Growing our own food enables us to teach our kids the important theological lesson of slowing down. And it enables me to remind myself of this spiritual discipline which I seem to be forever forgetting.
I recently posted some reflection on Slow Church and “coffee theology”, the idea that beauty, rather than efficiency, is more of a kingdom value. And this is something that I really want to teach my girls as they grow up. In a world which values efficiency, fast everything and instant gratification, the 12-14 weeks to wait and watch our food grow are a gift. In the garden we teach our kids the importance of planning ahead, the truth about the variability of life and the seasons, the virtue of patience and slowing down… that beauty (and food) takes time. And this has lasting effects on the way we view the world and interact with it.
I think by slowing down in the garden we are able to engage more fully in issues of justice. By slowing down our food production we begin to engage more fully and even rectify some of the things that are broken in our food system. Unfortunately, the global food system is one of convenience, productivity and profit over worker’s rights and environmental impact.
You go shopping, load up your basket or trolley with produce, but how far has that food travelled to get to your local supermarket and kitchen? In Australia, the typical shopping basket of food has travelled an estimated 70,000km – this is equivalent to travelling twice around the circumference of the Earth or travelling around Australia’s coastline three times!!
“Food Miles” is a term which was coined in Britain and is used to describe the distance food has travelled from paddock to plate, from production to consumption. A typical Australian shopping basket has such high food miles is due to Australia being a remote country from the rest of the world and many of our supermarkets stock food that is grown and imported from overseas. Hence, simply buying “Australian” will reduce your food miles.
By purchasing an orange grown in Mildura rather than California you reduce food miles from 12,879km to 567km.
But is this enough? Is it OK for our food to continually travel 500 plus kilometers to reach my plate?
That orange, that the Ethical Consumer Guide speaks of, is one purchased in Melbourne after being grown in Mildura. However, I live 300km from Melbourne and because my food from the local supermarket is warehoused in Melbourne, my orange would have travelled nearly 900km to get to me! And yet, I am less than 300km from Mildura where the orange is grown!! This is not OK!
The main issues with food that has high food miles are relatively obvious and people like CERES have outlined this in more detail. Basically, there are high costs in transportation, huge amounts of energy that ae required to transport and store food over large distances and therefore high carbon emissions which are created in transportation and storage, just to name a couple of issues.
Food Miles is one of the primary reasons why we grow our own food. When fresh food from the supermarket is harvested, stored, transported, stored again, sold, stored some more and finally cooked and eaten, it is no wonder the quality of the product is inferior to something which is harvested and immediately eaten. The vast majority of our family’s fruit and vegetables doesn’t travel “food miles” but “food metres”!! The result is tasty, fresh, organic local produce! We know what has happened to our food from the time it was sown to the time it is eaten, unlike the broccoli you buy in the Supermaket which was grown somewhere in Queensland, trucked to Melbourne, out to Donald and finally to our home.
So, here are 5 Tips on how you can reduce your food miles and start knowing where your food comes from.
1. Grow your own! Even if it is only a few tomatoes in summer or a couple of pots on the balcony, growing at least some of your own fruit and veggies drastically reduces your food miles. Not to mention, growing your own enables you to ensure that your food is organic, that the environment is not being damaged during production and that workers are not being treated unethically! And even if none of that concerns you, its just fun to grown and eat your own produce!
2. Share Produce! If you’re growing your own food, find others who are also growing their own food and share produce with them. You will still know where your food comes from and how it was grown, and you get to eat local fresh produce that you couldn’t grown in your own space! Swap, trade, give away excess food and be treated to a variety of local garden produce with limited food miles!
3. Shop Local! Buy your food from local shops who sell local produce, farmers markets, farm gates and road side stalls. This is known as “one-degree of separation”. Buying with one degree of separation means you either know the grower or you have bought your food from someone who knows the grower. There is only one “middle man” or it may even be direct from the producer. This limits food miles and it allows you to become familiar with how the product was grown to ensure that its production meets you ethical and environmental standards.
4. Eat Seasonally! One of the biggest reasons why food travells large distances in Australia is because people want to buy fresh food out of season. It might not be the season for tomatoes locally, but North Queensland can grow them and we want them!! The only problem is they have to travel 2000 plus kilometers to get to us!! Let alone if its been imported from overseas! If you eat seasonally for your area you can ensure that the produce was most probably grown somewhat locally. Combine this with buying from local farmers markets or farm gates and you can be sure its seasonal, local and fresh without the food miles.
5. Avoid Processed Foods! Processed foods often have the highest food miles because ingredients are sourced from all around Australia or even around the world to make it. It might be a small ingredient in the product but if it was imported from overseas the food miles for the end product are astronomical! Also processed foods keep better and therefore more easily transported. This means that they are more likely to have been transported large distances since it is easy to do. Eat fresh produce, fresh nuts, fresh meat and avoid highly processed foods as much as possible… which is a much better way to eat and live anyway!
Winter is, for obvious reasons, slower in the garden. But the produce that we pick can be just as delicious!
We’re not as self-sufficient over winter as the array of veg and the speed at which they grow makes the quantity of produce lower until early spring. However, along with some beautiful backyard eggs, beetroots, some leafy greens and broccoli, great dishes can be made.
We had a wonderful surprise two days ago when I pulled out a frosted, self sown potato from the summer potato crop. Underneath this single plant was 2.5kg of hidden gems!! A great find during the hungry season!
Here are a couple of our favourite ways to cook winter veggies.
BEETROOT, WALNUT & FETA SALAD
This is a winter salad which can be served warm. Roast chopped beetroot (bite sized) in some olive oil and balsamic before tosses it into a baby spinach leaf salad with chunks of feta and some crushed walnuts. Add a bit more olive oil and balsamic to dress the salad.
Kale is a wonderful and versatile veg that can be steamed, stir-fried, added to dishes and even baked! Kale Chips are a delicious baked snack or side dish and it’s easy to do.
We flavour our Kale Chips with sesame seeds, olive oil and sesame oil and then just pop them into a hot preheated oven until they are crispy (which doesn’t take very long). They go a dark brown, or even a black colour, but the taste is terrific and they just dissolve in your mouth!
FRIED EGGS WITH STIR-FRIED GREENS
This is a simple dish which is great for a light meal, breakfast or lunch. Stir-fry a mix of winter leaves (Kale, spinach, beetroot leaves, chard, silverbeet) in some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Place on a crusty piece of toast and top with fried or poached eggs cooked so the centre is still runny. If you’re able to find some field mushrooms, this goes great with the kale leaves and egg!
One major issue disadvantaged and poor communities face around Australia is food insecurity. Generally speaking, the cost of living (particularly in major cities) is high and then the idea of buying fresh, organic fruits and vegetables is just not an option. This is particularly the case for those who are unable to work, have a low income, are unemployed or under employed.
One thing communities are doing to address food insecurity and disadvantage is helping people to grow their own through community gardens and backyard gardening initiatives. Community gardens can provide small quantities of fresh produce, at low cost, to communities suffering from food insecurity. They also allow people to learn how to grow food themselves, and when combined with a community kitchen they can teach people how to cook and eat seasonal, fresh produce.
They can also provide safe spaces of welcome and acceptance for people who are marginalized, unemployed, retired or lonely in the community, as well as providing a therapeutic and relaxing time in the garden which has been linked to better mental, physical and emotional health. Here is how one group is seeking to address food insecurity in a particular community in Melbourne Australia.
Putting Down Roots (Australian Red Cross gardening pilot project)
The Putting Down Roots project is in Melbourne Australia. It helps newly arrived asylum seekers and mirgrants learn organic gardening in their own backyards or a local community garden. Here is how the Red Cross project describe themselves:
Putting Down Roots is a gardening and food security program for vulnerable migrants. Run in partnership with CERES and Cultivating Community, the Australian Red Cross provides opportunities for participants to develop their sustainable gardening knowledge. Putting Down Roots increases the social and emotional well-being of participants and provides the means for participants to have additional access to fresh and nutritious food.
Putting Down Roots, Melbourne AUS
Many asylum seekers in Australia not allowed to work which contributes to food insecurity as fresh produce becomes out of reach financially. Putting Down Roots seeks to tailor their project to individuals, helping them grow the types of food they want in the space they have. The local community too assist in donating plants and seeds for the project. This project is designed to sustainably address food insecurity among asylum seekers in Melbourne but it also provides a therapy for a community often suffering from mental health issues, grief and loss after fleeing their homeland.
However, the project also addresses another issue of justice through this gardening program. In a political climate which seeks to demonise asylum seekers, lock them up in indefinite, off-shore detention and suggest that somehow asylum seekers, migrants and refugees will have a negative impact on Australia’s culture and economy, projects such as Putting Down Roots are working for truth and justice. Putting Down Roots demonstrates the benefits of having asylum seekers in your community and provides the local community with opportunities to meet, get to know and assist their newest neighbours. Through projects such as Putting Down Roots the Australian public are presented with a positive and alternative perspective of asylum seekers living in the community.
This project is working for justice through gardening as it demonstrates welcome, acceptance, social support and language support to the local community’s newest residents.
My Urban Farm is located in the Wimmera-Mallee of Western Victoria in Australia. It is a typical small rural Australian town house block on which we have constructed 7 vegetable garden beds, a chook run for our 3 chooks and 6 fruit trees. All this in our endeavour to grow enough vegetables for our small family to be basically self sufficient.
We grow veggies so that we know where our food comes from, so we know what has happened to it before it reaches our plates, so that our kids know where food comes from and how it is grown. We grow veggies so we are not reliant on large retailers who supply fruit and veggies out of season from thousands of kilometres away from farms that are interstate and even overseas.
We want to bring food production back to small scale, sustainable, community oriented, local, fresh organic produce. And we want to show that anyone with a backyard or small garden can do the same. Grow food not lawn and all that!
We want to show people how to grow, preseve, store, cool and eat sustainably and locally. And we want to show that you can have fun doing it and build fantastic supportive communities around gardens and local food production.
And as a local Baptist pastor I am interested in how local food production is connected to ethics, justice, the environment, community, theology (God) and ecclesiology (Church).