We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children
(Native American proverb).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Food for everyone...

...That's the sign that sits at the start of Myrtle Street, Sydney, Australia. In my last post I mentioned being involved in the CarriageWorks Kitchen Garden Project (which is about to start its second workshop series commencing February 6... follow the link to find out more!). Food has been a passion for my wife and I as long as we have been together, nearly 14 years now, and we are both passionate about eating well, using whole foods and preparing as much as we can from scratch, which is what initially sparked my curiosity in the Garden Project in Sydney. I had also been reading and was increasingly concerned about GM food, the increasing reliance on ethanol and bio diesel as potential saviours from the impending oil crisis, and the growing appetite of rapidly developing Asian countries for the western diet, which cannot sustainably feed the west let alone the billions of people who now live in Asia. Food, it seems, is going to be the next frontier to be challenged by the limits of nature.

When we attended the launch of the first kitchen garden series we had our eyes opened to the extent of the waste and the potential problems in the supply of food. Speakers addressed issues such as the fact that over $4billion worth of food is thrown out in Australia annually (check out OzHarvest to see what one organisation is doing in this respect, founded by this year's Australian Local Hero of the Year); our food prices are among the highest in the developed world despite being a net exporter of food, and only getting worse as oil prices continue to climb; we have lost about 75% of our agricultural species diversity; organic and whole foods are still priced at a premium, while the highly processed and nutritionally questionable products the food industry market to us are cheaper and only seem to make us sicker collectively.

Grow Your Own! That's the the suggestion made by Michael Pollan in his book "In Defence of Food". Take it one step further and you have community gardens: it is communities working together to feed each other and forming closer bonds with neighbours who previously had little contact; it is eating better, more nutritious food at a lower cost; it is reducing your ecological footprint because your dinner has less food miles.

Myrtle Street opened my eyes to the potential this concept could achieve, even to city dwellers where space was scarce and time limited. As you can see in the images, a variety of produce can be grown almost anywhere: this is just a few hundred metres from the University of Sydney and Broadway. Not only is it better for you, it is better for the community who are actively engaged together in supporting and working on the project, and it is better for the planet both in terms of minimising food waste through the communal compost bins and using less resources (especially fossil fuels) to produce, transport, process and market the product.

My challenge to you: Eat fresh, eat local, grow your own!

Monday, January 18, 2010

To be an Earth Keeper...

As early as I can remember I have been passionate about the planet; sometimes overtly when marching in protest of a development or logging old growth forests; sometimes just in my belief that a slower pace of life and old fashioned foods and lifestyles are not only better for you personally, but collectively. I've written passionately about conservation in university papers, been a member of several environmental groups at one time or another and even voted Australian Greens. I loved Midnight Oil, took Geography at school, then studied it again at university. Taught teenagers in high school how to be aware, take care, and share information that would create a better future than the one they inherited from their parents.

Then I forgot! I forgot to care; forgot to be an agent of change for sustainable living or social justice. I became intent on making it (whatever "it" was); of making my fortune and then living on my estate enjoying my due rewards. Seduced by the all powerful, all important dollar. Lured by the promise of a full and extravagant life of parties and travel and cars and real estate, fine wines, fine foods, classy hotels and fame.

I'm not exactly sure what the tipping point was, but 2009 was a watershed year for me. I had been teaching Business Studies and running a small business with my wife for years, and I was ready for a change; seeking a shift to the country to find myself and give my beautiful wife and boys a slower paced and more peaceful life. I thought we could live off the land and leave our lives behind. It was all about me, and even though my motives were better, they were still inward looking.

We have always had a passion for cooking, good food and wine, enjoyed the search for quality produce and farmers markets, and were looking for the perfect region for our resettlement program, all the while watching family and friends slowly accumulate more and more while having less and less time for those they loved. It finally came down to 3 things:
  1. My wife and I went to the USA for a friends wedding, and while we had an amazing experience, we saw American capitalism at work first hand with its strip malls, huge fuel guzzling cars (and trucks!) food servings to feed a small village, and cities (New York in particular with it's bitter-sweet lifestyle) which had life but no ecology, and while we would love to return, were also acutely aware of what we didn't want our planet to resemble in 100 years time;
  2. A good friend and colleague invited me to help her fulfill a dream of creating a school garden which we could use to encourage our students and their families to be actively involved in growing food for themselves and their families, as well as being a practical application of theories we were teaching every day. Instantly I saw it as a way of achieving my self sufficiency goals in an environment where food prices going through the stratosphere, fuel prices at historically high levels, economic uncertainty and one of the worst droughts in Australia's history;
  3. Whilst researching markets for my wife to sell her hand crafted wares, we came across a kitchen garden project being run by CarriageWorks performance space in Sydney. We attended the launch in which they played the documentary "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil", among other speakers relating their experiences in their goal of achieving a more sustainable future for themselves and our wider community. At this point something inside me turned on, like a culmination of all previous learning, beliefs, experiences and goals had been leading to this point. I applied to be involved in the workshop and was selected. What I have learned since will be the point of future blogs.

Today, I write as one who treasures life, in all it's intricacies, forms and relationships. I am an environmentalist, and as such I believe that life is is intricate web of systems, both biophysical and human, and to disregard one would be to the peril of others. I am about living sustainably, so that everyone from my grandchildren through to their great grandchildren and beyond will live in a world which allows them to have a quality of life as good as our own, and not, as Ron Laura suggests, living in a way which inadvertently sacrifices our quality of life for our standard of living. I am about community and our collective responses to the challenges which face us. Through collective action we can, as Paul Hawken calls it, be a part of the earth's immune response system to ecological decay, economic disease, political corruption and social dysfunction. These are the aims and duties of an earth keeper; a steward of an earth we have borrowed from our children, rather than an earth we have inherited from our ancestors. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and hearing yours.