Sustain ED Nick Rose flew to Perth on Thursday 7th April for an intensive week of presentations, meetings and discussions on the exciting opportunities provided by the momentous shift towards food systems that work for all.
Nick played a key role in four events in three locations, separated by hundreds of kilometres, that involved dozens of producers, urban farmers and gardeners, researchers and academics, local government representatives, and community members. It was inspiring to learn of so much good work being done by so many people, passionate for change on their farms, their communities, their suburbs, their cities and their beautiful state.
Augusta-Margaret River: Food and Agriculture Summit, 8-9 April
Nick was one of the keynote presenters at the inaugural Augusta-Margaret River Food and Agricultural Summit, held over a day and a half at the Margaret River Education Campus. 80 producers, local business people, staff and councillors of Augusta-Margaret River Shire, and community members heard from an impressive line up of local, international and interstate speakers.
The Summit’s objectives were stated as follows:
- To identify opportunities for production, marketing and distribution to support a sustainable food system for the Shire
- To identify threats and challenges to the goal of a sustainable food system, and
- To identify key roles and strategic initiatives to help guide the work of the Shire in supporting a sustainable food system in the coming years.
Local agribusiness consultant Andrew Weinert identified some of the key challenges for the region as follows:
- lack of secure water access
- sub-optimal use of land capability
- poor distribution options, high transport costs and an inability to supply markets
- high levels of market concentration
- critical infrastructure needs especially as regards roads, communications and energy
Andrew summarised the opportunities in one word: DREAM = Distribution Rules Everything About Me. He was referring to the key issue of access to markets, and how that could be further enable for local producers through better access to technology, as well as through strategic branding and marketing initiatives.
Speakers and participants throughout the Summit reinforced the role of the Council as including the following:
- Supporting entrepreneurship
- Empowering local producers, retailers and consumers to support regenerative agriculture
- Working with the local producers and businesses on regional food branding
- Working with universities and others on research to build the knowledge and evidence base
- Leveraging state and federal funding to enhance infrastructure
- Creating mechanisms to foster partnerships and relationships
- Supporting increased value-adding and secondary processing
- Reviewing regulations and planning rules, to encourage (e.g.) land sharing
The theme of regulatory and planning burdens was taken up particularly by Ross Woodhouse, the owner of local dairy Warner Glen. But overall Ross was very upbeat, saying how ‘attitude was the key’, and that he personally was motivated by a passion to give back to the community, as well as a strong sense of determination and a willingness to take risks.
If we could think outside the box and learn to work together, we could build some wonderful models.
Ross Woodhouse, Warner Glen Dairy
Participants heard from representatives of the regional branding initiative, the Southern Forest Food Council; Brad Adams, the owner of the innovative and very successful Ocean Grown Abalone, based in Augusta, which has constructed 5000 artificial reef ‘abitats’ in a 120 HA area, populated by 2.5mn abalone; Ifor Ffowcs-Williams, the CEO of Cluster Navigators, who specialises in advising cities, towns and regions on a cluster approach to economic development; local producers Barbara Dunnet (beef), Tim Crimp (dairy) and Jo Wren (horticulture) who form part of the Lower Blackwood Conservation District Committee, working for sustainable and productive agriculture; Charlie Thorn, Director of Research and Development at Curtin University, who spoke about the significance of Curtin’s ‘Integrated Futures’ tool to map agricultural productivity and infrastructure, and support regional planning; Andrew Fuda, CEO of Western Meat Packers; Professor Martin Caraher, expert in food policy and food security at City University, London; Jodie Lane, proprietor of Fair Harvest Permaculture Farm; local organic farmers Lawson Armstrong and Laura Bailey; and Libby Johnson and Evelyn Collin of Community Food Events in Albany and the Great Southern region.
Representing Sustain, Nick spoke first on the Friday about the exciting opportunities provided by the nascent Food Hub sector in Australia. Drawing on lessons from the US and Canada, he described how these locally-owned and run businesses can provide greater returns to local producers, support value-adding and entrepreneurial incubation, promote healthy eating, and work with local emergency food agencies to address critical food insecurity needs.
To view Nick’s presentation on Food Hubs, click below:
On the Saturday, Nick turned the focus to the role of local government, and related how many Councils in Victoria are providing strategic leadership in the field of food system sustainability and fairness, in particular Mornington Peninsula with its local food strategy and produce brand; and Tweed Shire Council in NSW with its draft Sustainable Agriculture Strategy.
To view Nick’s presentation on local government and food systems, follow the link below:
The Summit concluded at midday on Saturday 9th August, with the Kirstie Kritis, Coordinator of Community Planning and Development at Augusta-Margaret River Shire Council, tasked with preparing and circulating a report with recommendations for next steps. AMR Shire CEO Gary Evershed was delighted with the discussions that the Summit generated, noting that the Council would have plenty of material to incorporate into its draft economic development strategy.
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Local initiatives in Augusta-Margaret River
On Saturday afternoon, Nick was lucky enough to be taken to two outstanding local places: one in which a long-standing dream is about to be realised; and another where the dream has been lived for more than 20 years.
Nick first caught up with Mike Hulme, local permaculturalist and property developer, and originator of the very inspiring Witchcliffe EcoVillage project, on a 385-acre site located about 10 kms south of the Margaret River township. Originally from Claremont (one of the western suburbs of Perth), Mike has a great passion for sustainable living, and this has now been embodied in his vision and plans for the Witchcliffe EcoVillage, which is:
To create a model of a highly sustainable, self reliant community in a regional village setting, with the best of 21st century technology that enables the community to produce as much energy as it consumes; be self-sufficient in water; care for the local environment; generate ongoing economic and social opportunities for the area, and be self-sufficient in fresh food produce. A place in which people live, work, socialise and provide for their material needs sustainably, where most of what they consume on a daily basis will be produced within the ecovillage, in harmony with the permaculture principles of “earth care, people care, and fair share.
Mike showed Nick how this vision to optimise self-sufficiency was conceived in the detailed project plans (see right), with the 345 dwelling lots being clustered in 12 groups, each with access to their own private and communal edible gardens, and surrounded by abundant fresh water supplies through streams and dams. Building standards will be to a high standard of sustainable design, with requirements to be solar passive and constructed of locally-available and well-insulated renewable materials such as strawbale. As Mike puts it on the EcoVillage website:
The Witchcliffe Ecovillage is being designed and developed in a manner that will enable the community to be as harmlessly integrated into the local environment as possible. This means that the community’s energy, water and fresh food produce will be produced and harvested on site without pollution, with an emphasis on restoring and protecting indigenous flora and wildlife habitat. In time, it will grow to be a model demonstration site where people can come to learn how to live more sustainably.
This is a place and a project to be closely watched over the next months and years. While few Australia have heard the name ‘Witchcliffe’, that could all change if this project truly lives up to the dream of becoming a model that is replicated widely across the country, pioneering a transition to truly sustainable and harmonious living.
Then Nick visited Fair Harvest Permaculture, located about 5 kms out of Margaret River.
Fair Harvest is a 400-acre farm run on permaculture principles. It’s values are all about learning, teaching and sharing, with a strong commitment to empowering residents and visitors to grow their own food. Jodie runs workshops and Permaculture Design Certificate Courses, and for Fair Food Week in 2014 Jodie organised a Festival of Forgotten Skills, a Divestment Forum, and a Swap and Share Shuffle. School tours take place regularly, and Jodie and her partner Do regularly have woofers working on the property.
They also run a weekly cafe, with produce grown in the Fair Harvest fruit orchard and market garden, and sourced from other local producers. The farm is also becoming a popular venue for events such as weddings and parties.
After two days in the region, hearing stories of passion and inspiration, and then seeing them being made real, Nick left for Albany on the Sunday feeling uplifted and excited.