On Wednesday 23rd March Sustain ED Nick Rose travelled to Northern Rivers NSW, at the invitation of Dr Richard Hil, co-founder of the Mullumbimby-based Ngara Institute , to speak at a ‘Politics in the Pub’ event on the need for a fairer and more democratic food system.
Nick took the opportunity to fit in a number of meetings and visits in both Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah. First up was a breakfast in Mullumbimby with young and new farmer Joel Orchard, co-founder of the Future Feeders Young Farmer Network, as well as Byron Region Food Sovereignty Network; Jane Beattie, teacher at the Shearwater Steiner School; and Fiona Berry, researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Futures (University of Technology, Sydney).
Nick then travelled the short distance to the Shearwater Steiner School with Jane Beattie, where Jane had arranged for Nick to present to a group of 100 Year 7s, 8s, and 10s about the need for the transition to healthy, fair and sustainable food systems in Australia and globally. Before the talk, Nick had the opportunity to meet with the school head, Greg Parkes, who took Nick on a walk to the 20 acres of adjacent farmland that are part of the school grounds.
Greg told Nick that his dream was of a working, commercial school farm, business incubation centre & community farmers market. Recently the school managed to secure a $400, 000 grant for infrastructure, and now that dream is becoming a reality, with the construction of sheds and fencing. Groups of students learn various components of farming and agriculture, and produce from the small market garden is being served in school canteen.
Following Nick’s 25 minute talk to the students, one Year 10 boy asked: “We hear a lot of different scenarios about the future. What do you think – is there hope?”
Nick replied: “There’s two things I will say. The first is that no-one has a crystal ball, and so the future is inherently unknowable, and therefore open. And secondly, that it’s up to us – to all of you – to create it, and shape it – to make the world you want to see a reality.”
Nick then travelled up to Murwillumbah, where he met with Eli Szandala, Program Leader in Sustainable Agriculture at Tweed Shire Council, and a number of his colleagues, to discuss the opportunities presented by the forthcoming inaugural Community Food Hubs conference in Bendigo and associated speaking tour of Anthony Flaccavento and Kathryn Scharf. Eli also presented the release of the draft Tweed Sustainable Agriculture Strategy, which has been five years in development and is based on extensive engagement and consultation with producers and local residents. The Strategy is a comprehensive statement of the issues and opportunities facing the Tweed. It clearly articulates the important role that Council has to play in meeting these challenges, and commits the Council to many actions and initiatives, such as the creation of a Sustainable Agriculture Roundtable, to provide a permanent forum for ongoing discussions and interface between the producer community and the Council.
The Strategy is open for exhibition and public comment until 11 May. It can be accessed here.
In the evening Nick was the keynote presenter at the Politics in the Pub event, organised by the Ngara Institute. It was a packed house, with 125 in attendance. Nick took the audience back to the very beginnings of the current political economic model, in the Middle Ages in Europe; and reminded those attending that these origins were steeped in processes of violent dispossession, such as the continent-wide witch-hunt that saw more than 20 million women burned at the stake; and the enclosures of the commons which entrenched the institution of private property and saw the creation of a growing class of landless workers.
These processes of dispossession do not, Nick argued, belong to the far-off past. Today they take modern forms, such as the global ‘land-grab‘, the ongoing commodification and privatisation of the building blocks of life such as seeds and water, and modern forms of slavery, such as was revealed in the 2015 Four Corners program, Slaving Away.
These are all symptoms of a dysfunctional global and and national food system that sustains itself through maintaining the majority of people separated from the source of their food. The emergent food system, by contrast, is premised on re-weaving closer connections between people and food, as expressed in farmers markets, food hubs, community gardens and the like.
A lively discussion ensued, and Nick was joined on a panel with Joel Orchard, local writer Alison Drover, and Events Manager for Santos Organics, Paul Crebar.
In the morning on the way to Coolangatta, Nick was fortunate enough to be able to spend an hour at Mullumbimby Community Garden – one of Australia’s largest and best established, with five acres of well-used space.