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]