes altering farming practices and methods to sequester carbon in soil to reverse the damage caused by humanities millennia of unwitting geo-engineering. This includes actively promoting and supporting agro-ecological farming and farmers like me.
The petition ignores the fact that we have got into the climate mess in large measure via agricultural geo-engineering (land clearing, over grazing, over cropping, river diversions, swamp draining, dam building and so on). The mere reversing of the damage by large scale adoption of agro-ecological farming methods is geo-engineering, and large scale adoption is being encouraged by many of the signatories. In other words they are shooting themselves in the foot by encouraging geo-engineering via agro-ecological farming on the one hand, and signing petitions against it with the other.
So why haven't any of these organisations picked up their internal contradictions? Is everybody too busy to think things through properly? I suspect lack of time and fighting fires on many fronts is the problem. I also suspect a war of intellectual attrition is happening, and has been for several decades - "keep 'em so busy they can't think straight".
Who remembers writing or reading essays in the 1970's about the leisure society, and how we would have problems finding things to do with all the time that the coming 'computer revolution' would generate? What the hell happened to the 4 day week that would eventually become a 2 day working week? The promised "leisure dividend" somehow evolved into the "efficiency dividend". Everyone is now so busy delivering machine like "efficiency dividends", that they don't have time to stop and think.
Well that's my take on the situation, and it is hard not to be a conspiracy theorist as this situation suits the corporate agenda perfectly - keep the people busy as wage slaves; unthinking and compliant consumers of more 'stuff'.
22 June 2011
Wild pigs have broken into our free range pig area, beaten up our boar and generally pillaged and plundered (I won't say raped because the girls are not cycling at the moment). I managed to shoot one, possibly another, and scatter the invaders but they will be back for the feed and fun. Now the professional pig hunters will take over and I hope they cull the lot.
Perhaps it would help to know that we back on to Pig Hill and Brindabella National Park. The park is home to some very healthy and prolific black pigs (we know which one of our neighbours inadvertently introduced these particular pigs some 40 years ago). Somehow we managed to keep the wild pigs at bay for 5 years or so, but they have become bold lately - probably the onset of winter and less food being available.
So now the work begins. I will be closely monitoring the health of our small herd in case the ferals were diseased (they didn't look it, but you can't tell). I am moving the free range area closer to the house and will have a surrounding paddock with the Maremma dogs in it. The dogs will keep the wild pigs away. It will also mean that I move the egg layer chickens into the pig area. This way I double the use of the area and dogs. The chickens will also help sanitize the ground and add much needed phosphorus to the soil. And I needed this extra work like a hole in the head.
4 June 2011
The Kimberley is the heartland of the live cattle trade and I have just returned from it. There is no doubt in my mind that the Australian producers are doing the very best they can to humanely raise cattle. They are also environmentally aware, matching stocking numbers to land and climate, making many changes to grazing systems to reduce their environmental impact and improve environmental outcomes. They are not perfect, but they are moving solidly in the right direction.
Whist the calls for a total ban on live cattle/animal exports to Indonesia are understandable, after the airing of the 4 corners program, it is a simplistic/ black and white non-solution to ending animal cruelty.
1. The live trade and animal cruelty will continue in Indonesia without Australia's cattle or sheep. The animals will be sourced from the likes of Argentina as grist for the mill. So banning the live trade from Australia will only benefit Australian animals and push/keep the cruelty offshore.
2. A total ban will be indiscriminate and financially punitive to both Indonesians and Australians, whether doing the right thing or not. There will be no incentive to improve placed on Indonesian abattoirs, and this is a lose lose situation.
3. A better option is to allow limited and audited exports to those abattoirs that are certified as performing humane kills. This would give the complying abattoirs a financial advantage over the cruel, as Australian beef is cheaper to procure. This would reward the performers and financially hurt the cruel. So I call for targeted sanctions rather than indiscriminate ones.
Whilst I personally disagree with the live export trade, I can see the shades of grey that are required to effect meaningful change. A cold turkey withdrawal will hurt many in the NT and northern WA, including indigenous communities that depend on the cattle industry for employment. Of course compensation is possible for the individual producers/exporters, but the indigenous communities that have gained meaningful work on the stations will be collateral damage - again.
I understand the political imperative to make this a black and white issue due to the emotive/visceral nature of the film. But the +/- 80% of Australians that now support a total ban have "the moral superiority of the uninvolved." This means the actual solution must be more nuanced and secure a genuine win for all cattle, not just Australian cattle, and the producers, workers and consumers and both sides of the dividing sea.
The good thing is that the Australian public has been shaken out of their complacency with regard to animal welfare. The sad thing is the media circus will move on in a week or less and the real work of improving animal welfare will remain for those directly affected by politically expedient decisions made in haste.
3 June 2011
First things first. Before I left for the Kimberley for part of my Australian Rural Leadership Scholarship, more steers joined the food chain. I took them to the abattoir 4 weeks ago and they have hung and been dry aged to produce our signature pasture finished beef. I cooked some last night, I am biased, but it was outstandingly good!
So for those who have been waiting, the beef will be available this weekend from the farm, or delivered into Canberra. Please keep those orders coming in, you literally keep us in the business of farming good clean and fair food and we do appreciate this fact.
What can I say about the ARLP Kimberley experience? Not much really as there is an unwritten code of silence about what really happens on this part of the ARLP course. This is not to spoil the experience for future participants and rob them of uniqueness. I can tell you that it was life changing - yes even for a jaded 52 year old of many and varied experiences.
I was; challenged, put on the spot, tired, often out of comfort zone, educated, enlightened, frustrated, sore and much much more. Several participants (there are 30 of us) said had they known what they were in for they probably wouldn't have done it. A few of my comrades were airlifted out for safety/medical reasons, and one was hospitalised at Kununarra. Several times I heard the remark "that which does not kill you, makes you stronger" through gritted teeth - I had a ball, I loved it all. So much so that my journal notes on day 8 wondered how I could do this sort of experiential learning for a living.
In the past I have been mentally and intellectually challenged, physically challenged, and socially and emotionally challenged. Sometimes I have been challenged on all three fronts simultaneously. But whenever seriously challenged on all fronts, it was always in a familiar environment and/or with the support of family and friends. In the Kimberley the challenges came from all sides without the usual support network, rules, and environmental familiarity. As such I was very quickly reduced to a raw state of being I haven't experience since I was a child. All the shields and armour I constructed over decades for self preservation, some of which I was totally unaware of, were stripped away.
So although I will not say what we did for 2 weeks, the effects have been profound and for the better. Oh, and I lost 5 kilograms in the process :-)
2 June 2011
I have been reading a few good books lately, one is required reading as part of the ARLP course and we will be reviewing it in Adelaide. "leadership for the disillusioned" by Amanda Sinclair arrived in the mail with and I read it immediately. Having read the book I can see many similarities in our learnings, particularly about the mind body connection. She came to the 'mind and body are one' through Yoga, me through Aikido. It is all very well to intellectually accept the concept of mind body unity, but it is something totally different to 'know it so'.
I also wondered how Amanda was using the word disillusioned in the title. Was it the disappointed and betrayed interpretation or the enlightened version - as in the double negative of disillusion being positive. I read it as both, more disappointment at the start and enlightened at the end, a bit like her personal journey, mine too for that matter. Or as an old German friend said to me, "why is it we grow so soon old and so late smart?" Anyway for post heroic leadership suggestions I commend this book to you.
Another book, one I picked up at Sydney airport in transit to Kununarra, was 'The leader who had no title', by Robin Sharma. This is a fable on the leadership learnings acquired from masters by an individual in one day. All very contrived and very over the top American self made individualist. As I was reading I wonder if this was designed to make individuals think they should lead themselves to better serve corporate America's agenda. There was a lot of "you can be rich and happy by working hard and serving the business agenda of your employer better".
I could dismiss the book as a gratuitous story of self promotion by Sharma, as all roads point to his websites that want to sell you product, but I won't. The book has merit for content if you can sort the wheat from the chaff and treat it as a self help book for personal growth. An easy read which I completed in the planes over 7 hours or so. Take the simple learnings and use what you will.
16 May 2011
It's minus 4 degrees with a frosty fog as I write this. Tomorrow I will be in the Kimberley where the temperatures will range from 16 to 32 degrees, so the minimum there is greater than our maximum temperature, and I have been advised to take thermals! I think I could go swimming at midnight and then dry off by moonlight and still be warm.
My two week Kimberley adventure is the first of the exercises I undertake as part of the Australian Rural Leadership Program. Really looking forward to it, but not sure what to expect. Seems the ARLP organisers don't want to tell the participants what's going to happen because we are to be taken "out of our comfort zone". So it will be interesting and fun to be challenged and learn - assuming I survive.
I leave the farm in the more than capable hands of my wife, daughters and neighbours for the duration. Upon return there will be beef back on the menu, followed shortly after by lamb for those who are interested.
In other news I am participating in a generous initiative by Global Learning http://globallearning.com.au 'Leading Social Change'. This is an initiative facilitated by Steve Colman and Mark Spain. The group of 20 leaders has been gathered to develop connections and leadership to effect change - and is free!
This is a very generous gift from Steve, Mark and colleagues and demonstrates they take social responsibility to heart.
At the first all-day session, two things really stood out for me; first the eclectic group developed real trust within an hour (for those of you who have done group work, this is amazing!), the second is the belief of all that food is the social lubricator for change. This was empowering for several of us who work to change the food paradigm in this country. I will benefit enormously from the course, and I hope it will also cure my Napoleonic tendencies :-)
15 May 2011
I wrote the article below last year in response to a Vegan polemic that was published. Since then the piece has been publish in the most unusual places all over the world. A severe word limit to meet the usual publishing constraints means the piece needs fleshing out (pun intended), but nonetheless it seems to have struck a cord with those of us that see the world in 'glorious technicolor' and not just black and white. So here it is with appropriate apologies to Dr. Zeuss........
Green eggs and ham?
In the affluent minority world we are daily faced with a barrage of facts, misinformation, infotainment, scare mongering and manipulation about food. In a time of super abundance we are confused and often feel guilty about our food choices. Have we done the right thing socially/ethically, environmentally and economically? Are we being true to ‘green’ values with our food choices? Can we really save the planet one meal at a time? Do our food choices determine the fate of our planet?
Imagine for a minute that you are a devout vegetable only eater and you have a craving for mouth watering Asparagus cooked with a little salt and margarine. You are convinced that eating low down on the food chain is altogether good for the environment, no animals are harmed, it is socially responsible and so ticks all the ‘green’ boxes. So guilt free, and feeling a little virtuous, you decide to enjoy the Asparagus meal – end of story right? Well no, unfortunately it isn’t.
You purchased the Asparagus from one of the two supermarket chains that controls 80% of the food market. This giant corporation has imported the Asparagus from overseas, because it is out of season in Australia and it’s cheaper too. The Asparagus is grown using artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and the residual effects on the environment (and you) are unknown. Illegal immigrant and child labour is used in the growing and harvesting of this Asparagus, and they are paid a barely subsistence wage whist insurances and taxes are avoided.
Once harvested your Asparagus is transported to a central distribution and packaging facility, it is then air freighted some 15,000 kilometres to Australia, and being ‘fresh produce’ it is sprayed by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service with Methyl Bromide. Once safely in Australia the Asparagus leaves the airport in a refrigerated van and moves to a refrigerated central distribution warehouse, here it is re palletised and dispatched to a secondary state based distribution centre. From here it goes to the supermarket, again in refrigerated transport, where it ends up on the refrigerated shelf having travelled a further few thousand kilometres. Unfortunately, due to all the travelling, handling and time, the shelf life has been compromised, and often 40% of this ‘fresh’ produce ends up in the rubbish hopper and goes to landfill.
Anyway you hop in your fuel-efficient car, drive to the super market, buy the Asparagus you crave, drive home again and cook it using green energy. A little salt to taste is called for, so you grab the plastic bottle not noticing the anti-caking agents that are suspected to induce migraines and other ills. Once cooked margarine is liberally applied to improve the taste.
Margarine ticks all the vegetable only eater ‘green’ boxes too doesn’t it? Well it would if you excluded the GM canola or soy, herbicides, pesticides, land clearing, topsoil losses and stubble burning to name but a few, not to mention the trans fatty acids it contains.
Margarine is what Michael Pollan in his excellent book ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’ calls “an edible food like substance”, and the description of how it is made should serve as a warning. First the oil is extracted under high temperature and pressure, and the remaining fraction of oil is removed with hexane solvents. Then the oils are steam cleaned, a process that removes all the vitamins and anti-oxidants, but the solvents and the pesticides remain. These oils are then mixed with a nickel catalyst and put into a huge high-pressure, high-temperature reactor.
What goes into the reactor is a liquid, but what comes out of that reactor is a semi-solid that looks like grey cottage cheese and smells terrible. Emulsifiers are mixed in to smooth out the lumps. The product is then steam cleaned a second time to get rid of the terrible smell, and after that it is bleached to remove the grey colour. The product is now vegetable shortening, and to finish making margarine, they add artificial flavours and synthetic vitamins. They also add annatto or some other colouring to make it look appealing. It is then packaged in blocks and tubs and often sold as ‘health food’ via the usual distribution system with attendant food miles.
So has the vegetable only meal ticked all the ‘green’ boxes? Obviously not, as it isn’t: socially/ethically, environmentally or economically just.
OK, so having been made to eat your greens, now imagine a Porterhouse steak, pan-fried in a little butter with a touch of salt for good measure. You know it’s wrong to eat meat, it’s inefficient protein, ethically and socially questionable, and both the beef and butter are sure to have caused immense environmental degradation during production. However in a moment of weakness you succumb and consequently feel guilty - as you know you should.
Luckily, on this occasion, both your steak and butter came from a local, pasture based, free-range farm, that is farmed organically and practises holistic management. The meat, butter and salt were purchased at a farmers market where you could look your farmer in the eye and ask Janet questions of her farming practices, and also visit the farm to see for yourself how she farms and treats her animals. You also guaranteed your farmer received a fair price for their product.
On Janet’s farm all the cattle move frequently to fresh pastures. The moves are timed to maximize animal and pasture well-being, and to maximise carbon sequestration in the topsoil. The cows are always humanely treated and only milked once a day with their calves being allowed to suckle naturally.
The beef cattle are treated humanely throughout their lives and are given a stress free, quick and painless death when the time comes. Whilst alive the cattle are free to exhibit their biological distinctiveness and are kept in familial groups. The beef is also much honoured in the eating and the entire animal is consumed and put to good use as part of the cycle of life.
Janet’s farm is only suitable for grazing, the cattle only eat grass and have a symbiotic relationship with the pasture. As a result the animals fats have the same healthy ratio of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids as fish. Being pastured based and holistically managed the cattle sequester more carbon in the soil than their rumens generate CO2e. As they move frequently they have no parasite or pest burden and so require no chemical treatments.
These cattle are also a rare breed that are threatened with extinction. They represent nearly a thousand years of cultural history that is increasingly under threat by industrial agriculture’s single-minded pursuit of profits. Without a market for the milk and beef, they will be lost forever and it is a truism to say that you have to eat them to save them. In so doing you and Janet are helping to preserve genetic diversity and cultural history.
The salt used in the butter and on the steak was pure sea salt harvested from clean Australian salt flats with no additives, simple packaging and low food miles.
So was the above meat meal ‘green’? Yes and unfortunately, as good as it is, this example represents significantly less than 1% of the meat based meals in Australia – but a socially, environmentally and economically responsible meat meal is possible if you try. So the plea is to pay attention not only to the what, but also the why, when, where, how and by whom of your food choices.
I realise the above will probably anger the devout vegetable only eaters who insist that there is no ethical justification for eating meat, however I would like them to ponder the following.
Firstly what is the difference between an Orca hunting and killing seals in packs, and traditional Inuit people doing them same? In fact it is just as illogical and unethical to suggest a traditional Inuit person should consider a vegetable only lifestyle as it is to suggest the same for an Orca – both would starve to death and the vegetable only choice is not socially, environmentally or economically sound in either case.
Secondly there are claims that there are too many animals being raised for meat and that this is a problem for food security. However there were approximately 60% more cattle equivalent ruminants (Bison) in America before the introduction of cattle, than there are cattle in America today. The natural symbiosis of ruminants and pasture supported far more animals than the modern industrially housed and fed system. Furthermore the FAO estimates that there is currently enough food being produced to feed 12.1 billion people on this planet, but that much of this food is wasted, inequitably distributed, speculated on, used as biofuels, stockpiled and/or inefficiently fed to ruminants that are not designed to eat it. So the issues are obviously not quantitative, but qualitative in nature.
And last is a deceptively simple philosophical question. Imagine that before your conception as a food animal you were given a choice, to live a short, happy, environmentally benign life, and then be painlessly killed and eaten, or, not to exist at all. In other words, is a short, happy and 'green' life better than no life at all? This is the question I answer for the animals I raise for meat, and they get a short, happy, environmentally benign life. What would you chose?
1 May 2011
I heard a wonderful retort I must share ".......the ethical superiority of the uninvolved." It is almost universally applicable methinks, but is particularly applicable to food and meat in particular. I believe the moral certitude of the evils of meat production and consumption are directly proportionate to the distance people have from their food.
29 April 2011
I wrote the following some months ago, but it is a little controversial, hence difficult for the establishment to swallow, and went nowhere. So where better to publish it than here :-) Please take some time to read it and if you feel inspired or incensed, please send an email to that effect - I promise to respond.
A deconstruction of the Chief Scientists PMSIEC Report on Food Security by Michael Croft of Mountain Creek Farm, with the assistance of Nick Rose of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance.
Whilst the report from PMSEIC is a welcome addition to the national discussion on food security, it is based on several flawed assumptions. As a result the report unfortunately produced flawed recommendations.
The first assumption is that the world needs to produce more food to cope with the projected 9.6 billion global population by 2050. Yet according to the January 2008 report of the previous UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler “…the world already produces enough food to feed every child, woman and man and could feed 12 billion people, or double the current world population.”
Given that the world already produces almost twice as much food as it needs, it is obvious that producing more food by technological ‘fixes’ is not the answer to tackle existing and projected levels of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition.
The second assumption is that Australia will have a major role to play in feeding the world’s increased population. Can Australia be a “major player” in global food security when our current surpluses could only feed less than 1.3% of the anticipated increase in world population? (Australia's current surplus could feed 37 million people of the extra 2.9 billion people in 2050 which is 1.27586%)
Compounding and contained within this second assumption is another: namely that Australia will have a similar or expanded surplus by 2050 to contribute to world food supplies. Peak oil, peak phosphorus, a changing climate and our own population growth will seriously challenge Australia’s agricultural production. It is more probable that by 2050 Australian agricultural surplus destined for export will be significantly reduced. This places in serious question Australia’s ability to generate enough of a surplus to have much impact on future global food insecurity.
The third erroneous assumption in the PMSEIC report is that our agricultural surpluses will find their way to those most in need. No doubt this is a moral imperative. Australia’s food surpluses however, are, and will continue to be, traded on the world market and sold to the highest bidder. Australia’s excess productive capacity for food is unlikely to have any impact on world food security, particularly for those who need it most.
In essence the report contends that; in 2050 Australia’s contribution of less than 1.3% to world total agricultural production, traded on the global commodities market to the highest bidder, is a potential solution to the socio-political problem of food and social justice. This report is no doubt well meaning, but this conclusion flies in the face of evidence, history, and the relentless logic of global commodities trade.
Aiming to increase production in a world that already produces more than enough food for all, and then expecting the intensification of this over-production to feed the existing hungry, fits Einstein’s definition of insanity, which is 'to do the same repeatedly and expect a different result'.
Increasing production in an affluent country like Australia does nothing to address the systemic social and political failures that will continue to result in food inequity and insecurity in regions like sub Saharan Africa. The countries that are most food insecure simply cannot afford the food surpluses generated with high technological and chemical inputs, including much oil, produced in affluent countries at great distances from their hungry.
This leads to a fourth major inconsistency alluded to in the PMSEIC report: namely that producing surplus commodities to feed a food insecure world will economically benefit the Australian farmers who grow them. It should be self evident that growing surplus commodities to supply starving and impoverished peoples who cannot afford them is, and will continue to be, an exercise in economic self-destruction for Australian farmers.
In March 2011 the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Olivier de Schutter, delivered his annual report to the UN Human Rights Council. Looking at the 2008 food price crisis and the one we are now entering, Mr de Schutter clearly states that small scale, autonomous, localised and agroecological systems of food production and distribution will be the ones that successfully sustain those most in need. The report specifically states that long chain food generation and distribution systems that are high-tech and distantly controlled by for-profit corporations will not solve food insecurity where it is needed most.
In short, food security issues for Australia and the world in 2011 are not about the quantity of food being produced but are qualitative in nature. The issues are social and political, of equity, distribution, access and fairness. Simplistic, linear, reductionist science, engineering and technological based thinking will not solve these problems.
It should also be noted that there is self-interest at play when scientists call for science based solutions to what are ostensibly issues of social equity and justice. Notwithstanding the genuine good will of the scientists involved, they are offering false hope and solutions to problems that will and must be solved socially and politically.
Evidence based research is certainly required into the current and potential failings of the food system in Australia, and some technological improvements will be appropriate to improve efficiencies and effectiveness of agroecological farming. The areas of research will need to be multidisciplinary around systems that engender resilience not ‘productionism’, and those which emphasis triple bottom line principles for people, planet and localised profits.
19 April 2011
Well that was a long break between posts, my longest actually, so apologies to all for the break in communications, but we have not been standing still.
Puppies! Our Maremma dogs have been productive and we have 6 two week old pups - 3 boys and three girls. All are fat and healthy with their eyes just open, and they are starting move about on all fours rather than crawling.
These dogs will be properly bonded to chickens and sheep and available for sale at 16 weeks of age. There is also an 18 old de-sexed male for sale who is bonded to chickens. George is the most intelligent dog I have met (I have over 50 years experience with dogs so this is no small claim) and George is also part bonded to sheep and it wouldn't take much to complete the training.
These dogs will not be available for purchase without an interview by us to assess the potential owners. Sorry if this sounds harsh but, as dog people, it is important the dogs go to the right homes and work environment. So please send an email if interested and we'll talk it through.
For those who don't know, the Maremma dog is a stock guardian, and the best choice for minimizing stock loses to predators (foxes, eagles, wild dogs etcetera). As you know our chickens and sheep free range, and we have had zero loses since the dogs arrived on farm.
Solar power. Tomorrow, after a long wait for the gods of electricity and stars to align, our 10 kilowatt grid interactive solar power system gets switched on! This means our carbon footprint will be significantly reduced, in fact we should be exporting about 7 of those clean kilowatts to others.
I have been heavily involved in building the system with legal/licensing and technical assistance from Matt of Samaritan Maintenance Services. Matt's a sparky and a great guy too. The reason for doing it myself is (stupidity?) the challenge and cost savings. For those who visit the farm and farm shop, the system can be inspected and I expect you to say nice things about it ;-)
Farm shop. Well the shop has taken longer than anticipated - part motivation and part funds or lack thereof. This may sound pathetic, but I guess I was in mourning after deciding to stop going to the farmers' markets. I do miss the people; for me the markets were a wonderful social occasion as I chewed the ears of all comers to our stall. After 4 years of being there almost every weekend, the change came with a great sense of loss.
Now that the solar system is 99% finished I will concentrate on getting the shop built and operating. As it will be housed in the 'big shed' construction should take two weeks, and then fit out another week or so. It will be a very basic affair, as befits our farm, but will be food safe etcetera compliant, complete with back up power.
Next door to the farm shop will be several food production systems to inspire people to grow their own. A domestic aquaponics system for fish and vegetable production, and wicking beds for vegetable and fruit growing. If you don't know what either of these are, an internet search will help. Alternatively a visit to the farm in spring will reveal all.
Gratuitous self promotion. I have been accused of many things over the years, most or part thereof are probably true, but my inner media tart has been in overdrive. Since the last update I have been on the ABC radio 3 or 4 times, had articles published in print and on the web, will be appearing in a documentary or two and in several national magazines. So having had more than my "15 minutes of fame" I should quit while ahead, but I have a world to change! So to that end I have decided to talk this walk to any and all groups that want to listen. This means that I am available to talk at your next function; work, social, dinner, wedding, whatever. Obviously the topics will revolve around good, clean and fair food for all - forever.Please feel free to contact me if your group is interested.
16 February 2011
First the bad news, so please watch this youtube clip, it explains why I have been railing against the duopoly for years http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1et_HBmLYw
If you are not horrified by the information it contains, think of the power these two businesses wield. Nearly a quarter of all transactions (of any product or service) in Australia goes through their hands, and they command nearly 3 out of 4 food sales. This situation and the control of our food system is uniquely Australian too, our complacency has allowed this concentration of power to happen.
Please think seriously and deeply about this: if you control a nations food supply then you control the people. Or as the Spanish say "The distance between civilisation and anarchy is 7 meals."
On a better note I see in this week'sTime Magazine that ecosystem services have made it onto the agenda of Dow Chemical. As one of the largest businesses on the planet this is a step in the right direction. Of course once they realise what ecosystems are worth, some 1.3 Trillion US dollars per annum, they will choke - or more likely find ways to discount the services they receive if they make it onto the balance sheet at all.
And now the good news, please watch this Ted Talk by Michael Pawlyn sent to me by a friend http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/michael_pawlyn_using_nature_s_genius_in_architecture.html It has a lot to say about food, and it is very inspiring and uplifting.
15 February 2011
We no longer attend either Farmers' Markets and from now on our produce will only be available directly from the farm. The reasons are many and various, but suffice to say that working seven days a week is not socially sustainable and we were burning out. To say this a big shift in our focus is an understatement, and since our break from the markets in late December we have rediscovered the sheer joy of having time to do the unessential - we haven't got to the part where can do nothing yet and I'm not even sure that is possible.
We have enjoyed strong support from our wonderful co-producers and friends over the years, and many have said they are happy to come to us when we have product available. So our promise to you is to continue producing the regions best at a fair price and without compromise. This is no ambit claim as some very famous national and international chefs and foodies have acclaimed our produce and would love it on their menus. As flattering as this is, we are too small to supply the quantities they require. That and we won't ship food great distances.
All we require of you, our co-producers, is that you be prepared to visit us on the farm and collect our produce when it is available. Now I know for some this will not be convenient and we will miss your support, but for those who do support us will be in for a treat or two. No details yet but suffice to say we are moving more to a hybrid CSA model (community supported agriculture).
As you will appreciate this will require some reconfiguring of our business and the creation of a rudimentary farm shop. This means no produce will be available for a month or so and I can only apologise to those who are waiting patiently for our good food.
All the details will be posted under "produce availability" when decisions are made and the timing is firmed up. In the meantime if you would like to be on our email notification list, just drop me a line. For those of you who have already done so, thank you, and I will keep you posted on progress.
14 February 2011
Well the 3 pillars group came through and have offered me a 25% discount for the "National Sustainable Food Summit" in Melbourne. This means I will attend, assuming good friends will offer me accommodation for the duration, and now I just have to figure out how to get there.
2 February 2011
http://www.3pillarsnetwork.com.au/p3_Events-Resources.html?&event=68 OK here we have an event that should be good. I say 'should' because the event is designed to appeal to the corporate and government elites of the industry due to the pricing of the two days talk fest. Most corporations won't bat an eyelid at the $1,000 registration fee, nor will they worry much about the airfares and accommodation bills. But for lowly farmers (you know, the ones who actually growth the food) dragging themselves out of decade of drought, floods and locusts, the price is a bit rich.
So due to pricing the event risks being a corporate talk fest that excludes the social equity required to make it a truly 'national' and inclusive event. It almost brings into question the social justice/equity pillar of the organisation running the event. After all, the three pillars (aka triple bottom line) are people, planet and profit. , or economic, environmental and social. Anyway I sent the organisers an email pointing out the error of their ways and saying I would like to attend. Mind you this was after a glass or two of a superb local red (2008 Brindabella Hills Shiraz) used to wash down some equally good Belted Galloway scotch fillet, so if I get a response it may be less than favourable.
27 January 2011
The Southside Farmers' Markets have been having some troubles with venues. Unfortunately we won't be there as we can't have our product available at the flick of a switch.
6 January 2011
The link between oil and food prices is being made, albeit not particularly well. Also food prices are now higher than they were in 2008 when food riots occurred globally. On another site (oil drum) the price of oil is tipped to exceed $200 a barrel by late 2012. For Australia this means diesel and petrol at $3 per litre or more, consequently chemically dependent and long supply chain food prices will soar.
In short the oil/food crisis is happening and right now is probably the start of it entering mainstream conciousness. Not a pleasant way to start the year, sorry.
4 January 2011
A very Happy New Year to all and I hope the solstice holiday agreed with your beliefs.
Well Lunny the older sow has settled in well. She is of the Lucy line and is phenotypically quite different from our other sows. Not quite as big, a little taller, slightly narrower and she has a longer snout. Hopefully she has at least one more litter to give her line and we will keep the best of those for breeding.
A great many changes will be occurring on the farm this year and how we sell and distribute our produce. In essence I want to reduce the amount of time selling our produce at the markets, and make it more affordable from a food justice perspective. It concerns me greatly that good clean and fair food in this country can only be afforded by the well heeled, so we will make changes to address this inequity. More on this later.