The growing, transportation, packaging and wastage of food in Australia is a major issue. Thinking about where we get our food from, what type of food we choose to eat, how we might grow our food, what resources are needed to produce our food, or work with others to grow food can have multiple benefits.
Consuming food within 100 kilometres of where it is produced reduces the amount of diesel and gas used in production and transportation. Reducing fuel use reduces emissions. If you choose to grow your own food then you can also choose to use less chemicals and pesticides. There are side benefits as well. Growing at least some of your own food means you can have fresher, more nutritious food. Taste can be better: heritage tomatoes, for example, have sensational flavour compared to many that you buy in the store (Tommy Toe tomato is one of my favourites). The act of growing things improves connections within your community- sharing produce, learning from others how to grow things, swapping seeds, sharing equipment, sharing recipes. It helps with exercise, being involved with nature (what is that bird eating my lettuce?!). If you can garden with others: for example in a community garden, then it is an opportunity to meet people and make connections and maybe new friends, which is also good for health and wellbeing.
How does this help?
- Cooking up bulk food such as tomatoes, often a staple in cooking, reduces the quantity of canned product you need to buy. Steel cans use large quantities of energy and resources in their production. Moving canned products from production (including well known brands from Italy) to the point of sale also generates emissions from fuel used in transport.
- Closer linkages between growers and consumers can reduce the food miles used in transport and reduce carbon emissions. There are now a number of farmers markets where people can ask questions of producers and ensure that they are obtaining good quality and ethically grown products. If you live further away, there are also opportunities for on-line direct purchasing from growers. Direct purchasing also means that the farmers have a chance of better returns.
- Cattle grown in feedlots depends on large quantities of grain being moved distances to the feedlot, using fuel for transport. The conversion of grain to meat is also wasteful, while accumulated waste from the feedlots needs to be managed so that it does not pollute the air or water sources. Grass raised cattle are able to obtain their nutrition from the grass grown on site, often supplemented by hay or silage also grown on site or bought in. Their waste can be returned directly to the paddocks and assist in fertilising the land.
- When food waste goes to landfill and it breaks down it produces methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Using it as a resource for compost or as food for a worm farm means that this becomes an important nutrient that can be reused in the garden and encourages healthy soils and plant growth.
- Meat production (including beef, pork and chicken) involves the conversion of different forms of grains, and converting that to another form of protein (meat). This uses substantial quantities of food that could be used more efficiently (for example cooking grain based meals). Meat production also uses large quantities of water.
- Plastic bags (including one-use plastic bags) are often based on petroleum. In fact plastics currently account for 10% of global oil production (Jefferson, 2019). Reducing the use of plastic and using recyclable fibre bags (e.g. Boomerang bags) reduces the use of plastics, as well as reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill.
Where can I get more information?
- How to grow things? Magazines and nurseries have great guides. Gardening Australia provides two magazines, and organisations such as Diggers Club provide classes, seeds and plants and demonstration gardens (three across Victoria).
- Check out community neighbourhood centres for classes they may run on growing plants, or for cooking.
- Information on Farmers in Australia working to address climate change: Farmers for Climate Action at https://www.farmersforclimateaction.org.au/
- For an overview of food issues across the Globe, see the report by the EAT-Lancet Commission: Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. Food Planet Health available at. https://eatforum.org/content/uploads/2019/07/EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summary_Report.pdf
Great Examples of good things happening around Food
- 3000 Acres
- 3000 Acres is a non-for profit focused on empowering Melbourne communities to grow fresh, healthy food and transform underutilised land into great community spaces. Their web site 3000 acres has a range of resources. It includes current information and videos of examples of gardens in Melbourne.
There are also networks established to help people identify and become involved in community gardens. As an example around Melbourne, see localfoodconnect. That website provides locations buy local government areas.
You can also check on Facebook for community gardens in your local area, for example Wangaratta Community Garden.
Health organisations can also provide useful contacts and access to information. In North East Victoria Gateway Health for example has a useful brochure that provides information on community gardens, where people can get access to food, emergency food access and food boxes and hints for gardening.
Local sustainable growing initiatives
- Black Barn Farm
- In my local area in North East Victoria, Black Barn Farm has a passion for increasing sustainability. Their focus is "to create a community based, regenerative and diverse orchard, nursery and learning space." Workshops are offered, pick own food available, a nursery is also being established. Both Jade Miles and Charlie Showers are active in encouraging others. Jade is also a well-received public speaker and published her first book in August 2021. Futuresteading
Black Barn Farm provides further information on Instagram
Jade Miles and Catie Payne also have a Podcast: Futuresteading
Reducing Food Wastage
- Founded by Ronni Kahn AO in 2004 after noticing the huge volume of food going to waste, OzHarvest has quickly grown to become Australia’s leading food rescue organisation.
The OzHarvest website has excellent examples of work they are doing and provides opportunities for people to be involved. “ We are committed to reducing food waste, feeding people in need and protecting our finite environmental resources”.
Their website provides really useful information and summary including:
- In Australia we waste 7.3 million tonnes of waste each year, enough to fill 13,000 swimming pools
- The top five most wasted foods in Australia are vegetables, bread, fruit, bagged salad, and leftovers.
- Food is lost or wasted across the entire food supply chain: 1/3 from our homes, 1/3 from farms and 1/3 from food industry, retail and hospitality.
- Food waste costs the Australian economy over $20billion per year.
The website also provides resources for schools and websites, as well as contacts for food charities.
- FoodShare and other similar organisations distribute food to others that need it. Albury Wodonga Regional FoodShare rescues and share food with welfare agencies, schools and neighbourhood houses in the Albury Wodonga Region.
Grow your own food
And of course, there is always the great fun involved in growing your own food, whether it might be veges in the garden out the back, or herbs in a pot on the balcony. Growing your own food where you can reduces the emissions in transportation of food, helps connect people to nature, and can provide great tasting food to share with friends and family.