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Byron Shire
June 20, 2024

Strengthening the beginnings of a real local food movement

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Helena Norberg-Hodge

It’s wonderful to see the flowering of local food initiatives throughout the Shire today. I’d like to do everything I can to help strengthen what is the beginnings of a real local food movement.

After forty years of activism on four continents, I believe this is the central solution to most of our serious ecological, social and psychological problems. 

Local food does not only mean shifting individual purchasing habits, or sowing seeds in your own garden (although these actions can have powerful ramifications). What we’re talking about is strengthening the local food system throughout the entire region. We need to come together as a community – consumers, producers, citizens, activists and policymakers – to withdraw our dependence on the export-oriented, corporate-owned food economy, in favour of smaller-scale, more diversified farms connected to regional markets.

This is no piece of cake – it means going up against some of the most powerful and insidious pressures of the global economy. But it’s going to be worth all the effort, because strengthening local food systems is truly the most meaningful thing we can do. Whether you look at it from the perspective of the environment, the economy or human rights, local food is a profound, systemic solution.

Local food systems stimulate diversification

Instead of promoting vast, resource-intensive monocultures, local food systems stimulate diversification on the land. In so doing, they systematically increase biodiversity, build soil, retain rainwater, and sequester carbon. They minimise fossil fuels, plastics and emissions, even as they produce far more food – nutritious, healthy food – per acre. Local food systems also provide stable, meaningful jobs, and lay the groundwork for happier, more secure and more connected communities.

In a series of articles over the coming months, I’m going to examine the local food solution from all of these angles and more. I believe, once we see the array of interconnected benefits, we will be able to bring enough people together to create transformative change in this region, from the ground up.

Even those who aren’t involved in social or environmental activism would do well to come on board. Rebuilding our local food economy is increasingly a matter of our very survival. Thanks to large-scale, industrial, globalised farming practices that leave soil bare and deadened, we are rapidly running out of fertility on much of the world’s agricultural land. Unless things change, we are headed for global food system collapse within the next half-century.

Running out of toilet paper is one thing – running out of food is quite another

Running out of toilet paper is one thing – running out of food is quite another. And, even though the Byron Shire is already somewhat of a hub for local food, there is still a long way to go; I estimate that far less than 15 per cent of the food consumed here actually comes from the region.

So what do we do?

By coming together to invest whatever we have – time, money, land, skills or energy – we can lay the groundwork for a flourishing local food system that can withstand the pressures of the dominant economy. Even while policies continue to subsidise, tax and regulate in favour of energy-intensive monoculture, we can support schemes to get more hands on the land, and cultivate diversified farms to meet local needs.   

Following in the footsteps of grassroots activists and ‘guerrilla gardeners’, we can build living alternatives that demonstrate the benefits of local food systems, with the eventual aim of garnering the support of public policy.

Collaboration and strategy

This is a long game, and it will involve collaboration and strategy. But if we do it right, the results will be ground-breaking and deeply nourishing!

Through books, films, conferences and lectures, Helena and her organisation Local Futures have been promoting local food economies for more than four decades. Helena helped to start the farmers markets in the Shire and is now seeking to set one up in Suffolk Park, as well as supporting the new community garden there. If you are interested in helping please contact her on [email protected].

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  1. When we are but small petals in the world, insecure and alone, the flowering of local food sources throughout the shire gives heart and strength to our spirit and to the emerging food industry that comes from working the soil. The beginnings of the harvest is just starting to happen for we are then rich beyond our means when we reap what we sow and look down to the rich volcanic soil beneath out feet. We have the seeds of growth in germination when we grow what we have from healthy seed. Cast the seed upon the ground and let it grow and we will be rich as we then will all pull together and be one, a vibrant healthy united community. That is what we must build.

  2. Local determination, Sounds good to me. So many complexities to unpack in getting there. Start with a list of regulations that need to be locally enacted and governed. Then make a list of all local, state and federal laws which impinge the entrepreneurial spirit of local communities to choose, create, produce and consume as they see fit. Then write a code for Local Governance administration, that clearly shows the principal that demarcates the lines between individual & community rights & responsibilities. And what is a community – a household of renters, a neighborhood, a town, a region, a state. Eg occupational, health and safety laws. Who’s responsibility is that? Who has the right to determine policy, and where is it administered and enforced. Is that local or state or Federal. Freedom with boundaries.

  3. Helen with others have contributed greatly to our local food community . The next phase is finding practical ways to support our young regenerative agricultural farmers to gain access to land by leasing or finding like minded generous land holders.
    Soil diversity and health is a vital aspect of revitalising our planet along with renewable energy, energy efficiency , a circular economy and water conservation


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