Growing problem needs radical ideas

Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Morning Herald
The nation must completely rethink where and how it grows its food, a prominent scientist and NSW government adviser says.

John Williams, head of the NSW Natural Resources Commission, said we must shift production from the dry inland to the coast and stop development from devouring farms around our cities and large towns.

”With climate change we should have more food produced where more reliable rain is, rather than in the drier country,” Dr Williams said. ”We have to get it in balance with what the poor old rivers can afford.”

It was ”daft” to allow urban development to spread over prime food-growing areas such as the Nepean, Hawkesbury and Shoalhaven flood plains and rich agricultural lands such as Kempsey and Grafton.

Dr Williams has a vision of coastal areas covered in intensive fruit and vegetable farms while the Murray-Darling basin would produce a lower proportion of inedible crops, such as cotton and export crops such as rice.

He said agriculture must halve its water use because the environment could not continue to bear the burden and many areas would become drier as climate change bites.

Water in our rivers was over-allocated to agriculture during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s when there was more rain, but a decade of drought showed this wasn’t sustainable.

”You can make food a top priority and screw the environment but you can’t keep doing it,” Dr Williams said…
(16 May Debra Jopson2010)

Grasshoppers Garden: What To Read

Sharon Astyk, The Chatelaine’s Key
I recently got an email from a couple in their 40s who asked me if I would advise them on the very basics of gardening. They mentioned that they want to do this, but that gardening is a completely unknown world to them, and that they’ve been reluctant to even take my garden design class, because the word “design” seems so overwhelming when you are looking at dirt seriously for the first time in your life. They wondered if I would be willing to advise some absolute newbies.

And indeed, I am – because realistically, that’s more of us than anyone would like to admit. It was me once – my first balcony garden, grown in college, failed because I didn’t realize you actually had to fertilize your plants – I dumped potting soil in pots and left them there, watering occasionally. I’ve done every stupid thing you can imagine in a garden.

So I’m delighted to offer some very basic gardening guidelines. The couple asked to remain anonymous, so I’m referring to them (with their goodnatured consent) as “Ms. and Mr. Grasshopper” and will be answering their questions throughout the season.

The first one is what to read about gardening. They went off to the local library and bookstore and came home with a bunch of books. But, they admit, most of them are either too advanced or too confusing. And they say such contradictory things – who should they believe?

And this does point up a real and serious problem in gardening – that in fact, most garden books do give wholly contradictory advice. You’d think that someone who spends as much time as I do thinking about gardening would have a pile of just absolutely perfect authors, whose wisdom I agree with 100%. in fact, I don’t have any such thing – the majority of garden books contain some good and useful information. They also contain (in my opinion) some uninformed nonsense and some things that are helpful to some people, but wrong or pointless or irrelevant to people dealing with different pests, weeds, climates, soils or conditions.

…Beginner Books

Mel Bartholomew’s _Square Foot Gardening_ has done more to make gardening accessible to more people than perhaps any other basic garden book out there, and is well worth the investment. I actually think the older version of this book is better, because it emphasizes purchased inputs less than the more current one. I think he uses more chemicals and purchased components than I like, but the basic method is very clear, very straightforward and very helpful. I don’t really think anyone should ever have just one garden book, but this wouldn’t be a bad candidate to get started with.


My Grasshoppers have a moderate sized yard, but they have most of their sun in the front, and want to add some containers to their plan – but they don’t know what grows well in containers, how to fertilize or take care of them. So the next category of garden book I’m going to recommend are books on container gardening – which is tricky, since most container garden books focus on just a few edible plants and mostly on flowers. I like four books, personally.


Being a Gardener means being a weeder – we pay lots more attention to planting and harvesting, but a lot of the day to day reality of gardening is simply keeping ahead of the weeds. There are lots of strategies for doing this, and this is one place where folks get more opinionated than not. My opinion comes down to two things – don’t let them get away from you, and mulch the crap out of them. So that informs my bools…


My Grasshoppers are purchasing transplants for everything they can’t direct seed this year, because they are getting a late start, but eventually, they will probably find it financially friendlier to start at least some seeds in advance. They may also find that they’d like to save seeds, and cut down on their seed bill for next year, as well as building local adaptation into their plants. So once they get that far, they’ll want a couple of books on seeds, and maybe the very basics of backyard plant breeding. I know that sounds overwhelming now, but again, it isn’t rocket science, and you go from raw beginner to expert, aching for a new challenge pretty quick in gardening….

(13 May 2010)

Use of local food boosts hospital funds

Anthony Bartram, BBC news
Hospital food cooked with fresh local ingredients could put hundreds of millions of pounds back into the NHS, one hospital trust has said.

Catering managers at Nottingham City Hospital and the Queen’s Medical Centre have switched to such a menu.

The trust says the daily plate saving is £2.50 per patient – that is more than £6m a year.

Trust catering manager John Hughes said up to £400m could be saved annually if it were rolled out across the NHS.

‘Tough decisions’
The food travels less distance than many of the 7,000 patients who choose from the menu each day.

The hospital contract is also supporting dozens of local farmers and has saved a number from going under.

In its first year the farm-to-plate scheme has put a million pounds into the local economy and that is likely to double over the next 12 months.

Mr Hughes says the idea of getting his beef from down the road rather than South America sounded good but he thought it would be too expensive.

He was also concerned there would not be enough fresh local produce to fill his cupboards.

“I was happy to be proved wrong on both counts,” he said. “This was one of the tough decisions I think we’d be cheered to the rafters for taking.”

“It doesn’t actually cost any more and you are actually going to invest in local communities and the local suppliers you want to develop. On top of that it’s actually going to save the NHS millions of pounds a year.”..
(13 May 2010)

Derbyshire village to develop own food label

A Derbyshire village is to develop its own food label after being awarded a £432,000 Big Lottery grant aimed at reviving small communities.

A plant nursery, kitchen garden and community professional kitchen will be created in Tideswell under the scheme.

It aims to attract visitors and build on a history of producing quality food.
(12 May 2010)

Area farmers commit to sustainable, local foods

Katie Nickas, AgriNews
One of the keys of occupational success is to be friendly and open, but not to reveal so much that you end up giving away the tools of your trade.

This is easier said than done, especially at a time when people are wondering about not only the direction of farming today, but the direction of the entire country.

Do the right thing, people say. Whatever that is.

It may be that today’s “right” thing is whatever works, even for producers who have sought a farming livelihood that veers away from large-scale production agriculture.

Locally Grown Gardens, a personal produce market built out of an old car wash on the north side of Indianapolis, is a good example of the right thing when it comes to the sustainable marketing of local foods.

The owner is Ron Harris, former corporate chef of Indianapolis-based MCL Restaurant and Bakery, whose slogan is “The only short cuts we take are the ones to our farmers’ fields.”

Locally Grown Gardens features a menu using Midwestern produce, including asparagus, green onions, tomatoes, honey and a repertoire of other seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Harris is all about finding markets for growers. He spoke at Tuttle Orchards during the Purdue University Farm Sustainability Tour several years ago, and as the MCL chef, he sought local ingredients for almost every item on the menu.

But how do Indiana farmers, who are busy seeking a market for their products, feel about the opportunities that exist for them?

Greg and Jennifer Marlett, who raise grass-fed pork and specialty crops on Hardway Farms in Martinsville, say direct marketing to consumers has been the key to success in raising their hogs the ‘right’ way — that is, free to move around and express their inner ‘pigness’ without antibiotics and confinement.

“Marketing directly to the consumer gives me direct feedback from the end user,” Greg said. “I’m getting information straight from the person consuming the product, and it helps me develop what I need to develop…”
(9 May 2010)