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Dear Bob Beale

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For those of you who missed it, I was lucky enough to recently find a comment left on my blog by Mr Bob Beale (you can see it here).  As described by the Penguin Books Australia website, ‘Bob Beale has been a writer for more than 20 years, much of it working as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald as Science and Environment Editor, Chief of Staff and European Correspondent. His work has won many awards and has appeared in many newspapers and magazines around the world. His previous book – co-written with Peter Fray – was The Vanishing Continent (Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, 1990). He is now a freelance writer, living in Sydney. He writes regularly for The Bulletin magazine.’  This is a letter I wrote in response to his comment.

Dear Bob Beale,

Wow! What a pleasant surprise it was to see your comment on my blog.  I’m not sure how you found that little mention of Vanishing Continent, but I’m glad you did.  After reading your comment, I thought I better do some more research in order to sufficiently reply.  Funnily enough, I had recently been lent another one of your books, Going Native, and so sat down to read it.

I wish I could say that I have some grand ideas or conclusions to share with you from my time spent reading these books, reading online, and researching these topics.  Unfortunately Bob, I feel I have quite the opposite.

In your comment, you said ‘Thanks for mentioning “The Vanishing Continent”.  As you say, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth now, having been written largely in 1989 and published in 1990, but I think it was also a little ahead of its time back then. I’d be interested to know how you think it stands up after two decades.‘  To be honest I was mostly shocked when I read it.  As I mentioned in my post, the data was dated but the ideas only seem to be more and more relevant as we continue to exploit resources and neglect certain environmental issues.  I was shocked because I had never heard of half of the things you mentioned.  I count myself to be an active environmentalist, perhaps not an avid or extreme one, but certainly interested and engaged with environmental issues.  You can understand my surprise then to read about water tables, deforestation, salinity, the destructive elements of agriculture, erosion and the complex links between them all.  Regardless of the dates and statistics, the book was eye opening for me.

Going Native was another kettle of fish, but perhaps a little more reassuring.  You mention a number of groups working on these issues and engaging farmers to develop more sustainable agricultural techniques – Landcare, The National Farmer’s Federation, CSIRO etc.  I looked into many of these organisations and was inspired to see action, enthusiasm and movement coming from the agricultural sector.  I was at the same time, totally overwhelmed by the content of these sites and the relatively inaccessible nature of them to a consumer audience (Landcare perhaps being the exception).  Not only are these sites hard to get your head around, but so is most of the information out there.  A lot of groups talk about increasing awareness and education of land care issues, but to be honest, I don’t see it.  If I can’t find basic information and I’m looking for it, what hope is there to create discussion and raise awareness about these issues amongst people who aren’t already participating?

I appreciated your books Bob, because they were well written.  They contained useful and technical information, but not jargon.  They explore complex ideas in simple enough terms that people such as myself from a non-scientific background can begin to engage with and learn about these issues.

Having said that, I have a long way to go.  There was one final point I wanted to cover in this letter, but I feel it might warrant a post of its own when I’ve finished collating the mass of information I collected this weekend.  In Going Native, you and Michael Archer suggest that it would be beneficial for Australia’s future to focus less on the Agricultural sector and concentrate on Mining and Tourism instead.  I have to admit, that sort of blew my mind.  I had to read it a few times before it sunk in that you were serious.  Mining over agriculture? Yes, you justified it well – smaller environmental impacts for greater economic benefits…but it still seemed, well, counter intuitive.  I did my best to follow up on the idea this weekend, but I feel a little out of my depth at the moment.

If nothing else, I have learnt a lot of acronyms for Mining related terms today.  I’ll keep everyone posted on my progress here on my blog, but it might be slow going for a while.

To conclude Mr. Bob Beale, once again thank you.  Thanks for your research, thanks for your awesome books, and thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

I hope one day we get the chance to discuss these issues more in-depth, or maybe even in person!

Kind regards,

Sarah.

Bendigo Adventures – Growers and Eaters Forum 2012

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Well, what a day.  Today I stumbled out of bed at 5am and tripped on down to Bendigo for the Growers and Eaters Forum 2012.  There were inspiring and informative speeches, I met some great people and had a delicious lunch!  Here are some of my notes and reflections on the day.

Michael Ableman started off the day.  I have to admit before I heard him speak, I had no idea who this guy was or why he’s so special.  Having heard him talk, I recommend you take any opportunity you can to meet him, or hear him present.  While he was talking, gospel-like murmurs started running through the crowd, people were nodding their heads in approval and were obviously moved by the stories he told.  Enthusiasm in the group was as crisp as the apples we had for morning tea.  True to the nature of Farmers, they stubbornly refused to run on time, and stopped Ableman from leaving the podium when his time was up.

And so they should have.My new idol

Here is a man who weaves landscapes with his words so vivid you can feel them.  From the cliffs of Jamaica to Foxglove farm in British Columbia, Ableman brought his passion, his experience and his knowledge to life.  His dedication to this area is kind of mind blowing, as are his achievements.  Not only that, but after lunch I said hello and turns out he’s also a total charmer!

Today we heard about two problems in society – neglected land, and neglected people.  Ableman is finding inspiring ways to reinvigorate them both. He brushed on some big ideas relevant to Australia including ‘feedback loops’.  The consequences that come back to us from our lifestyle choices, and the way that Australia as an island, and human kind as an island cannot escape these. It should be something at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and there certainly are already some inspiring examples of changing these loops – take A Plastic Free Year for example.

According to Ableman, ‘stories we tell ourselves allow us to accept the things we believe we cannot change.  These issues then become invisible, like wallpaper.’ He says that by doing this, we stop looking for alternatives and stop ourselves from seeing other possibilities.  One of the first things that came to mind when I heard this, was the Carbon tax.  Now I’m no expert on the topic but so much of the opposition to the tax seemed to come from the industries that would have to change.  These are the industries that are built into our economy, and that feel comfortable thanks to the dependence we currently have on them.  For some people the fact that things are and have been like this for ages, stops them from seeing the chance we have to create new positive systems. Yes it’s a big job to change…but it doesn’t mean we CAN’T.Everyone outside for Lunch

Something that I’ve started to come across more and more lately is the idea of taking responsibility for yourself – and I mean on a big scale.  It’s often called the survivalist movement.  I know this seems like an unrelated tangent, but it’s really not.  Recently I read a book called Emergency by Neil Strauss (he’s the guy who wrote The Game), and it wasn’t what I expected.  It was mostly the story of his progression into a paranoid American trying to find as many ways as he could to prepare for some kind of apocalypse.  To be honest, I kind of dismissed the book as unrealistic and not very helpful.  But after reading the book, survivalist ideas have cropped up again twice this week.  First I heard about them here, when I was listening to an episode of Big Ideas on ABC Radio National and secondly, from Michael Ableman today, albiet in a smaller capacity.  The basic idea is, that in an emergency situation like a natural disaster, no one is coming for at least the first 72 hours.  All you have to rely on is your community, your resources, and yourself.  Are any of us prepared for that?  Translate this to the food sector – any instability, disturbance or disruption, and what would we do without the supply we take for granted?

This comes down to the greater problem – that there are simply not enough people involved in producing our food.  According to Ableman, only 2-3% of the population is currently producing all of the food for the rest of us. This is all happening while Australian wages have risen up to 70% and farmer’s wages have decreased by 40%.  Food input costs continue to rise, while the value of food does not. How can we take for granted that this small group will continue to shoulder our heavy burden, when there are not any obvious economic incentives for them to do so?

Monopolies like Coles and Safeway stay competitive by dropping prices.  They do this by simplifying and working in volume. Selected suppliers need to get bigger quickly, and everyone who cannot satisfy this need or is not chosen to, is out of the race.

Dessert!The solution needs to be supporting smaller scale, local and independent growth.  We need to find a way to get people on the land and keep them there.  Things are changing, with 150 farmers markets around Australia and 70 of these in Victoria alone.  But it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be all about the farmers.  At the beginning of the 1800s, people spent around 90% of their time earning their food.  Nowadays, it’s about 17%.  Yes, this sort of system allows us time to have an education, to better ourselves and therefore our society, but convenience is ruling our lives.  The corners we cut by buying cheap, mass produced food  are coming back to bite us in the butt.  And they’re going to bite hard.

There is the problem of course that many people can’t afford to shop at organic farmer’s markets. But that shouldn’t be seen as an excuse – we should see it as an opportunity to build capacity. Today I met a lady who gives workshops in the Ashwood College Permaculture Garden, focusing on doing exactly that.  She teaches people who don’t have enough to eat how to grow their own food, and begin to support themselves.

I also saw Jamie Oliver speak in Melbourne last month, and something he said stuck with me.  He said that he’s never met a child who was involved in the growing and cooking of a vegetable who wouldn’t eat it.  Another point he made was that many poorer families or individuals simply lack the knowledge to shop for, prepare, and serve their familier healthy and nutritious food.  Oliver believes that food and cooking classes should be as mandatory as Maths and English in our schools and today Ableman suggested the same for learning about land and producing food. Should we be looking at a whole revolution of our education system?  Are we already moving towards this, with programs like Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation? I can’t wait to see what else is going to come out in the next few years.

There are amazing steps being taken, but the crux of it comes down to Michael’s closing point: That revolutions can be talked about online, but they cannot be manifested there.  Hands on participation is vital for our farmers, our food, our health and our planet.  The best bit is it’s not hard to take that first step!  There is so much support out there, regardless of whether you’re a complete novice or already a greenthumb. And you’ll feel it, once your hands are in that soil.  The connection to something big.  To something powerful.

As another one of the speakers Katie Finaly said, “I’m a farmer, because I love what I do.”   Farming, and providing people with the food they need is a noble and amazing thing.

If you wonder why I blog about food so much – go outside, dig a hole and plant something in it. When you see the results, you’ll find that connection I’m talking about.  When you take it inside and cook it, you’ll the find the joy I’m talking about.  And when you serve it to the people you love, you’ll feel the pride and the satisfaction and just like me, you’ll never want to stop.

I really had an incredible day, and feel inspired by what I heard today.  I hope I’ve managed to share some of that with you, and if you’re interested in learning more get on the Slow Food Melbourne website.  They’re a great group of people – thanks for a wonderful day!

Bitch about Stitches.

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HAHA! I finally finished!! For those of you poor uninformed souls out there – this was my latest knitting project.  I think I started in…October maybe? A good few months ago anyway.  This was my first non-scarf knitting project and it was a relatively simple (although not terribly clear) pattern.  It was supposed to be made out of luxury silk something something and would have been a lovely light summery kind of shirt.  Except that Saree isn’t rich and won’t be buying 7 odd balls of luxury silk yarn anytime soon.  I made mine out of Bamboo instead.  Much cheaper, still kinda light, and eco friendly too. Win! I love the colour, it turned out a lot shorter than I would have imagined before I sewed the seams together (it looked mega sacky before I joined it up), and it’s suprisingly heavy! But nice to wear.  As you can see, I even work it to work today! Not the most office-y attire, but I just had to.  Especially considering I knitted a fair chunk of it at work. 😛

If you can’t tell, I stupidly chose to knit it with idiotically small needles and idiotically fine wool, which resulted in lots of tiny stiches.  Looootttss of stitches. Tiny ones.  That means lots of knitting.  An idiotic amount.  Lesson learned.  Chunky knits, here I come.

Still – satisfaction galore! I really wish Nan could see it finished, I’m sure she’d be happy that the countless times she taught me to cast on, and off, and how to tell the difference between knit and purl finally paid off.  I love that whenever I’m knitting I’m thinking of her.

The biggest issue is now…what next?? Here are some options:

1.  Making the purple cord pinafore that I’ve been planning on making since I made my last cord pinafore.  Sounds weird, but it worked surprisingly well.  It’s kinda the pattern that the middle chick is wearing – except without the weird pocket/belt things in the middle.

2.  Jumping back in the deep end and making another quilt.  I never got to show you my first one on here, because it was actually a surprise present for Steve and Sammy’s wedding, and then…well I gave it to them.  And didn’t take pictures.  Urk.  But guys if you’re reading this – maybe you can whip out that SLR or whatever large camera it is that you have and take some super flattering photos of it for me one day.  🙂  Kaffe Fassett – need I say more? Google him.  

I can feel my Mum wincing from here.

I bought this book for myself at Christmas time, and his quilts are seriously dreamy.  And some of the designs even look feasible – he makes such incredible fabric that you really don’t have to do much more to it.  Yay! Yum.

The last option is more knitting…which is tempting because I can take it with me on the train and to work.  Plus I bought a really cute pattern from Sassafras last time I was there! Hmmm.  All so tempting in their own ways.

I really have one more update to write, but I don’t think I’ll make it tonight! Noooooooo!! Damn this need for sleep.

Hold out loved ones, I’ll be back. xo

Obligatory Garden Post – because Ella says I’m obsessed

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WARNING: SO MUCH TO CATCH UP ON! HERE COME SOME FRANTIC UPDATES!

1. Of course – My garden. I don’t care if Juli thinks I’m crazy for treating my veggies like ‘my babies’ – you can’t say it doesn’t give results!  This was my harvest from one day last week – it made such a tasty dinner! 😀

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I can’t say the same thing for my Kangaroo paws – I finally ventured out of my comfort zone and bought some FLOWERS! I bought three Kangaroo paws – yellow, red and lipstick pink (?!) and some Bogonias (I think that’s what they’re called… I keep forgetting).  I managed to love the Kangaroo paw too much and the Bogonias not enough.  I’ve watered the drought resistant ones and planted them in lovely rich soil when apparently all they want is sand.  (At least I refrained from fertilising them). I’ve put my shade loving Bogonia’s in the full sun and neglected to keep them moist…it’s all falling apart! Too much stress.  Clearly this is why I should stick to vegetables.

My sister actually asked me if I was obsessed with Botany the other day.  Ha! It was probably only 12 months ago that I would leave the room as soon as Mum and co got on the topic. So. Dull. And constantly the topic of conversation!!  Seriously – now THERE’S a woman obsessed with Botany –  (kidding, Mum). Having said that, it is kinda addictive. Or more to the point – once you start it’s just hard to stop.  You invest financially and emotionally in this little project, and if you stop or get behind, it can all just fall apart! So once you’re in it – you’re in it buddy.  Big time.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing…

Ok, there’s one update.  A lot longer than I’d intended.  Stay tuned! I promise the next update has nothing green in it!  xo

Delayed Devotion

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Oh dear, how I lack consistency.  I know, I know.  It’s hard though – I go around reading people’s blogs that are so focused and interesting! And here I am, blabbing about who even knows what.

Anyway, here’s a bit of amalgamation for you.  Gratefulness AND Gardening! 😀

Here are two awesome things I am grateful for today:

A) This bad boy, who exploded into life after the week of rain we had.  (Not to mention the four new ones that have since appeared!)

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B) My exciting package that arrived in the mail today.

Yep, that’s right – seeeeeeedddssss! I’m still not sure I understand this process properly, but I’m pretty sure these are wintery vegetables.  As soon as I get some time and energy I’ll dig some more holes in my front lawn. Yooohooo!

The best bit is they’ve sent me what seems like a trillion of each seed.  So if I kill a few in the process, no harm done, right? (Don’t listen Chloe, I’m joking. Mostly.)

C) I’m grateful for new beginnings.  There’s nothing quite like giving it all you’ve got – and falling flat on your face.  I mean, that’s sucky.  Majorly sucky.  I still don’t quite believe that you can’t fix things you’ve mucked up.  I mean, I really, honestly, mostly, almost 100% believe that no mistakes are unfixable.   You just have to have the guts to pick it all up and go again.  Maybe more slowly this time.  My mum once gave me some advice that I didn’t quite understand at the time- not seeing just how well she sees me.

“Hasten slowly, Sarah,” she told me.  This is only becoming more and more applicable to my life I think.  But that doesn’t mean that working for something and not giving up isn’t worth it – I think it’s worth every bit of energy you have.  If you want something, go get it.  That’s what I say.  If you miss out the first time, don’t dwell on it.  Find a new beginning.

Finally some wise words to part with;

If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master; If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds worth of distance run — Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

 – Rudyard Kipling

Gute Nacht, und hab euch sehr lieb!  xo

Grateful for what I am

Take two.

But before I get there,  apparently I need to make a small clarification.  Last night’s list of gratefulness was NOT made in any particular order. I’d hate to ruffle feathers by letting you think I value potatoes over friendship. That’s just ridiculous.  Most days.

Ok.  Here we go.  Deeeep breath.  Annnndd…go!

Hm. ok.

1. I am grateful for books.  And ooh! (2) I’m grateful I can read them! (Two birds with one stone, hells yeah).

I’ve been reading some interesting books lately, here’s a quick rundown.

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Beautiful book, highly recommended.
  • The Turning by Time Winton.  It’s actually a collection of short stories, but surprisingly engaging having said that.  I often find short stories can be quite abstract and hard to connect with, but there’s a common undercurrent running through The Turning.  Not to mention it’s just a pleasure to read most things Winton writes.  I love the way he describes the Australian landscape, lifestyles and attitudes.
  • The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham.  This is a novel set in rural Australia, filled with wit, tension and more lovely writing. I read it once in high school and really enjoyed it, and just re-read it at work the other day and remembered what a worthwhile read it is. An easy one to get through too.

(And here I was thinking how long it had been since I’d enjoyed some good fiction!)

  • Here on Earth by Tim Flannery.  Probably pretty self explanatory when you see who wrote it, but it was a great read and covers some important issues that everyone should read more about.
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  Amazing! Couldn’t recommend it enough. In Kingsolver’s own words, ‘Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, this book (released May 2007) tells the story of how our family was changed by one year of deliberately eating food produced in the place where we live.’  Sounds simple enough, but I had tears in my eyes on more than one occasion.  Kingsolver has a wonderful way with words, not to mention the important and fascinating topics she tackles in the book.

Which leads me to my most current reading material;

  • A Vanishing Continent by Bob Beale and Peter Fray.  You know, this book has been on my parents’ bookshelf for as long as I can remember.  Honestly.  I’ve probably read most books on that shelf at least twice, and always used to scoff at this one.  Isn’t it amazing how one little breadth subject at uni can change so much?  I swear, that one biology subject opened a lot of doors for me.  You should be proud, Sam!  The book itself is about twenty years old I think, which is a bit of a shame.  It talks about different issues we face in Australia, and how we got here in the first place. The information in it is eye opening stuff! Soil erosion, wind erosion and water degredation have all come up so far. I’ll have to follow up on some of that data it gives – some of the situations they talk about seemed pretty dire back then. I can only hope that things are going forward now and not back.

Aren’t we all lucky to have access to such endless resources? It has been a while since I’ve had time to earnestly read for pleasure, uni seems to make that a little more difficult.  But I have always loved reading, always will.  We should all take more time to sit and be quiet and just read.  And appreciate the fact that you can.  Imagine if you missed out on that?  Hard for us to fathom I guess, but scary that it’s the norm for so many people in the world.  I can’t imagine my life without reading, or writing for that matter…

Actually, there was one more book I read.  Called Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.  I have to admit, it didn’t thrill me.  There was one sticking point though. It’s about two boys being ‘re-educated’ under Mao and finding access to banned western literature.  The ideas in it open their eyes, change their lives.  Reading French romance, and classics like The Count of Monte Cristo are game changers for these boys.  I kinda think of literacy in general like that.  It doesn’t matter if you never read any French romance, or the classics.  The fact alone that you have access to ideas, information, and discussion changes everything.

3.  I’m grateful for teddies.

I saw three up a tree today – you heard me.  As I walked to the train today on my way to work there were three teddies casuallylounging in a tree.  Someone had fun getting them up there.  And I had fun spotting them! Haha.  They didn’t really look like this, but I didn’t have a camera.  If they’re still there tomorrow I’ll try and get a happy snap!

Ok that’s enough appreciating.

Gute Nacht! xo

For what I am grateful.

(Like my grammar there Juli?)

So here we go.  The ‘jot down three things that you’re grateful for’ was my favourite exercise from that list I think, so that’s what I’ll start with. If you have no idea what I’m talking about because you didn’t read my blog yesterday, have a squiz here.

1. I’m grateful for extended family.

This might sound strange, but it’s true.  And I don’t mean the extended family that you probably only ever see on Christmas day and whose house smells a little funny (hypothetical by the way – I swear I never sniff your houses).  I mean, I have a pretty awesome family, as far as they go.  I have wonderful, supportive parents; I have lovely brothers and sisters – and plenty of them.  I have two beautiful nieces and a knockout nephew, I have interesting cousins and aunties and uncles who make an effort to stay in touch and who are everything you could ask a family to be.  I am grateful for them every day.  But today I am grateful for the extra family, the ones you earn over the years and aren’t tied to you by blood, but by common interests, history and pure generosity.  These are the families and the homes that you feel welcome in any time, where you can be yourself and feel completely at ease, where people accept you with open arms through no obligation of genetics or marriage.  It occurred to me a year ago after spending Christmas in Germany with Juli’s family, that some things are much stronger determinants of the word ‘family’ than blood. I’m grateful for these wonderful people and having them in my life.

2. I’m grateful for potatoes.

Man, I could write that one down everyday.  Hardly needs explanation…but I’ve had a lot this weekend.  So I thought I’d put it out there.

3.  Hmmm. I’m grateful for….oh man, I’m so grateful for my friends too.

I’m not exactly sure of how this exercise is supposed to work, I mean – am I allowed to be grateful for something more than once?  This is really something that I think of nearly every day – how lucky I am to have the amazing friends I do.  Whether I need cheering up, some sense talked into me, a night spent dancing the night away, or just someone to spend time with doing nothing at all – you guys are the best.  Wherever you are in world, I am grateful for you, and sending you my love!

Saree xo