Global worries sow the seeds for a local harvest.
IN Melton, 40 kilometres west of Melbourne, Carey Priest has taken a lease on a small farm. He’s starting slowly, beginning with a modest market garden and 100 free-range chooks that peck their way around the old olive and almond groves on the property.
Each week, Mr Priest supplies about 35 dozen eggs to several food co-operatives in the city’s inner west. “Many of my customers have visited and seen the chickens and the conditions where their eggs come from,” he says. “We run regular open days – it’s as transparent as it can possibly get.”
“The website is a place to find food choices outside the mainstream supermarket system, or the industrial food system, and to find those easily,” explains the site’s coordinator, Nick Ray.
When you type in your postcode, Local Harvest lists the food co-ops, farmers’ markets, vegie box programs, organic cafes and small retailers nearby, as well as groups such as community gardens and food swaps. There are already nearly 2000 entries around the country, with more to be generated by the site’s users.
As part of the launch, Mr Ray is promoting the weeklong Local Harvest Challenge. From April 1, participants will try to reduce the degree of separation between them and their food.
“It’s an opportunity to become more deliberate about your food choices. You can make it as easy or as hard as you like – for some people it might be shopping at a farmers’ market for the week, or for others, it might be eating from within a certain radius of where you live,” he says.
But why take the challenge at all? Julian Cribb, author of The Coming Famine, says initiatives such as Local Harvest are springing up in many countries – and for good reason.
He argues that humanity is facing scarcity in nearly everything we need to produce large amounts of food, including water, nutrients, land and topsoil, fish, cheap oil and stable climates. (You can find a summary of his findings and solutions on the Sustainable Table website.)
“We have to reinvent our food system, and that includes reinventing how we grow food in our cities,” Mr Cribb says. “At present our cities are wasting vast amounts of water and precious nutrients. We need to channel those back into urban and agricultural food production.”
He sees a future food system that involves both high- and low-tech farming methods, but both, crucially, will need to produce on a smaller energy footprint. “Oil prices will go through the roof over the next two or three decades,” he says. “There’s no point in developing an agriculture that requires oil and synthetic fertilisers if they’re going to become too expensive.”
Individuals must help bring about that change, he says. To do so, we also have a personal incentive to switch away from the “killer diet” that contributes to lifestyle illnesses such as obesity, cancer, heart disease and stroke, and towards more fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Agriculture is one of those things that individuals can do. You don’t have to wait for some dreary government to catch up. If we wait, too little will happen and far too late. We need creative people to show the way.”