When eminent author and environmental activist Wendell Berry said “eating is an agricultural act” he essentially put the power of change into the hands (and mouths) of us all. Because everybody eats right?
On a balmy early autumn evening, in the historic Lyttleton Stores Co-op in Lawson, a group of young Blue Mountains farmers gathered to discuss local food security. Still reeling from successive challenges of climate change induced extreme weather events, a global pandemic, and consecutive interest rate rises, they all agreed that the Big Food system is broken and working together towards a local circular economy is the way forward.
The get together, organised jointly by Blue Mountains Food Co-op and Lyttleton Stores Co-op, was aimed at uniting the growers who supply them with fresh produce to show support for their hard work and to discuss efforts to spread the word in the community about the availability of locally grown food.
“It is extremely important, on so many levels, that we support and promote local food growers in the Blue Mountains,” says Jacqueline Forster, Blue Mountains Food Co-op Marketing and Community Education Coordinator. “Reducing food miles, practising regenerative farming, fostering inclusion, and providing employment for local youth are just some of the environmental, health, and economic benefits of a localised food system.”
Although not traditionally known as a food “bowl” the last few years has seen a proliferation of young farmers, right across the Blue Mountains, producing an abundance of chemical-free produce. Rhiannon Phillips, of Mountains Gourmet in the mid-Mountains, says this may be partly due to covid lockdowns. “If there’s one good thing that came out of lockdowns it’s that people got inspired to grow food. They also realised that they could earn a small income from it.”
Rhiannon adds that many in the community have been encouraged by the work of local social enterprise Farm it Forward. “Young people, in particular, have been getting other young people keen to grow food. We have so many volunteers because they want to learn how they can contribute to a sustainable local food system.”
According to Sustain – the Australia Food Network*, a food system “is everything that happens from farm to fork, from paddock to plate and from soil to stomach so that we can all eat every day. So, it’s farming, it’s food processing and manufacturing, it’s transport and logistics, it’s retail and marketing, it’s consumption – eating and cooking, and it’s dealing with waste and recycling. The food system impacts climate change, biodiversity and human health in very major ways. It’s everyone’s business and we all need to be involved in whatever way we can.”
Farm it Forward farmer, Hannah Axelsen, couldn’t agree more. “Local farmers and co-ops play a very important role in the community by offering an alternative to the destructive practices of Big Agriculture. Small-scale organic farms provide nutrient dense food and tackle climate disasters by building healthy soils, sequestering carbon, and creating biodiversity.
“Co-ops provide the meeting place where people can purchase local and organic foods while also supporting farmers, which enables them to keep growing. It’s a symbiotic loop.”
Blue Mountains Food Co-op Fruit & Veg Coordinator, Maddison Pitt, says this arrangement is a win-win for the community. “We are working with local growers to satisfy both our needs: supporting young people wanting to get into farming by buying their produce, and creating a circular economy by selling it to local customers. It’s very satisfying knowing who grows the food you’re consuming.”
Hannah says the recent grower’s get together buoyed farmers’ spirits after a tough few years. “I loved the collaborative nature of the meeting. It was wonderful to share experiences, struggles, and achievements with like-minded people.”
Jacinta Carmichael-Parissi, coordinator of Lyttleton Stores Co-op, says she is excited about the future of food in the Blue Mountains. “We want to nurture our unique flavours and support local farmers and backyard growers so they can thrive and become resilient in the face of a changing climate and an unsustainable international food system that doesn’t consider the health of our planet or our communities.
“We have an opportunity to develop a truly regenerative model in our region that nourishes our bodies, the earth and our cultural engagement with food. It all starts with valuing how our food is grown, and the people who grow and provide it. Local farmers and growers working alongside community owned cooperatives makes this fresh organically grown produce accessible.
“We can all participate in the future of food by choosing to buy local, eat seasonally, preserving surplus produce, and sharing recipes and meals with our community that celebrate the flavours of the Blue Mountains!”
A joint project, between Blue Mountains Food Co-op and Lyttleton Stores Co-op, to promote locally grown food is the Meet Your Local Farmer dinner series. Launching in May, the dinner series will feature all locally produced food and drinks, and talks by local growers. Details to come shortly!
For further information please email email@example.com plus, click here to read an interview with Rhiannon Phillips from Mountains Gourmet.
by Jacqueline Forster, Marketing & Community Education Coordinator, Blue Mountains Food Co-op