Archive for ‘March, 2014’

Biointensive Food Production

Developed in the 1970s by John Jeavons, biointensive agriculture is an organic food production system which focuses on growing large amounts of food on small areas of land, while simultaneously improving and maintaining the fertility of the soil. A happy combination of biodynamics and French intensive gardening, it was originally designed for developing countries low on resources, machinery and fossil fuels. This method is all about achieving long term sustainability on a closed loop basis and is particularly effective for back-yard gardeners and small-hold farmers.

bio frenchEarly 1900s, French gardeners which John Jeavons drew inspiration from

The biointensive agriculture head quarters is in California at Ecology Action where it operates as a research and education centre. Practitioners on this side of the world are slim on the ground with only one person, Jodi Roebuck in NZ, a certified practitioner who has trained directly with Ecology Action. So when I found out Harry and Bonnie Wykman from Black Earth Collective were doing an internship with Jodi, we organised them to pay a visit to Tasmania to share their skills with us and others.

This dynamic brother/sister team have have been involved in urban agriculture, permaculture and small-scale farming for the past decade or so, are deeply committed to all things good and worthy and happen to be dear friends of mine. I love it when work and play come together!

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Harry and Bonnie Wykman, Black Earth Collective, Perth – W.A

But why biointensive agriculture? Because we need to learn about methods (there’s more than one) that can guide us in reducing our ecological footprint – right now, we take up too much space/resources and our population is ever increasing. As is shown below, each person requires up to 28 000 square metres (around 7 acres) of land to provide their food and fibre and we simply don’t have that much fertile land available to us. Biointensive agriculture has proven that as little as 400 sq metres is enough for one vegan diet, that’s smaller than your average urban house block – wowsers.

 

how muchImage from Black Earth Collective

To achieve its’ goal of having a closed loop system and using land efficiently, the biointensive method advocates the following ratios for our food and fibre crops.

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This workshop was jam packed of useful, practical skills for efficient growing – here’s some snapshots to give you a sense of how great it was.

Propagation

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Once up and showing a couple of leaves, radish seeds were transplanted from a standard seed tray into a purpose built ‘planting flat’ (see below) to provide the plants extra room for their roots to mature. Turns out you can propagate and transplant all types of crops this way including carrots and beetroots… and they don’t mind it one bit. This means that you can completely avoid the sometimes patchy outcome when you do direct sowing of seeds.

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Harry and Bonnie made these planting flats from pallets we salvaged from around town. They’re incredibly practical with extra depth and capacity, plus they’re totally beautiful.

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Pallets are a great resource, free and everywhere in cities. Just be sure to only collect the ones which have the “HT” stamp on them which means they’re heat treated and chemical free.

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Tools

Tool types, tool care and tool use are all central to successful biointensive agriculture. While we didn’t have the ideal array of tools that are usually used with this technique (check out that u-bar below!) we used common garden tools which still did the job. HOWEVER, be mindful that if you have hard clay soils some tools will bend and break.  Invest in quality  tools to do the job properly, key brands recommended by Harry and Bonnie are Wolfgarten, Bulldog and Spear and Jackson.

tools

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We spent some solid time learning how to use tools ergonomically to do double digging, which sounds simple, but actually requires some re-wiring of the brain and body to ‘get it’. But it’s worth it, as most of us know, when you don’t use tools correctly, you end up working harder and hurting yourself.

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 Harry demonstrating the right digging techniques

Double Digging

DoubleDig

The above diagram shows the double digging process for which biointensive agriculture is famous. The aim of the game is to transform compacted and/or lifeless soil into friable, living, brown gold. To do this is, you do two lots of ‘digging’, the first dig turns over the top layer of soil while the second only loosens the subsoil (not turned). Depending on your soil type, compost can be gently integrated into the subsoil layer and/or just integrated into the top soil layer. For a thorough demonstration, watch this youtube clip from Ecology Action.

A really important point: Make sure your soils have a good level of moisture before you double dig. Too dry and it can be like digging rocks (especially with clay soils), too wet and you’ll just dig up large clods. It needs to be just right, damp enough that your spade/fork can slide in easily and not too wet that it’s sticky or muddy.

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Planting

And then there’s the planting system where you can plant up to 4 times the amount of crops compared to a traditional market garden system – awesome.

bio collageDiagram from John Jeavons comparing biointensive spacing to a traditional market garden meanwhile Penny’s putting it all into practice on the right.

Using a series of measuring sticks, you can precisely plant out seedlings to maximise the space.

But what about weeding, I hear you ask??? Good question, during the bred preparation a super thorough weed is done to rid the soil of 99% of any weeds. The thick planting helps suppress any weeds that may come up after the crops are in and then it’s up to manual intervention, i.e. the grower and their hands to pull out any tricky weeds that do come through.

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2014-03-29 15.26.11Harry testing the friability of the new beds by seeing how far he can push his arm into the soil. While not exactly text book perfect, the beds are now around 1000% better compared to when we started. 

Talking

And like all workshops which bring growers together, there’s a lot of this happening – ‘grower talk’ where experiences are shared and hot tips swapped for how to refine green thumbs. We love watching this happen… and taking part in it.

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A massive thanks to Bonnie and Harry for making it to our island, staying with us for a week and teaching us some real life skills to add to our belt. We’re already dreaming and scheming on how we can work with these guys again!

harry-bonnie_SnapseedKeep an eye on the Black Earth Collective, they’re about to unleash some damn exciting and fantastic things – watch this space!

Want to read more? Check out the How to Grow more Vegetables book by John Jeavons for a complete run down on all things biointensive agriculture and Ecology Action’s fantastic videos for practical demonstrations.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things garden-esk.

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Food 4 Thought

The Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network held their 6th national gathering, Food 4 Thought, in Hobart on the weekend. Over 150 people gathered from around Australia to this sold out event. And it was good, really good. We, at Good Life Permaculture, volunteered our time to help organise it and had an absolute blast bringing people together from every state and territory to talk, think and do all things urban agriculture.

The overall theme for the event was “exploring meaningful livelihoods in urban agriculture” as we’re particularly interested in establishing a culture which embraces this form of small-scale farming as a very real opportunity to play a significant role in our food system which can feed people, lots of people.

To share some of the absolute joy we had over the weekend, here are some happy snaps of priceless moments…

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James Da Costa, Charlie Mgee and Bridget Stewart: these guys make straw bales look HOT

That wide eyed man in the middle is Charlie Mgee from the Formidable Vegetable Sound System. We brought him over from Perth, W.A to play his incredibly dance-able permaculture music… and also to help move straw bales with some of the organising crew – at 7:30am – what a legend.

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Because the crew didn’t already have enough to do (I’m being sarcastic here) we made everyone their own special name tag, just for that extra special touch.

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To show how amazing and significant urban food production is, we ran a crowd farming campaign to help feed around 180 people over the weekend and received an enormous amount of homegrown produce from urban vegie patches and market gardens, including this impressive haul Cara and Fin delivered from the Agrarian Kitchen. All up we estimate that 50% of the fresh food was crowd farmed – brilliant!

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Our amazing cooks from Source Community Wholefoods turned all this crowd farming produce into delicious and nutritious tukka – like these roast vegies; there sure were a lot of happy bellies walking around.

2014-03-23 11.34.06With a jam packed program of highly talented professionals from all around Australia, people were kept busy and engaged with workshops such as how to grow perfect onions (above). Below you can also see Costa and Anton (the other half of Good Life Permaculture) teaching folk how to build a no-dig garden.

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group work

We also made sure there was a lot of space for sharing and connecting. Time for people to tell their stories, hear about one another’s experiences and ultimately, develop meaningful networks – which is absolutely gold.

ACFCGN board

Amongst everything, the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network held their AGM and elected a new board and supporting members for this coming year. Here you can see them looking mighty fine, keep an eye on this lot, I anticipate great things from them .

1384223_10152374119069319_322913476_n We’re not sure how these two ever got separated at birth, but we’re sure glad they’re together now. Costa and Charlie Mgee = serious amounts of fun. It’s amazing how beers and Mountain Pepper’s organic woodfired pizzas bring the best out of people on a crisp Autumn evening in Hobart.

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And THEN, while Charlie Mgee was rocking the dance floor, Calvin the carrot arrived from Darwin and proceeded to steal the show. Courtesy of Emily and Lauchie, Calvin has now officially moved to Hobart and is living with us… in a suitcase, so you’ll be seeing him around town every now and then.

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L-R: Fiona Campbell, Lissa Villeneuve (standing), me (sitting), Bridget Stewart, Costa Georgiadis, Gudrun Wells (standing), Nel Smit (standing), James Da Costa (standing), Margaret Steadman (sitting). Photo by Russ Grayson.

Us – the organising crew (plus Costa), happy and FULL after a weekend of work and awesomeness.

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Costa and Bonnie Wykman from Black Earth Collective

And then? Well, then we went to to the pub, as you do when you have dear friends visiting from afar. We laughed, yarned and tried to wind down, and totally failed :-).

For us, working on projects like Food 4 Thought is incredibly important. We see it as an investment in our community and future, helping to develop a culture of vibrancy, proactiveness and progressiveness.  Bringing people together is one of the more powerful things you can do to create a resilient and effective network across our big country. I’m looking forward to witnessing the ripple effects Food 4 Thought has created as people return to their homes and start or continue their great work in establishing urban agriculture as a meaningful and real part of Australia’s food system – yeah!

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How To Make Kale Chips

This season we planted a lot of kale seeds and have ended up with what we affectionately call the ‘kale forest’.  However, as we all know, there is only so much steamed kale you can eat, so lately we’ve been branching out and making kale chips which are actually really good. Without even trying you can end up eating anywhere between 5 – 10 leaves and that’s gotta be good for you!

Kale forest

The kale forest which just keeps on going and going

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We’ve got two varieties growing, tuscan and curly kale, the curly kale is by far our favourite as it’s sweeter and scrumptious fresh in salads or just to chew on while you’re gardening. Does it matter what type of kale you use when making chips? I don’t think so, have a play and see what works for you. Here’s how we make them…

Step 1: Harvest your leaves and give them a good wash. Right now we’ve got lots of aphids hiding on the backs of the leaves so I put them in a sink full of water and wash them roughly with my hands, as I really don’t like the idea of roast aphids.

Step 2: De-stem each leaf like so…

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Step 3: Cut the leaf into bite size pieces.

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Step 4: Pop them in a large bowl and drizzle olive oil over them (or any desired oil) and massage the leaves thoroughly until they sparkle with an oily shine.

Step 5: In the same bowl add some additional flavours. We simply pour some tamari (fermented soy) over the top of them and mix it in. You could also just use salt, assorted spices or smashed up garlic juice (yummm).Kale-oily

Step 6: Spread the leafy chips evenly onto a baking tray. Make sure you don’t pile them on top of one another as this prevents them from going crispy in the oven.

kale-oven tray

Make sure you space the kale pieces out so they’re not crowding each other, this ensures you get lots of crispy edges, which is a good thing.

Step 7: Put them into a hot oven (around 200 degrees) and then DO NOT LEAVE THE KITCHEN. Do not go feed the chooks, make a phone call or check on your garden. If you do any of these things your kale chips will burn, I speak from personal experience. These little beauties only need around 5-10 minutes. Check at 5 minutes and then every minute after that.

They’re ready once their edges have gone a nice brown and when you touch them, they’ll feel ‘crispy’.

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Step 8: Eat and enjoy!

PS – They taste better when shared with friends and some home brew.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things garden-esk.

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‘Urban’ and ‘forest’ are two words (and realities) that don’t generally go together, so when we talk about having urban edible forest gardens (aka known as food forests), people scratch their heads and ask how? Which is why I’m sharing our experience in establishing our own forest garden in urban Hobart and how it saved us money, stabilised our soils and will eventually provide a permanent food system.

But first, lets touch on what they are and why you’d want to have one. There are so many answers to this questions, but overall they are one of the more quintessential examples of permaculture in action. Mimicking a forest’s structure and patterns to form a functional, edible, resilient and perennial food system. Developed by Robert Hart in the UK, a forest garden has seven layers of functional plants, maximising space by ‘stacking’ crops (above and below the ground) which do not compete for the same space or resources (minerals and nutrients).

food_forest_layersA clear diagram of the seven layers of an edible forest garden, photo credit: mystery internet source

For our own place, the forest garden was a MAJOR design solution to a significant problem. As we’re on a steep block we had to do some drastic terracing to create growing spaces, slow and catch water/nutrients and enable us to be able to casually walk across the site without feeling like we might fall off. Originally we thought that we’d shape our terraces with hard wood sleepers, however we quickly dropped this plan when we did the sums and went well over $20,000 for materials.

While mulling over options, I casually flicked through the Permaculture Designer’s Manual for inspiration and looked more closely at the earthworks section. Here I revisited how farmers in the tropics grow on mountain sides using terraces with sloping banks in between each flat level. Bulls-eye. It’s true when Bill Mollison says “the solutions remain embarrassingly simple” – so, so true.

So this is what we did – we made banks, one in particular. In Tasmania you can legally make a bank at 60 degrees, any steeper (and over one metre) and you need an engineer, infrastructure and a big bank balance.  We worked closely with the excavator driver to shape our bank to be 2.5m high and exactly 60 degrees.

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 You can see me here reflecting on the very raw earth works and staring at ‘the bank’ soon to be a forest garden.

But before we planted our forest garden, we quickly smothered all our steep banks with jute mesh and planted mixed green manure seeds everywhere to help get roots in the ground quick smart so we could stabilise the slope and prevent it from sliding away through weather exposure and gravity.

Forest garden bank

While you’re waiting for seeds to grow it can help to do some rough sketches of what will be – like this one below. This helped us clarify the planting patterns and to also feel better about the very naked soil scape in our back yard.

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We then scrounged as much hardwood timber as possible and pegged them into the bank to form shelves on contour which were back-filled with soil, mulched and planted out with fruit trees, herbs and more mixed green manure seeds. These shelves have been critical in catching and holding water and nutrients on the slope.

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The very early stages of the young forest garden, not overly impressive but having roots IN the ground and baby green leaves GROWING helped us sleep better at nights. That funny looking stick-tree in the foreground is a tamarillo our neighbour gave us – it dropped all its’ leaves in fright of being moved, but is coming good, just looks funny.

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These days (around one year later), our young forest garden looks like this. It’s already paying off and providing some food, fodder and medicinal plants for us and our animals, not to mention completely stablising our slope.

Another key design feature is that we planted most crops on contour strips to help them function as vegetational shelving to catch and store water/nutrient as it naturally flows down the slope. In particular we planted comfrey very thickly (each plant around 10-20cm apart) towards the top of the slope to do this role. Once grown, this will form a continuous hedge, currently it’s being covered in pumpkin vines and yarrow, but the yellow line below shows it’s pattern.

comfrey band

EFG with labels

But what plants did we choose to put in our forest garden, I hear you ask? Ones that could handle a tough love situation, i.e. a hot, dry slope – above is a snapshot them. In there are a few volunteers – dandelion, plantain and dock, all of which indicate having compacted soils, totally spot on in this place. These valuable ‘weeds’ are doing a great job in helping to fix this with their long tap roots, they’re also doing the ‘mineral mining’ role of drawing up minerals through their roots from deeper layers of soil and making them more available to surrounding plants. So useful, so clever.

You might notice that we have a pumpkin in there – an annual and ‘technically’ not allowed in a forest garden. Alas, a young forest garden has an enormous amount of sun and space at this stage of its’ life, a perfect time to make the most of this by planting crops which like these two things – annuals. Even in established forest gardens, annual crops can have a place, usually on the edge of pathways or boundaries so they can access sunlight.

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Margaret in her wild and free forest garden

And then there’s Margaret’s, 25 year old, wild and free forest garden in urban West Hobart. This garden is untamed and relatively unplanned in how it’s turned out. Over the years Margaret has had to remove some fruit trees as she’s realised she planted them too closely or because she simply can’t walk through her garden easily enough. But crikey is it productive. As you walk around you can eat berries, apples, stone fruit and hazelnuts, not to mention the flourishing greens, herbs and rogue tomato plants popping up around the edges of the pathways.

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 Dandelion, tomatoes and berries all living in harmony side by side

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Some incredibly scrumptious boysenberries from Margaret’s forest garden

It’s refreshing and heartening to be able to visit established forest gardens and be reminded that one day, you too, will be feasting and enjoying the fruits of your labour. When I look at our own forest garden, it’s small and incredibly unassuming, however it’s also one of my favourite bits on our property as it really encapsulates good design thinking in action (that and some of our water harvesting methods). Turning a problem (for us this was working with a steep slope) into an opportunity is deeply satisfying and really affirms that having a strong design approach produces robust results appropriate for the site you’re working with.

In summary, I love permaculture and all who helped inform it.

Click here to learn more about forest gardens.

Some fab resources for you to explore

Crowd Farming: Urban gardens feed hundreds

You’ve heard of crowd funding, well here in Tasmania we’re helping to run a crowd FARMING campaign for the upcoming national Food 4 Thought gathering to help feed over 100 people for the weekend event.

Crowd farming involves feeding people through contributions from home, community and market gardeners who donate surplus kale, chicken eggs, potatoes, apples, peaches, herbs – anything fresh and wholesome. The whole exercise highlights how small-scale food production is effective and that it’s a very real piece of the healthy local food system puzzle.

We’re throwing our full weight behind this event as we wholeheartedly believe in and live everything ‘local food system’. Part of Good Life Permaculture’s manifesto is to give back to, and help build, a vibrant, resilient community. So you’ll often see us volunteering our time for gigs like Food 4 Thought as they help inspire, educate and activate people into living good lives… Which is what we’re all about.

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Taroona Neighbourhood Garden, photo credit: Russ Grayson

If you’re keen to be one of the ace crowd farmers, register your produce with Lissa at lissa@slt.org.au, who, through Source Community Wholefoods, will be transforming all contributions into scrumptious meals. She’ll confirm your donation and advise you on the best time to deliver your produce at a certain date, time and location, you can check out the details here.

This has all come about because we saw what Grow It Local got up to last year in Sydney for a TEDx event. They crowd farmed enough food to help feed over 2000 people – yup, 2000 people. If you need proof this really happened watch their short youtube clip about the whole journey, actually just watch it anyway – it’s truly an awesome effort. We were blown away with their efforts and wanted to give it a go, Tassie style – which generally means a bit smaller :-).

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Charlie Mgee from Formidable Vegetable Sound System and Costa Georgiadis are two of the special guests at Food 4 Thought

In exchange for produce, gardeners will receive free entry to an invite only evening event on Friday 21st (6pm – 8pm) where you can meet some of the keynote speakers, avid gardeners and community food professionals, plus be serenaded by the musically amazing Charlie Mgee from the Formidable Vegetable Sound System. We’ll also be doing a big shout out to you all during the gathering and sending lots of love your way.

Food 4 Thought is shaping up to be good, really good, with people from all over gathering in little ol’ Hobart to learn, network, discuss and celebrate all things local food systems. The overall theme for the gathering is “enterprise: exploring meaningful livelihoods in local food systems”, within this are the sub themes:

  • Growing food,
  • Forming partnerships, and
  • Education.

Gracing us with their knowledge, skill and deep experience are some fantastic keynote speakers who are not to be missed, you can view the whole program here. We hope you’re coming along for the weekend, tickets are available until March 14th, 5pm – REGISTER TODAY!

Want some more background information about the role of urban agriculture? You can listen to me talking with Tas ABC Country Hour about local food systems, crowd farming and Food 4 Thought.

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Urban vegetable gardens like this one will be helping to feed over 100 people at Food 4 Thought

We’re encouraging people to share the crowd farming poster (below) everywhere so the word gets out to help make this truly awesome. If you can’t be in Tassie for Food 4 Thought perhaps you’ll consider doing something similar in your own community :-).

Crowd Farming!

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney: Co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk

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Tassievores for March (& beyond)

This week here in Tasmania, the month of ‘Tassievore’ kicks off.

Brought to us by Sustainable Living Tasmania, Urban Farming Tasmania and Produce to the People, the whole aim of the game is to create “a happy, healthy, sustainable and prosperous Tasmania” by encouraging people to eat, grow and buy local produce throughout March.

Through doing so, they’re hoping people will:

  • Gain new knowledge and skills in sourcing, growing and preparing Tasmanian foods,
  • Increase their consumption of local foods as a proportion of overall food consumption (i.e getting more Tasmanians to make the most of our fabulous produce),
  • Support Tasmanian producers and businesses,
  • Reduced their carbon footprint of food,
  • Become more connected to our food system, and
  • Learn about the gaps in food production which currently exist in Tasmania’s food supply.

diptych-3For the first week of March people are encouraged to try a new local food item. The second week is all about consciously seeking out and supporting local producers and businesses. In the third week the idea is to eat mostly local fruit and vegetables. Finally, in the fourth week you get to have at least one (hopefully more) mega Tassie feast featuring as much local produce as possible.

Here at Good Life Permaculture we’re jumping on board in a major way for March (and beyond). Being harvest time, we can comfortably pledge to only eat vegetables from our own garden, milk and cheese from our favourite dairy, Elgaar Farm, grains from the food co-op down the road and fruits from our local farmers markets and neighbour’s trees (that’s another abundant relationship we’ve got going on). We also solemnly promise to only drink locally brewed alcohol, but as avid home brewers that’s not overly hard.

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Our neighbours insisted we raid their plum tree this week – we hauled over 30kgs back into our kitchen for eating and preserving.

Don’t get us wrong – we’ve got lots of non-Tas food items in our cupboards (sweet chilli sauce, tamari, tahini, spices galore, chocolate, sugar, coffee, tea and a bunch of ‘stuff’ visitors leave in the backs of our shelves) which we’ll continue to eat because that’s how it is for us right now. Overall, we guest-a-mate that we’ll be eating 80% Tasmanian and 20% ‘random’ for March…. and beyond. Because while the Tassievore month is a great reminder to relocalise our diets, we’re deeply committed to doing this always. Because the bottom line is, when we eat, grow and buy local we’re creating a vibrant local food system.

In our own household we will generally choose local produce over imported organic food when confronted with a choice. It is much more important to us that we have local farmers than distant organic producers. When you look at it like this, eating conventionally farmed food can be more ‘sustainable’ than imported organic food which requires more energy overall, specifically in transportation. Again, don’t get us wrong – we are practitioners and advocates for chemical free farming on all scales, we’re just being real about the current situation.

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To help people find local food, the Tassievore crew have put together this fabulous state-wide booklet full of local producers, outlets and tasty recipes helping you to eat incredibly well throughout March. Oh, and did I mention they have prizes for people who share their stories, photos and experiences as part the Tassievore challenge!

For more information about all things Tassievore visit their website and if you don’t live in Tasmania, visit it anyway, get inspired and start something similar in your own community.

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All photos except for the plum shot are sourced from Tassievore

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney: Co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk

 

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