Twenty Minutes to Save the Planet?

This is the first of blogging 101’s assignments, is to write a stream of consciousness, 20 minutes straight. And publish it. Well ok then!

Unauthorised adventures in permaculture is a space for me to explore what the hell I am doing in permaculture. I’m experimenting with permaculture every day in one way or another, so why not write more about this? Partly I think, because it’s hard for me to separate what is and what is no permaculture, when permaculture is a way approaching designing, well, pretty much anything. Lots of schools of design have great ideas, fantastic practical concepts, methodologies and strategies. Permaculture also incorporates ethics. This above all, for me, makes permaculture a continual practise, a source of enquiry, with continually evolving ethical experiments, and no dogmatic final solutions. The garden, with its every present challenges, even for the most experienced gardener, is a continual source of wonder, and also of humility, a great teacher then.

To begin permies* learn about permaculture in the context of gardening; agriculture being the original example of the permaculture paradigm, illustrating the concepts, ideas, processes, and unfolding a free experimental openness to ideas. Taking control over the means of production of food, or having some connection with it is important as its a big draw of resources to feed ourselves.

Placing things we need for their optimum benefit is a key idea. So long as we’re working in the world of predictable things everything looks possible, manageable, doable. A desk here, a chook house there, windows facing the sun to passively heat a house in winter, but shaded to avoid summer sun glare and keep a house cool in summer, how comfortable! The plants we chose to grow too have basic needs. If you want to grow fruit, place trees in a sunny aspect, to give them the ability to convert the sun’s energy into sweet apples, pears, peaches.

Connecting up all the things out there, emphasising positive relationships is at the very heart of how permaculture design too. If two elements in any system are better together in producing what you want from them, then use that positive relationship to increase productivity and health in the system. If not keep them further apart, or consider another element for the job you want them to do. Common sense too right?

Animals are more difficult to work with in this regard, what do they want, need, how do they feel? Freedom from hunger, thirst, predators, to feel safe. Those are some basics. But there’s more. Joel Salatin talks joyfully about letting the pig express the ‘pigness of the pig’. On top of looking after the animals basic health and welfare, he says, know what motivates the animal, what makes it feel good. In other words know the animal, and allow it to serve your needs by doing what it wants to do. Damn clever!

So, things, which we can buy, reclaim reuse, retrofit are one level, plants, then animals, can also be bought, grown, nurtured, for the benefit of surrounding creatures along with plants, structures and other inanimate elements. But what of the biggest influence of these surroundings.
Other People?

People, both individually and in groups, are indeed the most difficult subjects to apply permaculture design. Social permaculture is a term which has been given to applying permaculture design for the way we organise ourselves. We have systems which do this already, but they were invented in very different times. We’ve a legacy of governing ourselves which we need to work with and appeal to, as much as we need to develop new ways of working together. How amazing it is to be at a moment in history where we can dream up new ways of working together which are enriching, pleasurable and productive, to create a world designed for ourselves, for the earth, and for future generations.

*Permaculture designers

looking for a shared office in Katoomba?

or somewhere quite near Katoomba….

For the past couple of years I’ve mostly been working from home, as have two others. We’ve decided that we’d like somewhere that isn’t home to work in, but don’t want to be commuting too far to share a workspace.

So Cressida Matthew and I are setting up a co-working space in Katoomba and are looking for awesome people to join us. Interested? email coworking[at]

Everywhere you look…

there are permies. A few weeks ago, I started a TAFE outreach horticulture course run by my friend Sue. One of her students recently completed a PDC with the lovely people at Milkwood in Mudgee. From there it turns out he’s been inspired to document his first forays into video and building a more sustainable life on his block in the blue mountains to share and inspire. Follow as he surveys his surburban plot.

PBM Community Gardens Submission

this document also available for download so you can read it offline later



Permaculture Blue Mountains Incorporated

PO Box 242 Hazelbrook NSW 2779


Permaculture Blue Mountains is a not for profit community focused organisation whose objectives include: the creation and support of community gardens in the Blue Mountains region.

Permaculture Blue Mountains (PBM) congratulates the Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC) on this step towards creating a policy which will allow the creation of viable and sustainable community gardens. In particular we welcome the acknowledgment of the potential positive benefits of community gardens in the Blue Mountains to:

  • Provide access to local food thus reducing food miles and assisting in addressing food security issues;

Improve the health of the community by providing access to fresh food,            and outdoor exercise;

  • Foster a sense of community;
  • Provide increased opportunity for social connectedness and inter-generational  exchange;
  • Act as a model for best practice with regard to sustainable gardening;  and
  • Provide skills development and learning opportunities.

Draft Community Gardens Policy[1]

Permaculture Blue Mountains shares the view that Community Gardens are vital to a more livable City of Blue Mountains. By doing this we respect those with whom we share the planet now and those who inherit the legacy of our current actions.

The two documents which Council is asking for a response to, namely “Draft Community Gardens Policy”[1] which we will refer to as the ‘Policy’ and “Guidelines for the Establishment of Community Gardens on Council Owned and/ or Managed Lands in the Blue Mountains”[2] which we’ll refer to as the ‘Guidelines’ raise a number of important issues about the roles of Council and of Community Gardeners. There are other documents which are important to consider in the context of further developing these documents, in particular the 25 Year City Vision and Map for Action[3], the 2009 State of City: Blue Mountains [4] report as well as the more frequently produced State of Environment Reports [5].

In the 2009 STate of City: Blue Mountains document it is excellent to see Blue Mountains City Council taking the bold initiative of reporting against social and environmental issues as well as financial ones. It is because BMCC has done this that we as residents of the Blue Mountains are able to help take stock of the results so far.

So far, it’s not looking good.

In the 2009 State of City: Blue Mountains report only 15 out of 51 indicators of social and environmental trends are demonstrated to have measurably improved.

In the interest of improving some of these areas, it is worth exploring factors that can not only enable, but encourage the formation of new community gardens within everyone’s reach, as well as help to ensure that they are a sustainable asset for visitors and generations of mountain dwellers and visitors to come.

Before talking about community garden policy in detail it is worth noting that Permaculture Blue Mountains recognises that unused land can be put to a variety of uses aside from community gardens many of which transform a current liability into an asset for the City. In Permacultre practice we “design for” outcomes rather than “react to” circumstances. We see the establishment of a policy as part of this designing process, and well within the current strategic directions of current BMCC vision and action plans.

Beyond the scope of this submission, Permaculture Blue Mountains invites the Blue Mountains City Council policy makers to produce a revised Policy and Guidelines in collaboration with appropriate stakeholders with the objective of creating the best community outcomes possible for BMCC’s strategic contexts, as well as the land and the people they support.

BMCC currently has a requirement to manage various lands in the public interest, but the resources available for upkeep are limited.

In general Permaculture Blue Mountains believes that Community Gardens can be created and sustainably maintained for the good of the community including to help reverse negative trends in future State of the City reports. On the face of it, there are many similarities between BMCC’s Draft Policy [2] and that of City of Sydney [6]. However despite their similarities in intention, it can be seen that there is some work still to be done to clarify objectives of the policy as well as the intended outcomes which BMCC, PBM and community gardeners and others can actively work towards. This is why PBM applauds the foresight of City of Sydney in adopting its recent Community Gardens Policy which outlines a clear vision for the place of community gardens within its strategic context and how it connects with relevant policies. This has a greater chance of achieving tangible social and environmental, as well as financial benefits for BMCC and the residents of the Blue Mountains.

As Blue Mountains residents living in a World Heritage Region we believe that it is in all our interests to be leaders the in provisions for Community Gardens, as we believe that it is our responsibility to lead the way in demonstrating whole of government sustainable living policies which make tangible and positive differences to residents lives and to the state of the city and the environment. In a community garden sustainability is not longer a chore, but a joy. If we are smart we can look at best practice here and across the world, and use these experiences to extend beneficial outcomes across the mountains.

In a spirit of open collaboration with the health and well being of our City and its inhabitants, Permaculture Blue Mountains submit the following recommendations to be directly reflected in revised Policy and Guidelines documents.

That Blue Mountains City Council becomes an effective enabler so that the community may more easily create community gardens in the Blue Mountains. To do this the policy should include in specific detail

  • what BMCC’s role is in relation to the community garden groups and what it will provide in terms of facilitation and support services, and
  • the roles, rights and responsibilities of the community garden groups

The current policy draft does not outline this in enough specific detail, and could be better presented. The City of Sydney Policy [6] provides good starting reference in this area.

That BMCC produce a community gardens Policy and Guidelines which clarify the process of starting a community garden not only for clearing up any internal confusion, but which are also designed to be easy to use for the potential community gardeners. An easy to read flow chart which includes the title of the particular officer responsible for that part of the process, as well as a reasonable timeline outlined for each part of the start up process.

That BMCC take an proactive approach in facilitating the creation of community gardens in the Blue Mountains.

That BMCC actively engage in mapping potential community garden sites.  This would include clearly identifying public land managed by Council which is available for use by the public whether under licence, lease or other arrangement within the Guidelines.

That accessibility to community gardens within reasonable walking distances/easily accessed via public transport access points be reported against as part of BMCC’s commitment to social equity in the Blue Mountains.

That the LEP or other appropriate provision allow for the flexible integration of mixed use community spaces, which is currently not allowed in any circumstances in the LEP as it stands (for example in large sporting grounds community garden spaces would not be allowed)

In line with being a ‘City of the Arts’, that BMCC make provision for continuing support for arts as a valid activity within community gardens in its written policies.

Acknowledging food security as well as food related well being issues, that BMCC extend its policies relating to community gardens to specifically include Community Food Gardens, Verge Gardens, Street Orchards (such as Sustainability St), School Kitchen Gardens, Food Forests and City Farms, all community gardens whose primary objective is the provision of food. Some definitions that could be of use here include

  • community gardens with a mixture of allotments for each member and some shared areas;
  • communal gardens where the entire garden is managed collectively. Some  examples of communal gardens are food forests (which include structured layers of plants such as edible groundcovers, shrubs and trees);
  • verge gardens are where garden beds are established on the nature strip. These are considered a type of community garden when they are managed collectively by a group of local residents and decisions are made jointly.
  • school kitchen garden projects are defined as a community garden when local residents outside of the school community can join the garden and manage the garden in partnership with the school. In this model, the garden may include individual plots for residents and communal garden beds that the school can manage and use for lessons on cooking, nutrition and the environment and provide produce for the school canteen. School kitchen gardens aren’t always set up as community gardens due to perceived problems with access and security for people outside of the school community;
  • Community gardens on public housing land usually contain a mixture of plots and common areas.

That any final Policy and Guidelines include provision for the distribution of small grants to community gardens starting out. Consideration may be given for gardens benefiting those on low incomes or income support, or for example where there is some other immediate tangible benefit identified to the community.

That the clause regarding time frame be reconsidered to provide better security of tenure for community gardens. We feel that 5 years is not sufficient time period for any garden particularly when the planting of trees is considered. A longer time frame pays respect the contribution made by long lived trees and the acknowledgment of all the ecosystems involved which positively contribute to a sustainable City of Blue Mountains urban landscape. If there is concern regarding ongoing community commitment to the garden, then a trial period might be more suitable for inclusion in this policy. Such an amendment would not remove the possibility of regular reviews nor discount the responsibilities on the community gardens licence or lease holder/s as may be outlined elsewhere in the Guidelines.

That BMCC make provision to consider umbrella insurance for Community Garden groups groups starting out, particularly during a trial period (see previous recommendation). This is likely to be a small investment which could be a big enabler to get groups active, keeping the momentum of interest into motivation of physically organizing and establishing a garden, particularly if the group is ready to work but not quite ready for the paperwork.

That the LEP definition of Permaculture be removed from the Guidelines[2, p7] as it is neither correct nor placed appropriately in the document

Permaculture means the use of residential or recreational land to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs using closed systems which are designed to replicate the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems, for non-commercial purposes, but does not include the planting or propagation of any plant listed within the schedule entitled “Weeds of the Blue Mountains” in the Council’s Better Living DCP.

That BMCC more accurately define permaculture as a design system for sustainable living rather than refer to it as a gardening activity. PBM is happy to provide advice to BMCC on this matter should any further clarification be required.

That when Permaculture is referred to in the policy document it refers to more widely acknowledged and commonly accepted definitions as shown below and included in any glossary or dictionary of terms or appendices.

  • Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies.

  • Any system of sustainable agriculture that renews natural resources and enriches local ecosystems; The design, installation and maintenance of indefinitely sustainable human communities set in balanced ecologies, both urban and rural

That there be no strict definitions for activities that may or may not take place within gardens, since there are sufficient laws in place to describe what may or may not be done in public places or within LEP guidelines or other advisories.

That to facilitate urban agriculture and community gardening within the Blue Mountains, BMCC include appropriate provision in BMCC’s Local Environment Plan (LEP) at the earliest available opportunity, for community gardens as exempt development, provided that applicants go through the application process for new gardens as outlined in its forthcoming Policy and Guidelines. Common elements of a community garden such as rainwater tanks, fences and solar photovoltaic systems should also be listed as exempt development.

That in the interests of transparency, all lease agreements or licences for community gardens are held on the Public Record,  and available for viewing via the BMCC’s Website.

That community gardens be listed along side other public community facilities in the BMCC’s website and other publications as a matter of course.

That a single liaison at Council be established for community garden groups, ideally this would be a community gardens co-ordinator, whether this be a responsibility within an existing role, or a new position be created to fully facilitate the potential of community gardens.

That the policy outlines a separate category to cover community food gardens as a separate sub category within community gardens, where a community garden can include a community food garden, as well as allow for the establishment of designated community food gardens in other public spaces.

That the policy provides of a set of recommended community group governance guides to assist communities in the successful creation of new groups to establish community gardens and these guidelines be made available on line.

That the BMCC include a category for food security as one of its key indicators in the City of Blue Mountains Management Plan. This would facilitate the implementation of future community food gardens specifically, and also allow accurate progress on the success of all community food ventures, including community food gardens, to be measured in the councils State of the City reporting.

In summary, Permaculture Blue Mountains and Blue Mountains Community Gardens welcome initiatives by Blue Mountains City Council to enable further development and growth of Community Gardens in the Blue Mountains.

We offer recommendations for the Council to undertake concrete action in promoting and sustaining community gardens.

Please contact Kat Szuminska from PBM to further discuss this submission and matters arising from it.

Kat Szuminska

katska [at]

cc: info [at]

Links to Document References and further reading:

[1]  Draft Community Gardens Policy 2010

[2]  Guidelines for the Establishment of Community Gardens on Council Owned and/ or Managed Lands in the Blue Mountains

[3]  25 Year City Vision and Map for Action

[4]  2009 State of City: Blue Mountains

[5] 2009-10 State of Environment Report

[6]  City of Sydney Community Gardens Policy

Community Gardens Policies

Marrickville Community Gardens Policy

Sunshine Coast Community Gardens Policy

download Woollahra Community Gardens Policy – at

Developing a Community Gardens Policy Collaboratively

Research from Griffith University

provide a positive environment sharing information about food and neutral environment for learning.

UNSW research

The Role of Community Gardens in Sustaining Healthy

Communities –

Susan Thompson, Linda Corkery and Bruce Judd

Faculty of the Built Environment, UNSW, Sydney, NSW, Australia

C-c-c-community gardens

The people of the Blue Mountains recently had the opportunity to have our say about the Council’s policies on Community Gardens. I’ve been volunteering on Fridays at the oldest community garden in the area for a couple of years now. For the first of those two years, I had to get on a train for an hour, followed by a 20 minute walk to have access to a community garden in the mountains, as that was the easiest one to get to. That lengthy trek is one of the reasons behind my motivation to work on a submission to council on how we, the gardeners, the permaculture designers and practitioners and council workers, the people of the mountains can work together to make sure we provide better access to community gardens for all. We already know why we should do this, although some gentle reminders never hurt. While the idea was simple and came in at under a page, the recommendations became fairly lengthy at 6 pages, so get a cup of tea and have a read. As we say in the submission this is only part of the discussion, not the last word, so have a think about what you’d like to see from community gardens. Quite a bit of reference is made to the recently adopted City of Sydney Community Gardens policy in this submission, and the reason for this is that its a really comprehensive well thought out community garden enabling policy. There is a growing movement in Australia and around the world to understanding the value in our society of active multifunction community spaces. Community gardens are a great resource for everyone, so let’s get behind them. The date has passed for giving feedback to council on this policy but the dialogue is ongoing. Feel free to have your say here by leaving a comment, come to the community gardens that already exist, or talk to your local councillors about the provision of community gardens in your area. Information is patchy about what community gardens exist where, and I know the council’s list is different from the ones I know about so, If you’re part of a community garden in the Blue Mountains please let me know about it by posting a comment here or on the Blue Mountains Community Gardens Website

Read the PBM_Community_Gardens_Policy_Submission

Find out more about North Katoomba Organic Community Garden, Permaculture Blue Mountains

Community Gardens: Basemapping

There are lots of different ways to present this sort of information, I’m following the instructions from the permaculture Certificate IV with the National Environment Centre, and taking in to consideration the excellent surveying techniques outlined by David Jacke’s Edible Forest Gardens, a double volume I highly recommend*

To begin with, we need to write a few basic bits of information, what is the site, where is it, who’s the client and show the scale of the map we’re using. I’ve also added the property boundary.

Then we look at information helps us understand the nature of the site, and how best to design for it. The things we need to take in to consideration are environmental. In this area what kind of climate is this, what’s the rainfall and how many growing days are there? This is the kind of information you think of when designing any property. Permaculture has a really specific way of splitting out information we design around so that it becomes very straight forward to place the elements we want to include in our designs.

The base map tells us what’s already on the site. For how can you set a course to go somewhere if you don’t know where you are?

A Base Map needs to include

  • Water, where does it come from, where does it go, where is it stored? A diagram of taps, pipes, downpipes, irrigation, and connection to sewerage should also be described in this map.
  • Access – where are the roads and footpaths? Where would we park or take deliveries, bring in machinery or a fire engine?
  • Structures – What buildings (house, shed, greenhouse, shadehouse, chook house, workshop, potting shed) are on the site, are their any other hard structures such as fences, gates, firepits. I’ve split out another category in this case, as the site is used by a number of different groups, and that’s gardens.
  • Sector analysis – what are the outside influences, where do they come from? Wind, rain, pollution (noise, chemical etc) nice view, bad view? These are often depicted as arc/pie slice chart as an overlay. Slope, and consequences of aspect are also included in this view of the site.

Here’s an overview, this includes the main features of the site, location of buildings, access points, the creek that runs through a property, and contours along with a few representative photographs.

North Katoomba Community Gardens: Overview


North Katoomba Community Gardens: water flows & capture


The main paths of access, by foot or in a vehicle are marked here, and shows where the slopes are too steep for vehicle access.


The main structures are indicated in the overlay consistent with the other maps. However on site are clustered together around the entrance to the gardens so there is a separate map for these.


While the community gardens have a physical presence, it is the people that make up the gardens, quite literally. The next map I’ll produce will include the main groups that use, have a connection to, or authority over the site, with some description of their involvement, influences and resources. Some of these are specifically related to one area of the gardens.

Kat in Katoomba

[pictures coming ….]
tourist photo

What you consider the bioregion of your project, and the smaller catchment within?

The Blue Mountain Organic Community Gardens lies within 85 hectares known as the North Katoomba Catchment area, which a sub catchment area of “Sydney Basin”. This is used as a starting point for discussion amongst the many groups working at defining sustainable bioregions. However, there does not appear to be any practical consensus about what the bioregion might be. This tells us something already. The boundaries of government and associated entities shift more frequently than paths of mighty rivers. The catchment area is a bit simpler to identify, as we an all see where the water flows. Being a fairly new community with less than 200 years shared history, it is hardly  surprising that we do not quite know who we are.

Official Bioregion ‘Sydney Catchment’


Let’s have a look at the various identifying features we collectively call the Blue Mountains community.

The land is part of the wider eroded sandstone geological formation now known collectively as the Blue Mountains, which largely corresponds with the local government area, although that independence is currently under review, partly for economic reasons.

Traditionally, three different indigenous language groups[1] span  lands across this sub-bioregion of Sydney Basin, which the DECC describes as Wollemi. [2]  Wollemi is one of 403 sub regions of the 85 bioregions defined  in Australia. Officially, this smaller ecological sub bioregion (SB4)  is described as the area between Burragurang in the South, well into Wollemi National Park in the north. This classification is more used for ecological definitions and helpful for strategies for preservation/conservation, rather than having much contemporary meaning for many of the people who live in these areas.

Culturally, the Greater Blue Mountains area can be argued to define its own identity and there are a number of community groups actively working at making this a viable and meaningful bioregion in its own right, with local people taking responsibility to increase overall community resilience. The reality is that the Blue Mountains is something of an inbetween place, with a transient tourist population of 3 million visitors a year, effective to a stable population of 100,000.. If we consider media institutions that serve the areas, again the Blue Mountains is an in between Lithgow served by several regional newspapers and radio stations, covered by one newspaper and radio station, and Sydney suburbs stopping beyond Penrith. What I’ll call the Blue Mountains bioregion extends west as far as about Medlow Bath, and arguably to Mt Tomah and Mt Wilson beyond, although socially at this time these areas on balance, have greater ties to the villages of Bilpin and into the the Hawkesbury catchment beyond. Down the mountain below Lapstone to the east, the craggy sandstone landscape gives way to Cumberland Plains, and the connections to Parramatta, North Sydney and the City of Sydney pick up. Internal public transport and amenity connections are badly served in the Mountains, and yet and cultural connection are quite strong; there is a great sense of community and identity with this region. Currently local Government covers this area reinforcing that idea of identity in this region. Over time its possible that the Blue Mountains will, triggered by local government shifts and possibly improvements to transport, end up being more connected to Western Sydney or conversely to Lithgow, but as it stands it’s a fiercely independent minded collection of ridge top and valley communities in the outlying Megalong Valley. So we are identifying our bioregion with our unique location, nestled within a world Heritage National Park whose health we ultimately take responsibility for.

While being in the Blue Mountains can feel isolated from the rest of the world, in truth our impact, the majority of the population being ridgetop dwellers, means activity here can fundamentally alter the composition and  flow water out into the whole of the Sydney Basin area, beginning with Katoomba creek, and onwards into the Grose River System, which in turn flows on into the Hawkesbury and again we see the connection with the wider Sydney Basin.

[1] Indigenous language groups: Gundungurra, Wjidgirri and Dharug from the ABC’s intereractive Indigenous Language Groups Map



Other Refs

Describe the following:

  • the topography

The topography of the Blue Mountains is defined by its underlying geology. The region was predominantly built up from successive layers of  sand sediments forming  the sandstone base which is mostly w[2] Indigenous language groups: Gundungurra, Wjidgirri and Dharug from the ABC’s intereractive Indigenous Language Groups Map.hat we see today.  14-20 million years ago, lava flowed and covered the mountains in basalt layer 50-60m thick. Eventually the Blue Mountains were pushed up, and what had been coastal sediment sagged. This area is now a massive erosion landscape with little of the basalt remaining, but still dominated by enormous escarpments to the west dissected by deep gorges,. These in turn form part of the Great Dividing Range.  From the east we see gradual rise in elevation from Lapstone at 100m above sea level to the towns 80kms to the west reaching over 1000m in elevation. Into the National Park area beyond, the escarpments fall away sharply again with sheer drops of 300m or more at a time, providing a great number of spectacular lookouts. Beyond these sandstone outcrops is the undulating country of the Megalong and Kanimbla valleys.


When does the rain fall and how much?

Rainfall averages over 1000mm a year in the upper mountains and 850mm in the lower mountains region.  There’s less rain in the cooler months and more rain falls in late summer than any other time of the year. Average rainfall peaks in Katoomba at 173mm in Feb/March compared with one third of that, 73mm in September. However, rainfall variability in Australia is the highest in the world at 18%, and is especially unpredictable in NSW.

Has this changed over the past 10 years?

Rainfall was less on average in the last 10 years, and this has been a drought period in the region. It’s perhaps more useful to look at that change in context of  the longer term patterns than in just 10 years due to Australia’s high rainfall variability, which is even more pronounced on the East Coast  influenced weather patterns. In particular the role of the Indian Ocean Dipole on rainfall patterns have been found to be a key factor. [1] El Nino Southern Oscillations make a big difference, and an El Nina phases brings heavier rainfall as well as cooler temperatures than an El Nino phases

    • temperature and  has this changed

The Blue Mountains temperatures fall broadly into a temperate climate pattern with cool winters and warm summers, in the temperature is on average 7 degrees lower in Katoomba at over 1000m than the lower mountains for example , but . The average mean temperature in the area has risen between .15/.2 degrees Centigrade every ten years across the board over the last 30 years according to the Bureau of Meterology [2] less than the increases in some areas.

    • hours of sunlight

According to the Bureau of Meteorology there’s an average of 7=8 hours sunshine in the Blue Mountains region.


The official recording  from Katoomba station at the Bureau of Meteorology records moderate average wind speeds at 9am and 3pm in one location, although these are long term averages and locals tell of cold westerly & south westerly winds. The wind speeds vary quite considerably throughout the region based on the variations in landscape as well as by smaller urban formations/buildings and shelters in more localized areas.



extremes in weather

Local vegetation are adapted to the cycles which bring extreme hot and dry conditions we know as bush fire season.  Similar conditions elsewhere in the country have shown us what an increase in these extremes and a more irregular pattern can have on even these adapted ecosystems.[1]

[1] The CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology report, ‘State of the Climate 2010’

  • markets

There are a number of monthly markets which are largely hosted in local public school grounds and village halls. [1] Additionally seasonal markets aim towards Christmas and Spring. There are some local producers selling produce locally created craft goods as well as books bric a brac and more community resale. Seasonal markets are an opportunity for local organizations to connect with existing and new members. There’s a local LETs scheme which is starting to be represented at markets too.

[1] markets listing:

  • cities, towns, and villages

The Blue Mountains council area is a “city” although I tend to think of a city as being more urban than suburban with a greater population density. Historically the area was a shire which converted to City Status in 1947. [4]  The government offices are in Katoomba, upper mountains, mountain dwellers variously describe themselves as belonging to the upper mid or lower mountains, and while these definitions are laid down in the bus routes diagram, there is much discussion about where the boundaries really are, given the difference in climate which shifts considerably from the top end of the mountain to the lower villages. Where one might grow sweet potatoes is one gauge of truly being in the lower mountains.

  • history and culture

Aboriginal Land: The Blue Mountains were once home to the Gundungurra and Dharuk people, represented today by the Gundungurra Tribal Council Aboriginal Corporation, which has a native title on the National Park Land. Aboriginal sites in the area are said to be 22,000 years old.

EuropeanHistory: While the first European to explore the mountains was most likely John Wilson, an escaped convict, who is said to have lived with the aboriginal people in the mountains, the first official successful European traversal of the mountain went in search of additional grazing land in 1813. By 1814 there were roads into the mountains, one we know as the Great Western Highway and the other Bells Line of Road.  The latter area brought people to Mt Tomah and Mt Wilson, attractive to settlers because of the rich basalt soils, which provide the basis for the lush rainforest in these areas.

Katoomba was developed as a mining town, and sections of railway came in to move coal, and shale oil in the 1870s. The mining industry grew, and today coal is still mined in Lithgow travelling nightly down  the mountains largely for overseas export.

Fifty years later the railway ran all the way to Bathurst and this brought a new level of activity from the city below. In the late 1800’s’ the mountains becomes known as playground of the rich and 100 years later when the railway line is electrified, it becomes a place for people seeking a different kind of home life than the city offers, and today still the mountains are an eclectic mix of refugees from city living, people seeking a quieter downscaled lifestyle, as well as the visitors of all kinds who come for recreation in nature in varying degrees of exertion.

The demographics of the mountains today vary considerably from relatively well off commuters in the lower mountains to greater home based businesses and locally employed (and unemployed) people in the upper mountains.  There are also a high number of homes owned as holiday houses. [2] In a recent survey the top reasons for wanting to live in the area are peace, quiet and tranquillity, fresh air, community spirit, atmosphere, lifestyle and space. The region is home to a lively arts and music scene.



  • catchment management systems,

Being for the most suburban  and peri-urban environment, drinking water catchment is dealt with via mainstream water supplies through Sydney Water, and there are environmental plans, backed by legislation [4.1] which necessitate development applications to be assessed by the council and if there is judged to be a negative effect on water quality in the catchment areas, by Sydney Water Catchment Management Authority.  This broadly affects changes to potential for erosion, runoff sedimentation and effluent management. There are also a number of licensed and unlicensed bores privately held, as well as rooftop water collection.

Blue Mountains City Council has an innovative “whole of catchment” approach to a number of environmental aspects including weed management and storm water run off, as well as being deeply connected with roads and other services and facilities in the area. Natural systems are important enough to have their own management team, which has the opportunity to showcase issues of water catchment management in the context of our World Heritage Park.

  • transport systems

There is very little in the way of community transport, and the major rail links are now slower today than they were 20 years ago. The vast majority of people travelling to and from work shopping and going about their daily business is by car. The local “Great Western Highway” has just expanded to meet additional capacity as well as expectation of increasing road freight, despite State government policy targets to the contrary.

  • Manufacturing

There is comparatively little manufacturing in the Blue Mountains at present, with 60% of the land zoned for manufacturing not taken up with that activity. Many manufacturing businesses would not be appropriate for the character of the area.

  • LETS and co-operatives

There has been a chequered history of Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETs) in the Blue Mountains. One was recently relaunched, although it embryonic at the time of writing. The biggest shopping co-op in the Southern hemisphere is in Katoomba, with a membership of 2-2500 members from all over the region reaching down in to Sdyney and oher parts of NSW.  Housing co-ops  are not well represented in this or many other bioregions in Australia and do not find backing easily.

  • food supply systems

The Blue Mountains is serviced by the major supermarket chains, so the majority of food supplies are largely being shipped from outside of the bioregion, the state and even the country.  As well as a number of independent grocers and markets. here are a number of formal and informal organizations in the Blue Mountains concerned with connecting growers of all kinds with each other and their markets.

  • fuel and fibre supply systems

Fuel is supplied through multinational corporations and Australian companies in the form of petroleum based fuel, gas (AGL, Elgas) and power stations, largely based on coal (some sourced from nearby Lithgow) as well.  Although it is used to generate electricity, 75% of the coal mined in Australia is exported, mostly to eastern Asia.’[5] Wood is not removable from the National Park, although State Forests in nearby regions could sustainably provide the small scale fuel requirements for alternative domestic heating sources such as kackelofen[2] and mass rocket stoves/heaters which could also be used to generate steam. Pine trees grow well and it would be easy enough to use stick based fuel stoves  and heating [1] which could be sustainably supplied.

Traditional fibre materials are to be found, but not in quantities that they might be useful for every day use for the levels of cloth required for clothing bedding or other household cloth uses. Nearby bioregions grow cotton, and sheep[2] and other animals can be run for wool. Opportunities also exist for farming innovative crops which could help shore up local fibre supplies.[3]

Still the overwhelming volume of non food shopping, including fibre based products come from outside the region, and a high proportion of disposable leaks out into Penrith Shopping Centre, home to some of the big Clothing and Consumer goods chain stores.




  • what is produced in your bioregion

Photography, painting, arts of all kinds are produced in the region. Entertainment and tourism, climbing retail and leisure are the mainstays of our 26 towns and villages, and I would describe fitter healthier more relaxed people are the product of those industries. Foods produced here are also artisan scale for the most part. Creative and cultural productions, information technologies and recording, printing and publishing are growing areas. There are minimal light industries, extractive industries, sales of extracted material, coal, and minerals.

Manufacturing does not figure highly in our Gross Regional Product.

  • What services are available?

Services fall broadly into two categories. The services we usually think of are public services. The major public services are are supplied mainly through government defined and in part Government owned companies.  Ecosystem  services are also considered of great importance, but with limited scope. Schools are catered for in each of the sub regions, and cover a number of different teaching styles and belief systems, although the majority have statistically low academic achievements. The majority of housing is in suburbs supplied by Sydney water for drinking water, although there has been increasing popularity in water tank installation. The air is filtered for us by 70% of our region that is National Park. However our environmental credentials stumble in the lack of real alternatives to fossil fuelled energy being provided through energy companies in which the NSW Government is a major shareholder. The blue mountains LGA and bioregion is 70% bushland.

In 2004 the Millenium commission defined the ways in which the earth’s ecosystems function as human life support systems. Climate regulation, pollination, pest control, provision of soil fertility and health, water filtration, regulation of river flows and groundwater levels as well as the recreational uses which exercise our bodies and energise our spirits, contributing to our wellbeing and mental health. With 70% or our area protected as National Park, we are well served in this bioregion by ecosystem services. As ridgetop dwellers the challenge will be looking after them. With over 3 million visitors a year, it’s this World Heritage National Park its these ecosystem services that are the lifeblood of the bioregion.

  • Water amount and quality (dams, rivers, wetlands etc)

Using the current management strategies and with current rates of consumption, here is only enough water to supply 40,000 people in the Blue Mountains gathered from dams and reservoirs in the Blue Mountains itself, which has an effective population (in terms of demand) of 80-100,000. Water is pumped in from outside pipelines to make up the shortage [7] The water in our dams goes through filtration treatment in order that it is fit for human consumption. Water quality monitoring by Sydney Catchment Authority is concerned with meeting statutary requirements of water quality laid out be the Sydney Water Catchment Management Act 1998.  These deal with a range of chemical and biological threats and indicators of water quality as measured for fitness for human consumption.

Human consumption should not however be our only measure of water quality. Historically, local river systems in the region were once threatened by a proliferation of sewage processing plants that fed out nutrient rich effluent directly into them. Most sewage is now transported out of the region and out into another area, which is not so good for them down stream but has measurably increased water quality here. However there are still state agreements in place with industrial polluters that leave pollution of heavy metals entering into the system which are essentially unregulated. Mines that are long since closed continue to have an effect on the health of our river systems today, and the natral fiitration systems of our mountain geology,  vegetation and organisms do not have the capacity to remediate these problems without side effects

Another big risk to our water systems is climate change. The overall rate of wetlands in the Blue Mountains has been generally increasing, although recent climate statistics suggest that the conditions under which our swamp lands thrive are narrowing to the point where their viability is likely to become threatened in the near future [8]

  • the indigenous vegetation (EVC’s Ecological vegetation classes can be described)

The predominant description of vegataion in NSW is not refered to as EVCs but appear equivalent to vegetation. The Following “Significant Vegatation Communities” may be found in the Blue Mountains bioregion. There are plant lists associated with each of these, but there are a lot of them and so I will not reproduce those here. The vegetation of the Blue Mountains encompasses a diverse range of plant communities which have adapted to special microclimates, including a number of Eucalypt based communities that have flourished in relative obscurity from human intrusion.

1 – Tall closed forest/closed forest/low closed forest (rainforest)

(1A) Ceratopetalum apetalum-Doryphora sassafras Rainforest

(1B) Backhousia myrtifolia-Ceratopetalum apetalum Rainforest

2 – Tall open-forest/open-forest

(2A) Moist Basalt Cap Forest (Eucalyptus viminalis-E. blaxlandii-E. radiata)

(2B) Blue Mountains Shale Cap Forest (Eucalyptus deanei-E. punctata- Syncarpia glomulifera

(2C) Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest (Syncarpia glomulifera-Eucalyptus fibrosa-Eucalyptus crebra)

(2D) Shale Sandstone Transition Forest (Syncarpia glomulifera-Eucalyptus punctata)

(2E) Eucalyptus deanei-E. piperita Tall Open-forest

(2F) Eucalyptus cypellocarpa-E. piperita Tall Open-forest

(2F) Eucalyptus cypellocarpa-E. piperita Tall Open-forest

(2G) Eucalyptus oreades Open-forest/Tall Open-forest

(2H) Eucalyptus dalrympleana-E. piperita Tall Open-forest

(2I) Sun Valley Cabbage Gum Forest (Eucalyptus amplifolia)

(2J) Montane Gully Forest (Eucalyptus fastigata-E. cypellocarpa-E. dalrympleana)

(2L) Casuarina cunninghamiana ‘River Oak Forest’

(2M) Eucalyptus radiata subsp. radiata-E. piperita Open Forest

3 – Low Open-forest

Melaleuca linariifolia Low Open-forest

4 – Woodlands

(4A) Eucalyptus mannifera subsp. gullickii Alluvial Woodlands

(4B) Eucalyptus sclerophylla Bench Woodland

5 – Heath/scrub/sedgeland/fernland

(5A) Blue Mountains Heath and Scrub

(5B) Blue Mountains Swamps

(5C) Pagoda Rock Complex

6 – Blue Mountains Riparian Complex

7 – Blue Mountains Escarpment Complex


== re connect these to their sections.

[4] BM Shire > BMCC\Organisation\165

[4.1] Drinking Water Catchment’s Environmental Plan Jan 2007




[7] Sydney Water (specific?

[8]  – Water Symposium, Katoomba 2010


General Refs

ecosystem services



Click to access Cun93Ben386.pdf

The Biological Cathedral

In an eloquent prelude, Nick of Milkwood Farm reminds us that there is no ‘them’. The dominant industries that make up our agriculture and our food supply chain are there because we support them. We buy goods in the stores, our pensions fund their development, expansion and allow decisions to be made that we may, or may not agree with. It’s with some optimism that I note a packed out auditorium at the Teacher’s Federation. Kylie Kwong reminds us too, that family has a great role to play in passing down the wisdom of what is is to appreciate where your food comes from.

For the next hour and a half we romp through the seasonal delights of Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin’s home and business in the Shanadoah Valley.  His grandfather, he later tells us, was a charter subscriber to Rodale’s Organic Farming, and in his book “Everything I want to do is Illegal” he admits that he did not fall far from the family tree. Polyface is not however certified Organic under current US accreditation scheme, and while this barely gets a mention in his talk this evening I rather think he likes it that way. He mentions two US presidents who were farmers, and I check out wikipedia to see if there were more. And there were, but a far more common occupation listed is Lawyer. In any sane universe, these lawyers should be asking the advice of farmers like Joel about how the legal system could better encourage and support these stewards who do right by the land on which they farm and the people who have the good fortune to be nourished by them.

Even the most innocuous looking pictures in Joel’s slideshow have a story to tell, a kid with a sausage on a stick? the son of a vegetarian. A super cute bunny? “That’s a meat rabbit”  we laugh somwhat nervously as he leads us in. We live disconnected from the land, from animals, he tells us, and don’t see or understand that they might all have a place. Our laws and our food systems work against us. How can we trust an authority that recommended we feed meat to herbivores, that brought us CJD? Wouldn’t we be mad to listen to them?

But there’s more passion than anger in Joel Salatin. He is a man who has learned to work where is wanted, and speaks happily of having opportunities to “speak to the choir”, and we make a willing audience, this room of affluent Sydneysiders.

Farms, Joel tells us,should be “aesthetically aromatically and sensually romantic”, we have senses for a reason, he explains, how do we know we have an infection? because it smells bad, and the same is true of a farm. A bad smell is not what the countryside should be full of, to be kept in a such a state that we can not bear to be near the environment they’re kept in. Heston Blumenthal’s visit to an intensive duck farm which aired this week on the ABC reminded us that as consumers, those are our choices to make.

On the other side, we should not have to keep away from the animals because they have so little resistance to disease that we are dangerous to them without copious protective clothing, and that’s a reference to the contemporary organic farming industry in the US. Keep animals in similar conditions without the antibiotics they receive from increased likihood of infection and disease through side effects of overcrowding, and they’re not able to withstand much.

Polyface Farm in the Shanadoah Valley on the other hand, is a place where ‘animals have a lifetime of good days followed by one bad day’. This is not an unfamiliar idea I think, it connects with our sense of justice and fairness, why shouldn’t an animal have a good life, and perhaps it tastes better at the end of it, and maybe its better for us. Animal has good life, farmer does well, we eat well, too easy!

But for Joel Salatin, the connection we have with these animals and this landscape that provides our food is much deeper that this.  “If we’re going to have a sacred ethical culture, if we want to respect the Thom-nes, Mary-ness and Mathilda-ness, we have to respect the pigness of the pig”. If we don’t think a pig deserves a good life, to express its pigness, is it because we don’t think we have the right to express the things that make us human?

If Joel Salatin ministers a farm half as well as he works a crowd, I fully expect he has the happiest farm in all Christendom, and I for one have my hymn sheet open. And no, I am not a Christian, but I’m a convert to this Biological Cathedral.

a permaculture cert IV – Food Miles

In answer to the question, so what else are you up to these days? A permaculture cert IV with the National Environment Centre at Riverina Institute, and to stave off further questions about what that is exactly, I’ll be posting at least some of my permaculture cert IV assignments up here, so feel free to give me your feedback (the work has already been assessed), or have a go at the questions yourself, its an interesting exercise even if you’re not intending on studying permaculture. (I’ll be moderating!)

Topic 1 Worksheet – Food miles

A few questions for discussion from the Sydney Fair Food Alliance Food Miles articles (one of your readings)

1. What kinds of regional produce do you have access to?

Within my yard, I can pick seasonal fruits citrus (lemons, oranges) figs and plums.  Vegetables available include spinach chard, beans, peas snowpeas, tomatoes, hopefully some brussel sprouts, annually planted and one or two perennials like spinach, and random tomato appearances. Annual and perennial herbs grow in my back yard, including common and Vietnamese mints, parsley (flat and curly) basil, perennial basil, thyme, oreganos, sages & lavenders. Salads growing just now include french sorrel, sorrel,  roquette, and cos lettuces. There are edible flowers too most often used are roses (petals and hips for tea) and dandelion heads. A good range of cold climate/temperate fruit nuts berries and vegetables grow locally and its relatively easy to source approximately 60-70% of those I use within 80-100km, although there is less variety of fresh produce during winter. At our local community garden we grow potatoes, spinach, beets, mustard greens, apples, raspberries , radishes, beans, peas, strawberries, capsicums and cucurbits of all sorts, Japanese pumpkins, bush tomatoes, warrigal greens, mushrooms, and a variety of, as yet underused by me bush foods in an indigenous garden. Being at the top of a mountain, with short growing season and colder winters, we draw on the resources of the lower slopes, plains and valleys around us. Goat milk cheeses, along with an abundance of cuts of meats and artisan small goods are all available for those who eat them, within the Megalong valley area.  Oranges and lemons are found in abundance, and a variety of fruit and nut tree growers share produce and skills via the Fruit and Nut Tree Network.

Local village food production at current levels only feeds a small percentage of the population in the mountains, and does not provide; its mostly from kitchen gardeners sharing their surplus. There are a number of boutique producers who can supply pickles, jams and preserved foods, olives supplied from within 200kms. Also within this radius are wild mushrooms of Oberon to Hazelbrook, and cultivated mushrooms in Penrith, and Glenbrook. Organically grown produce comprises a good percentage of available food, if not everyone is certified. If we stick within our state then we can extend the range to a more reliable supply of sub tropical and tropical supplies.  Chocolate, bread and baked goods are made within the village I live in, but many of the ingredients come from further afield, some within the bioregion. Wheat and other grains are grown in the bioregion and more of these in the rest of NSW. Locally produced duck and chook eggs are available too. There are lots of things we can forage for in the wild, if we know what to look for. Just today, I was treated to some chickweed pesto, the main ingredient plucked from several feet away from where I stood. A Katoomba fish shop sources all its supplies from Sydney markets, some coming from the nearest source to us, which is the Hawkesbury river, as well as coastal waters of NSW.  Slow Food are represented by Cloudlands resort, which along with Lillianfels hotel locally sourced ingredients in their gourmet dining experiences, they advocate long term planning and grow food supplying their restaurants locally.


Here’s a table of local suppliers I contribute to which showing local producers and produce available.

Contributors: Lizzie Connor, Kat Szuminska, Celeste Salter, Gary Caganoff, Anitra Nelson

Photos taken from terrific local food display at the ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ café of Old Parliament House in Canberra. where I was recently visiting, artisan products, labelled with place of origin.

2. How might you be able to access more of what is grown and produced locally?

There are a number of ways I could access more locally grown food. I can find out what’s seasonally available and use this information to inform my purchasing decisions, rather than eat fresh food out of season. I could grow more food myself at home. I can attend local growers markets more often, set up a hyper local branch of a neighbourhood swapping scheme, get in touch with local producers who may supply food outside our region, and encourage them to provide for the local market first. I could also seek out local Community Supported Agriculture initiatives and support them. Learning and spreading knowledge of storing the harvest, so that our short growing season may be extended is another way to access that same supply out of season. We need to encourage producers to stick around, encourage more local production and increase local knowledge of the advantages, further stimulating supply. The mushroom growers in Penrith for example might not keep all the local produce in the area, but  operate at a centralised distribution centre. We could look at bulk buys to satisfy the producer and the company to make it attractive not to ship as much produce out, and access to our locally grown produce over  that from elsewhere. We’re starting a grain growing experiment  trying out growing a few different varieties at the local community gardens in conjunction with the local co-op to see what we can grow successfully and perhaps recommend to others who have land and want to follow this path. This may lead to more grain being grown locally, we’ll have to wait and see. Not only is the Blue Mountains served by an abundance of regional food, its equally abundant with those who know how to use it. Helping to organise an increase in the distribution of this knowledge is a big part of improvements that can help everyone access more local food, and in a long winded kind of a way, make it easier to me to do so sustainably in the long term.

If we’re shopping in the supermarkets, we can look at the labels of our food, and beyond that we can call for better labelling if we want to have better control over what we’re supporting when we buy food.

I would describe food labelling in Australia as slack at best. Where the ingredients in food come from is really unclear, the primary ingredient can still come from outside Australia and the product be described and labelled as “Australian made”, and this is all quite legal. This label’s graphic looks identical, if you don’t look closely at the letters which are quite small on packaging, to “Australian grown”. (eg. cashew nuts imported from oversees processed and packaged in Australia, and thus called Australian made). Similarly misleading is ‘equivalence’ as illustrated in the case where NZ organic produce can be imported from outside the region and certified as organic by equivalence in NZ, so what’s the country of origin there? Its certified organic in NZ in big letters and you have to go searching the whole label to see that may not be the country of origin. So if we really want to buy more authentically local produce we want be clear about where our food comes from. When we do decide to purchase items from outside our bioregion, then we can develop direct relationships with those out of region suppliers ourselves, ask stores to label more clearly, and advocate for better labelling requirements in stores at a government level.

Picture Credits

Close up section from a series of botanic illustrations from the National Library

Picture of oranges c/o

3. How much would our eating habits need to change if we were to reduce the distance our food travels?

If the single thing we want to do is reduce the distance our food travels, and we have a few years to organise that, then we don’t have to change our eating habits. Whether we’d need to change our eating habits at all depends on what other factors we need to take into account aside from distance travelled. Cutting down food miles alone doesn’t necessarily require us to change our eating habits. Other questions come into play. How quickly and sustainably do we want to grow our food? what level of skills do we have access too in food production and preparation? what limitations do we have to face and which can be overcome by human ingenuity? These are all relevant questions to ask ourselves at the same time. We have a choice about what we eat, where it comes from and how its grown. If we only want to cut down food miles where do we best cut the miles down and how quickly do we want to make this transition? Do we want exactly the same foodstuffs but grown locally or are we interested in eating the same range of foods, or are we open to eating a greater diversity of foods? How much effort is it to provide all these foods we already eat within a region and how badly do we want them? These are tasty handmade chocolates, but there’s little cacao growing in Australia outside botanic gardens today. Most people I know drink coffee and eat bananas, and these aren’t impossible to grow in the Blue Mountains and definitely ok only a little further afield, but we would be seriously practically challenged to ramp up production quickly to make them available at the levels they’re currently consumed.

So if we ask, in our next shopping basket purchase what would we do to cut down food miles? that’s a different question. In the short to medium term, we’d have to assess our eating habits and make some changes, fast food consumers would be hard pressed to have their favourite burger joint use locally produced meats, in the longer term we’d have some work to do there if we wanted to keep the MacDonalds in Blaxland, or even the fish and chip shops on our High Streets. The energy inputs we need to grow foods that aren’t local might prove prohibitively expensive or have difficult, or it might be an expensive initial outlay while we set up alternative power infrastructure such as wind farms, change the way we transport food within the region by improving the rail network, and looking into  alternative food growing systems such as aquaponics. On the other hand if we were to think about only eating what grows easily in the mountains then we would need think about exploring the nutritional delights in a greater diversity of food sources. This might incorporate more bush foods, plants we know as weeds and other plants or animals, which might grow well if introduced. We might reassess the value of game meats like kangaroo, which are culled but not eaten in some places, and similarly rabbit and other animals.

Broadly speaking then, to cut down food miles and eat sustainably we’d want to eat more creatively, extend the range of food we consider edible, and make the most out of what’s available. We’d need to pay greater attention to the seasons, plan our dietary (calorific/energy and nutritional/vitamin & mineral) needs in a longer term way. Eating seasonally might mean buying lots of freezers to store local produce or work on low energy ways to preserve foods such as curing, bottling and fermenting. Packaging can play a big part in increasing the food miles of products. After all where would the aluminium or iron come from for cans? And where would it be processed? Currently in Australia while bauxite is mined here, the aluminium is sent overseas for processing and making into cans before being shipped back here. Planning ahead here even a little can help save quite a bit of energy. So no more canned chickpeas, even if they appear to be local. Its time to think about buying chickpeas in bulk, storing in jars, and soaking dried legumes overnight to make hummus the next day.

Dietary planning will incorporate nutritional assessment of potential crops. Rather than choosing it only on the basis of taste or low cost or making decisions via the influence of value laden advertising. We’d also be wise to pay more attention to the use we put our food to. In the end we also need to not throw so much of it away if we’re relying on a limited amount of land available for food production in our region to grow it. For everything we eat there is a certain percentage we routinely throw away, so that $600 million worth of fresh produce wasted in Sydney alone which goes straight in the bin, not including left overs from meals.[1] So right there our food miles per item extended a little bit further. We’ll need to create strategies to minimise waste. Which brings us to the next question.


4. How are economic, social and environmental problems linked to each other and to the global food system?

Economic social and environmental problems are inextricably linked by social economic mechanisms of the modern world that connect them, as the diagram below indicates and the environment within which they operate.

We have as a society, through increasing specialization in the way we live and work become divorced from the methods of production of food as well as clothing housing and a myriad of other consumables. Our means of exchange from one persons work to another is money, which through historical twists and turns result in an organized web of global financial systems. These financial systems themselves at some point break free from the dynamics of the human activity they once represented and become forces representing concentrations of power in a global economic system.

Because we can’t easily see the effect our individual decisions have, and information is not easy to track down or read, we can only make the best decisions available to us at the time. What we don’t see is the enormity of accumulated expertise and influence working hard to convince us to buy this or that snack food because we’ll look or feel better about ourselves, or the money at work lobbying government about policies on which jobs/industries/foods are subsidised, assisted, or not. Sixty years down the road of aspirational advertising, and super concentrated control of massive industrial scale food production, we’ve ended up with products that are better for storing and shipping than eating. The value of food is all about the financial return on investment for those who in turn have a bigger and bigger influence on that market. For the consumer, when the product is not satisfying we buy more. In this broken loop of behaviour, we end up buying more and more, eating more and more, getting fat, obtaining less nutrition, enjoy food less, because there’s always some new piece of information that divorces the food from our relationship with it further. At the same time, our cheaper baskets of food rack up a bigger and bigger environmental bill because there has been no way of balancing our environmental budget, there’s no market mechanism to calculate an appropriate cost to those its taken from, yet.

Our society suffers from a lack of knowledge about food. We no longer know enough about the connection between our nutritional needs and our health and wellbeing, or how to prepare a variety of foods from scratch when they are in season. Our dependence on supermarkets to supply us with food, and information about food, means that the power relationship between the consumer and the store is an unequal one. A not so subtle shift towards is selling food to us for the lifestyle associations, their advertising promises. We don’t have direct information on the vast production and supply chains, and the people and companies that produce them. We’re less aware of the ethics behind how each item came to be sitting on the shelf perfectly packaged for us to buy.

Food has just another commodity bought and sold on international stock markets, prone to the same fluctuations in price, based on supply and demand of markets directly trading them, and the market alterations that governments influence,  and speculation of financial markets. We’re all familiar with market distortions being amplified through global trade, the destabilizing effect leading to the current Global Financial Crisis.  Increasing food prices through outsourcing of food production, climate change and distortions in market prices has led to food shortages, and increased prices of staple foodstuffs. This may not be a big deal if you’re reasonably well off, and live in an economy like the USA or Australia, where the amount you spend on food is a small proportion of your income. On the other hand if you’re dependent on food grown in another country and subject to market prices, and the amount you spend on food is a big part of your income, you’re bidding for food against people who can easily afford to pay a bit more. Because of this massive separation between producer and consumer in the global food system, those bidding against you are just consumers of food where they live, and will have no idea they were even bidding against you by their purchasing decisions.

In 2007-8 the global food system was struck by the global food crisis. The price of rice rose more than 200% over two years, wheat and other cereal prices also doubled. It’s not possible to lay the blame of this situation on any one cause, but rather pressures on food prices came from many directions in this globally interdependent market. Fuel prices rose, demand in some countries rose as stockpiles diminished, pressures on land use to biofuels and for urban development, as well as long term drought in Australia and climate volatility associated with climate change (in which the food industry is a big contributor) in other areas affected the overall amount of wheat and rice available. Civil unrest broke out in more than 30 countries as a result. The global death toll from obesity and hunger levels continue to rise, and continuing climate change continues to destabilize our food production potential.


5. Compare the hidden costs that are part of our food supply.

Every aspect of the industrial food supply chain we currently have is contributing to vast changes across the globe. Every time we make a decision purely based only on the cost of an item of food, we are unwittingly ignoring the effects our choices make which are not factored into the financial cost. The decisions, we understand are based on the value of the item we buy to us, but we do not see all of the real costs of those decisions. Our environment has not had a place in this global system, and there are hidden costs in our rampant production of foodstuffs we barely recognize the ingredients of.

The continued and increasing use of fertilizers herbicides and fungicides since the 30s unsurprisingly leads to death of organisms in our soil. This leads to a build up of excess nutrients, which are provided in salt form, these run into the water supply and lead not only to an excess of nutrients but salination of land and river systems. When soil biology are killed off there is no longer a microscopic city of lifeforms to process the excess nutrients, and so they run off into the water supply. The forms that fertlizers are available are as salts so this increases the salinity of our soils and water supplies over time in turn making it even harder to sustain life.

Transportation, production and maintenance of machinery, as well as the fossil fuels that run them are all elements of food production. The energy that goes into producing packaging, and a massive amount of waste both of which go into landfill add to the hidden costs. Reliance on fossil fuels for heavy machine based agriculture has contributed the destruction of native habitats globally. Subsistence famers who no longer feed themselves have become weakened economically by increasing dependence on fluctuating export prices to companies looking for the cheapest deal. Food production, including its transportation is responsible for a whopping 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions that have led to climate change.

Here’s one example of the destruction this system can wreak, largely these impacts are hidden but as the situation becomes more desperate, we are all starting to hear about it in the news. The increase in production of rice in the water strained area of the Murray Darling Basin led to massive extra pressure on this over burdened water system, affecting those down stream. The rice growing industry collapsed following successive droughts around 2006 culminating in a major rice shortage in several countries where rice is a staple food, but by importing a significant percentage of rice from Australia Thailand was effectively dependent on Australia for rice, because it was no longer cultivating enough rice to feed the population at home. When the shortage struck the price of rice became inflated and those in the lower income brackets who could least afford to deal with a price hike in a staple foodstuff stuffered the most. The effects rippled outwards from there, and people even took to the streets in protest in 30 countries in the following 2 years.

6. For Sydney region residents, compare the inputs (seedstock and its raising, agricultural chemicals, fuel, transportation emissions and road requirements, marketing costs, packaging and its disposal and retailing) of:

a popper container of apple juice ––imported from Italy and an apple grown at Bilpin in the Blue Mountains near Sydney . Choose two similar examples you have locally to compare if you do not live near Sydney.

I buy my apples from Logan Brae, which is in Shipley Plateau, so I’ll use that orchard as my example.

An apple grown on the Shipley Rd, in Blackheath doesn’t travel far from the tree to my house. The orchard to my house is about 11kms each way. The shop there operates out of a shed, out the front of the orchard. By selling directly to the end consumer and providing an added value to the sales experience  (opening up a shed at the orchard), offering apple based artisan products add to an authentic connection with the orchard and a better price for the farmer. There is a diverse range of heritage apples trees there, main orchard cropping some 15 varieties from early to late season. Some of these have been around for 100 years. It’s a family owned and run business and is part of a local apple growing culture and industry. The area is well known for its apples which adds to the character of the sense of place. There is pride taken in the produce and its processing (which is mechanical). The juice is well known for its fine drinking, and I can attest to its suitability for making ‘apple champagne’.

Apple juice travelling from Italy is likely is processed in Italy, packaged there and imported as a finished product to Australia. Travelling by road and ocean, the total food miles will be in excess of the distance between the two places as the crow flies,  approx16,500 kms and may involve not travelling in a straight line. Italy produces over 2 million tonnes of apples a year. While some apple growers such as those in China undercut their competitors prices in the apple market, Italian farmers reputedly get a good price for their apples, or at least the middle men in Italy do, increasing their chances of making a decent living from the apples. [2] However there are no standards for measuring the equity or fairness of deals done with primary producers, beyond the fair trade mark, which is really only used in developing countries with crops such as such as cacao and coffee beans, which have had a shakey history on the commodities market.  Apple growing in Italy is a very organised affair, with enormous consortiums controlling 80ha of land comprising small scale orchards of 2ha connected to provide 5% of the world’s apples, and the majority of this in one small region of an already small country.





bananas imported from North ––Queensland and bananas grown in the home or nearby community garden

Assuming I buy bananas grown in Queensland from the supermarket,  and they’re not organically grown, as I don’t see those very often in the supermarkets local to me. The bananas would more than likely be regularly drenched with chemicals, the trees grown in monocrop. The life in the soil is eroded by the salts used in fertilization, which also leaches beyond the growing area. Continued erosion is made worse annually when agronomists advise farmers to keep adding the same soil amendments without accounting for the effect on the life in the soil, and so soil conditions spiral downwards leading to degraded land. Irrigation becomes more difficult, and recent increases in flash flooding exacerbate growing conditions for the smaller farmer operating on one site.  Banana trees are often grown on compacted tilled soil even when prone to flooding. This leads to poor root formation for the trees which are then more susceptible to falling over in windy conditions. Regulations for banana farmers prevent the intercropping of many plants that would form a great polyculture in commercial scale farms on the basis of health and safety reglations in turn based on machine based operations. Farm workers are exposed to chemicals which farmers I have spoken to attribute to poor health in themselves and early deaths in their families and collegues. This warrants further investigation.

Once picked and delivered to the suppliers for supermarkets, bananas can be and are rejected, due to minor imperfections in just a few fruit. Whole shipments can be turned back in times of plentiful banana supplies when a supermarket makes a better deal elsewhere, the farmer accepts this situation because a few buyers dominate the market. This is bad news for the farmer whose stock price plummets in a bid to sell them on, or worse still, the produce is destroyed. Bananas are picked unripe for shipment, and travel by road in refrigerated containers to stop them ripening until they’re in plaace for sale. All in all farmers and consumers get a raw deal in this scenario, lots of fossil fuels are used in production through heavily mechanised processing. There is potential for bad feelings and heavy losses all round in this fragile industry. Waste material is not composted on site.

Bananas grown in a community garden.  These bananas would see no chemicals or cost anything much in the way of petroleum expense, except related to the implement used to dig up the ground to plant the tree, and any forking done in the soil in the surrounding area. Fruit will be left to ripens on the plant and thus continues to receive nutrients during its ripening phase brought up from the roots of the plant and its association with bacteria in the soil so its composition is more complex. Bananas are more likely to be grown with companions like pawpaw and climbing plants in a sustainable polyculture. The most famous example of this is the banana circle, where the trees are arranged around a hollow which fills with water and into which composting materials like kitchen scraps go. The bananas themselves may then produce sweeter tastier fruit, may be of a variety of our own chosing rather than one which is picked for supermarket and travel friendly attributes. All the fruit is likely to be eaten and it certainly would be unlikely to escape more than a few meters, or hundred meters past its point of origin at most. We would treasure this fruit grown with our own hands and seen develop on the tree we planted.

Ref: information based on discussion with banana farmers in QLD earlier this year.

Take 10 items in your kitchen and analyse them from a sustainability viewpoint.  For some of these you won’t know definite answers, but it is worth thinking about and taking a guess.

You could consider

is the grower getting a good return (fair-trade, bought from a local supplier, swapped, fair price for quality of item that allows financial and environmental sustainability for grower  rather than “squeezed” by one of the large duopolies),

environmental consequences (the way it was grown and what you would imagine the effect on soil health, water use and health, biodiversity. As you will see later biodiversity applies to crops as well as natural systems)

food miles and the type of energy used to transport

packaging – how much energy used in making and is it recyclable,

jobs in Australia,

profits staying in the local community, Australia

any other

Product Analysis Other comments
Pumpkin Given by fellow community gardener, grown in a backyard with only rainwater, planted in a swale, fed by locally made compost. Various pumpkins planted, not quite possible to identify the variety of this one, but its very tasty. Saved some seeds from this pumpkin. Food feet and inches would be a more appropriate scale of measure than miles in this case. Sharing locally grown produce suited to conditions of the area, creates a positive and healthy culture around growing sharing and eating food, and an interest in the conditions it takes to grow as well as the effect on the immediate environment.
Leeks Grown in backyard, watered from a rainwater tank. Some will be swapped for other produce or go into a pot of community soup at the local gardens, I’ll take them there in a reusable bag by bike. Seeds came from Diggers, a community minded organization, supporting people growing their own vegetables, and providing discounts for low wage earners. No waste no packaging except the seed packets which can be reused. They grow prolifically, so no shortage of leeks! Very tasty leek.
Lettuce From a box garden,  a ‘spare’ seedling from a workshop I co-ran at the local women’s health centre, local education and training backed by local council for local people. Nothing travelled to or from the venue more than 25 km. no packaging. This educator received a small payment and some spare plants, the box gardens continue to promote salad and vegetable growing and direct connection with food by the participants. As the salads grow and are harvested quickly, it stimulates further community interest in how food is grown. No waste no packaging. Reused recycling boxes for growing containers.
Feijoas Excess produce given by a  gardener and startup CSA farmer, fruit grown organically 80kms away. Distributed at a permaculture sustainability talk, driven there about 10-15 km, good will from the farmer to his potential new market. As part of connecting with the local community it may help foster goodwill and publicise his local farm. no packaging, no waste.
‘Congo’ potatoes Heritage variety potatoes grown within Katoomba so no more that 3kms away, as well as great income for the grower (heritage potatoes fetch a premium for the grower) and the local food co-op, where small amounts are bought in for sale to community, this also contributes to our local food security. The co-op is the biggest one in Australia with over 2000 members. The shop provides paid employment and volunteer opportunities for locals directly and gives members the opportunity buy more local and organic produce.
Cherry jam Made at home from bioregionally produced (within 200kms) organic cherries supports fruit growers in the region, growing climate appropriate and has less impact on the environment as less transport would be used. Power for heat supplied by energy company, not on green supply, rinsed with rainwater. Used organic sugar from QLD , and lemons from own garden.(other comments) 

I used less sugar than in a commercially available jam. However, Sugar cane is not a great crop and is produced in a monocultural environment, on fragile coastal land, so despite being from not too far away and organic, its still not the most ethical crop and certainly has hidden environmental costs for our coastal areas.

See previous column
Brown rice Grown in Australia, employing Australians, using Australian water. According to the rice growers association ‘produces enough rice to feed almost 40 million people a meal a day for 365 days and Australian rice is exported to 72 countries.’ It’s a highly profitable business for Australian rice growers. We export about 85% of the rice grown in Australia, although we’re now exporting rice to countries which traditionally used to grow their own rice, which have been outcompeted by our growers. Its big profitable business for Australian rice growers but depends irrigation from the Murray river, which is not a sustainable source of water. Rice growers have improved the efficiency of rice growing but its still a water hungry grop, using around a 1000l of water per kilo of rice, about the same figure I’ve seen quoted for beef. Erosion of the Murray river ecosystem due in part to high demand of agricultural production. Hidden costs of rice production discussed earlier in this assignment also.
Milk Organic non-homogenised milk, Australian, sold and distributed under its own brand, rather than mixed up with lots of other milk producers. This milk occupies a niche in the market and brings a better return than if it were sold to one of the big supermarkets.  I don’t know about the distance it travels.
9 oats Four leaf oats from SA biodynamic/organic family run production. Organic practises upheld by family tradition and slow extension and integration of products to final processed whole food products. Small scale production. Innovative and holistic farming practices such as ridge tilling, growing and processing a diverse range of goods, as well as appropriate niche marketing help this Australian business thrive. Plastic packaging slightly less than ideal, although its reusable.
10 salt Maldon sea salt is from the UK. There’s nothing sustainable about the distance travelled. But it’s a taste I know and love, and it travels most of its food miles by sea to get to Australia. I buy a box less than once a year. It’s a family run business in the UK and maintains traditional salt harvesting techniques, its been going for 200 years, and the power source to heat the salty river water for a final extraction in stainless steel vats. The  biggest input is the energy to heat the salt for 14 hours at a time for the salt crystals to form, and the packing machinery and energy used in this production line. Whether a renewable energy source is used is not known.Other comments 

The harvesting of salt was a simple act most famously politicised by Ghandi when he marched to the sea and performed an act of defiance in 1930 by gathering his own salt and not paying tax on that salt, as was required by the then British rulers of India

See previous column.

Are there items that you could substitute with better options? Give some examples.

The sugar in home made cherry jam could be replaced by fruit juice made from locally grown fruit. I could switch to renewable energy source for cooking which would further improve the jam’s credentials. Rice could be replaced with local grains. Similarly with rice, I could eat a greater variety of starchy foods which contribute to a local polyculture/food forest before they reach my kitchen cupboard, such as starchy root vegetables, or just buy or otherwise trade staples grown more locally that require less water use and that are grown without chemicals, fertilizers and all the energy inputs associated in their production. I could buy regionally harvested sea salt, or I could gather my own sea water and evaporate the water away leaving the salt in summer, requiring less additional power input for heating involved in its processing, although I’m unlikely to do the latter. With the vegetables grown and harvested locally, I think these are good options, and  I could make them even better by recycling more diverse range of local organic matter to improve conditions for soil life, to cut down packaged seasol as a plant food during the growing season. While it’s a good product, and made from natural ingredients, it still carries with it the embodied energy that went into creating packaging, transporting and processing it.

The question in this assignment is inspired by the discussion paper at the sydney food fairness alliance. Google them!