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Byron Shire
August 16, 2022

Opinion: Lettuce end food shortages!

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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.

Richard Jones. Image supplied

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.

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  1. Richard.
    Tell us something we don’t already know. There is no new information in this article.
    Just who would buy at lettuce at $11 each.
    KFC won’t buy them at that price and they are billion dollar enterprise.
    Now a few years back when there were cyclones about 10 years ago and a dollar was worth a dollar a cyclone destroyed all the banana crops in Qld.
    The markets had to rely on NSW for bananas and then bananas were $13 a kilo and more.
    Do you really want an answer to the question.
    “Whoever would have thought we’d need to pay $10 for a lettuce in a supermarket?”
    The lettuce grower of course.

  2. Here is an intro Richard.
    I was just sauntering around at the greengrocer shop as I wanted something to go on a sandwich and there was some green stuff sandwiched between the tomatoes and the bananas that was a delicacy, oh so green and leafy. I got my wallet out and peeled off some cash. a $10 note and a dollar coin. I looked at the cach as the moths flew out, but that cash well it just ain’t lettuce.
    Well look at that, yes it was lettuce, $11 each.

  3. Love this Richard, you are an inspiration and I hope both council and more of the community take up this challenge.
    As you say, our soils in this region are perfect for growing and by doing a bit of research into what grows really well, we can have enough diversity and grow our own foods – something that will be vital in the near future.

  4. This is a great idea, but young people need affordable, secure housing/access to land to do this. And young people are very much locked out of that, especially in this region. How can we fix this? Volunteer work on private property is not mutually beneficial, it helps the landowning class and keeps volunteers impoverished.

  5. It sounds like a very good plan l only hope people take note and do in the future. l have a rain forest at the back of my yard, the wild life is in abundance especially bird life ,water dragons, the odd goanna, whistling ducks , and so on.

  6. When we are short of something we just fly it in. Plenty of planes going back and forward that don’t like having empty space under the passengers. We don’t get our oil from Russia, it comes from the OPEC countries in the Middle East.
    It’s not cow farts, it’s not Russia, it’s not a lack of trees nor tree rats, it’s not even a lack of fertiliser. When India started trading with Russia in Rubles through the new Chinese exchange, the rest of the BRICS countries and their allies started to do the same. This is the death of the SWIFT system and the Petro-Dollar. It’s not something to be cheered nor ignored nor mis-atributed, it’s deadly serious. If we don’t get nasty soon, expect the population of Australia in 2030 to be only 15 million.

    But I agree with lots of small permiculture farms, and people need to start victory gardens at home….. right now!


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