serving up local & native foods

The results are in: the demand for organic, chemical free and local food is on the increase. A recent report by Australian Organic indicate a 44% increase in organic sales for Australian domestic and export markets. Local food is trending high, farm gate vendors are opening new and innovative businesses and more retailers are labelling their fresh produce by location, as well as promoting organic and biodynamic principles. Our food system is supporting more local diversified food production and sustainable distribution methods.

IMG_6444So where does this leave native foods? Regional native plant propagator and nursery owner Mike Edwards says that finally after years of propagating native bush food plants in his Colac nursery with little demand he his now selling more than he ever has. This year he will be doubling the quantities he propagates for sale in 2016. While his team often plant more than 10,000 native seedlings a day, he requires particular native bush foods that are hard to obtain and require propagation.

A recent visit to his nursery showcased numerous native plants for revegetation as well as his native food plants. From my list of ‘native foods’ obtained from the Australian Native Food Industry (ANFIL), Mike was able to provide native plants including the Riberry, Wild Limes, Muntri, Lemon Myrtle, Mountain Pepper and Cut Leaf Mint Bush (Prostanthera Incisa) to grow locally.

IMG_0604Hidden away under shade cloth Mike took us to see the Shitake logs he sells. Mike is  using Blue Gum cuttings although he occasionally trials other timbers depending on availability of fallen trees. The process of creating these Shitake harvest logs is longer than may be expected. The process includes inoculation of the logs, plugging with Shitake spores and then sealing with beeswax before a 12 month incubation period as the spores grow within the log. When ready the log is placed in cold water for 24hours (mimicking a substantial rainfall) to shock the spores into production. Mike recommends harvesting from the log four times a year for a three year period.

This is a great small retail business that originated with the Otway Agroforestry Network program and the Otway Shitake commercial business. Agroforestry innovative businesses are a core area of the local Agroforestry Network, who also work alongside ANFIL. Together they are responsible for innovation and nutritional testing of native foods, creating opportunities for viable regional business. ANFIL incoming chair and previous board member Amanda Garner is passionate about native foods. Her work includes programmes with indigenous groups in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland in developing small locally owned native food businesses. Her recent publication on Prioritising Australian Native Food Sovereignty, is published by the International Specialised Skills Institute.

So how does this impact our food supply regionally? The Geelong Food Hub Feasibility Study is currently evaluating the region’s local food system and feasibility of a regional food hub to support ethical, sustainable local food production and distribution. A series of workshops and online surveys conducted in 2014 provide engagement from local food growers, distributors, processors, retailers and consumers.

The Geelong Food Hub Feasibility Study will be published in coming months, but what then!? Well, trends are showing an increase in demand for local, nutritious, chemical free and ethically grown food along with a strong interest in native foods and spices. So when you are out next, ask where your food, pepper, salt and spices come from. Are you supporting local growers of ethical, sustainable food production?

Defining ‘local’ food? “Local” food can be defined from the region or area it is grown, or its food shed (similar to a watershed). Accessing local food invests in our farmers / producers and local economy. 

What is a food hub? A food hub is a centrally located facility providing the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and /or marketing of locally produced food.

What is Native Food? Native or indigenous fauna/flora used for culinary and/or medicinal purposes, regardless of the continent or culture.

IMG_0592About the Study The ‘Geelong Food Hub Feasibility Study’ builds on the understanding of our regional food system. It will consider the feasibility of a Geelong Food Hub to assist and support industry growth and community health. The study outcomes will be available early 2015. This work complements the strategic goals of the Geelong Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2013-2017.

The study is a Deakin University project led by the School of Architecture and Built Environment, with consultant Innate Ecology and the City of Greater Geelong. For further information on the Geelong Food Hub Feasibility Study please contact Suzette Jackson:

The project is funded by Regional Development Victoria, Deakin University, Future Proofing Geelong and Enterprise Geelong of the City of Greater Geelong. 

Mr Bonsai

[This month’s article is a special feature on a local resident written by Andrew Lucas of Backyard Harvest.]

Paul B_Bonsai 1Despite sitting in a mini forest of elaborately sculptured and potted trees, Geelong resident Paul Buttigieg is quick to point out his amateur status when it comes to the Japanese art of Bonsai. In fact, despite being the president of the Geelong Bonsai Club, Paul even makes the assertion that at best, his thumbs are only a light shade of green. He credits his Grandfather with having greatly influenced his reverence for gardening in his childhood home at Williamstown.

“He pretty much had a market garden out the back of our house where he grew everything. But he didn’t even live there! He used to catch the train from the Western suburbs of Melbourne to our place in Williamstown, tend to the garden and catch the train home again. This happened nearly every day!”

While those vivid early memories of a productive backyard explain Paul’s interest in gardening, I was keen to know how he came to discover Bonsai. He happily points to a bookshelf with an unopened bonsai kit purchased in the 1980’s and chuckles as he admits to never opening it! Paul’s real immersion into Bonsai came six years ago when his kids purchased him a hands-on Bonsai course over a weekend in the Dandenong Ranges for father’s day. He brought home a freshly pruned Juniper Bonsai from that trip and proudly tells me that it’s still alive and doing well today.

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When quizzed about the meditative benefits of bonsai he nods knowingly.

“We’ve got four kids and I’m pretty much a workaholic. So when I’m working on my trees I think it’s it’s a lot like painting, you know it takes all of your attention. So when you’re immersed in shaping a tree to the best of your ability, you’re right there in the moment – totally present.”

The Geelong Bonsai Club meets the second Monday of the month, new members welcome.
P: 0412 604 211
F: Geelong Bonsai Club Incorporated

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[Paul Buttigieg is well known in Geelong for the many hours he contributes to community and gardening organisations. Paul is currently President of the Geelong Herb Society and the Geelong Bonsai Club and is in his sixth year of co-ordinating the weekly Dig It gardening and sustainable living program on Geelong’s community radio 94.7 The Pulse.]

innovative collaborations, cause for celebrations

We would like to thank the wonderful passionate, creative and innovative community we have worked with in 2014. We have made many new friends and colleagues, entered new industry sectors, commenced new projects and ended others.

Our work is broad covering design of the built environment, sustainability strategies, frameworks & assessments, research and radio talkback. At the end of the day we are driven by the passion for regional economies, food production, ecological systems, equality, health and wellbeing.

IE Christmas Message 2014

Innate Ecology will be enjoying a break with family and friends from the 19th December through to the 8th January 2015.