Whoever would have thought we’d need to pay $10 for a lettuce in a supermarket?
This is a real sign of the times.
We’re now living in a climate-changed world.
It’s no longer something possibly happening in the future.
Supply chains are being disrupted worldwide, and not just by climate chaos, but by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the pandemic and ongoing absenteeism.
Monocultures are risky business in these unpredictable times.
In our region, half a billion dollars has been wiped off farmers’ incomes since the floods.
Sugar cane crops were wrecked, macadamia nuts couldn’t be harvested, dairy farmers lost hundreds of cows and fields were waterlogged. Norco’s ice cream factory in Lismore is likely to be closing, with 200 workers laid off.
What can we do?
There could be such a diversity of food in this region we’d barely need to visit a supermarket, but we need a radical rethink on the way we manage land and grow our food.
Just like the energy revolution, we need a food revolution.
We are surrounded by land that was once lush rainforest full of life, including food plants and trees.
That luxuriant forest was destroyed for dairy cattle.
By 1900, all but one per cent of the estimated 75,000 acres of Big Scrub was cleared.
Most of it is still just empty paddocks with a few cattle grazing it.
Grazing is about the lowest ecological and economic use of the land, except for perhaps mowing it, as some landholders do!
How many landholders are there with a hundred acres of land grazing beef cattle who cannot even make a living?
Yet you can make a living on a tiny fraction of that area growing native bushfoods.
The Farm, in Byron Bay, demonstrates how much productivity can be achieved growing organic food forests on small areas. Imagine this replicated throughout the Shire.
Many young farmers would love to be able to establish small diverse farms on an acre or two of bare land.
We need a scheme to facilitate this.
At our place in Possum Creek, we have turned five acres into a dense food producing forest.
We’ve planted hundreds of local Davidson’s plums, scattered throughout the forest, that are starting to fruit.
Davidsonia jerseyana are endangered, with only a couple of dozen wild specimens still existing, and were nearly made extinct by European settlers.
They are an extraordinary health food loaded with nutrients including six anthocyanins, known to fight cancer, quercetin and the carotenoid lutein, that protects our eyes and helps prevent macular degeneration.
These plums were eaten by First Nations peoples for thousands of years as food and medicine.
We grow other bush foods that belong to this area, like finger limes, lemon aspen and native tamarind.
This region could be abundant with bush tucker once more.
Local people lived here for untold thousands of years without destroying the forest and the wild creatures that lived here.
We need to consult with local elders who know this country and ask for their advice on how to restore the forest.
When I set out regenerating this land thirty years ago, much of it was just a degraded paddock of South African setaria grass. We couldn’t even see any ants on it. The soil was compacted and unhealthy.
It was a green desert, as thousands of acres around here still are.
I planted rainforest trees and koala feed trees, digging up clumps of setaria grass with a mattock, mulching and surrounding them with tree guards, but using no herbicides.
Come winter, and frost killed lots of the rainforest trees.
Cedars survived, but many others didn’t.
I then started planting pioneer species, and even more koala trees, knowing they would survive and form a canopy and protection for the rainforest plants.
Incidentally, it may have seemed optimistic planting koala trees as the nearest koalas were twenty kilometres away at Goonengerry.
I wasn’t the only one planting them though.
About fifteen years later, we spotted our first koala, a large male, eating camphor laurel leaves in a tree at the edge of the road.
I waved my arm at the maturing feed trees and called up ‘I planted these for you!’ Many visitors see their first koala in the wild at our place.
An ecologist friend undertook a count recently, and worked out we now have 250 native species growing on the three acres I bought from Old Bill next door in a boundary adjustment in 1991.
We also have half a dozen brush turkeys, possums, bandicoots, land mullets, water dragons, rakalis by the creek and platypuses, plus several species of snake, and untold variety of birds.
In the next few years, we will not only be able to enjoy our abundant wildlife, grow much of our own organic food, but also generate a significant and sustainable income with minimal inputs.
When you travel around and look at those grass paddocks, just imagine a thriving forest growing there once more and abundant free food.
Let’s make it happen.
Richard Jones is a former NSW MLC, and is now a ceramicist.