Australian Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2015

Blog site for the 2015 MSU study abroad program.

5/24 – Christina

We started off this beautiful, sunny day with a trip to the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory. Though our expectation were already high to begin with, the factory exceeded them in many ways.  

outdeet seating at the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory

The plant based decor of the outdoor seating area at the factory added to the organic, environmentally friendly image that the company cultivates. It provided a very pleasant introduction to the facility.

 
 Inside, our tour guide, Aymon Brundell, showed us a video about the founding and day-to-day workings of the factory. We learned that the plant was formerly a flour mill, but after the railines in the location fell out of favor, it was abandoned for about 20 years before it became the chocolate and licorice factory. We also learned that all the ingredients that go into products sold at Junee, from molasses and licorice root to macadamia nuts and raspberries, must be grown organically. This means that they are grown without the aid of artificial fertilizers. At first glance, this seems like a very sustainable, environmentally conscious company. However, we also learned that Green Grove Organics, the farm that owns and operates the Junee plant, cannot supply all of the ingredients necessary to make their licorice and chocolate. In particular, they are unable to grow the licorice root, which they must buy from other farms. We learned that if a farmer wants to grow licorice root, it must essentially be the only crop grown on his land because it is difficult to control its rapid spread. This makes the process less sustainable because it decreases agricultural biodiversity, which places a strain on the soil by requiring large quantities of the same nutrients and which damages the ability of the ecosystem to adapt to new environmental pressures. The cultivation of the licorice root also exposes the surrounding ecosystems to the danger of being overwhelmed by this weed (Jackson, 2010).

After the video, the group played vertical bowling. We broke into small groups, and then one person had to try and throw a licorice ball into a small window about 12 feet off the ground. The ball then dropped down a chute and the rest of the team had to try and catch the bowling pins that it knocked loose.  

 

students play vertical bowling

Sydney waits to catch a yellow pin that has been knocked loose during a game of vertical bowling.

 
Though the activity didn’t really have a connection to sustainability, it was fun and it showed resources can be reused in creative ways after their intended purpose is ended. 

After the chocolate factory, the group journeyed to the Wollundry Grove Olive Estate. This small farm, owned and operated by Bruce Spinks and Joo Yee Lieu produces olives and extra virgin olive oil largely for sale to local consumers. At Wollundry Grove, w and got to see both the agricultural and the processing aspects of olive and olive oil cultivation.  

olive washing machinery

Olives are washed and stripped of leaves in preparation for the crushing stage of olive oil production at Wollundry.


 The grove, though not an organic farm, was trying to increase its sustainability in other ways. It was partially powered by solar panels and all of the organic waste from the olive trees was recycled, composted, and used as fertilizer. The use of organic substances as fertilizer helps maintain the important nutrient levels in soil, which allows farmers to continue to grow crops in those areas. This process allows the soil to regenerate itself and that is a very sustainable cycle (Jackson, 2010).
After we learned about the production of the olives and olive oil, we got a chance to taste the finished product.  

 

Students line up to sample Wollundry olives

Hollie, Annie, Becca, and Jessica sample olives and olive oil from Wollundry after learning what into the production of their food.

   It was a very interesting experience for us all to eat food that we knew the origin of. Normally, we just get our food from the supermarket and we have no idea what went into it or where it came from. Many of us felt that the what we were eating was more trustworthy than what we were used to. 

Finally, after a long and interesting day, we headed over to the bush goddess’s Eco-farm. There, we met Pennie Scott, the bush goddess, and her husband Alan Reid. They took us on a hike through the diverse ecosystem in which their farm rests.

 

students hiking

The group enjoys the stunning views during the nature hike at the bush goddess farm.

 
Along the way, we learned about the native flora and fauna and the ways they have been negatively impacted by farming practices. We learned that one of the most significant causes of damage to the regions has historically been trampling by herd animals like cattle and sheep. The animals kill plants and pull up their roots, which leads to erosion and ecosystem degradation (Low, 2003). However, Pennie uses her land to farm, but also to protect the ecosystem from those who would use unsustainable practices like the one mentioned above. She tries to implement land use practices similar to those used by the aboriginal people. She believes that we have a lot to learn from the original stewards of the land, because they successfully cultivated it without overusing it for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. A revival of previously successful practices could be a way to mitigate some of the current environmental challenges that modern farmers, but it’s important to remember that the aboriginal people were not perfect environmental custodians and that a return to the past is likely impossible.

After the hike, some of us learned about humane pig feeding operations at the bush goddess farm.  

pigs at the bush goddess's farm

These pigs are raised in a clean enclosure with plenty of room to exercise.

 Others learned about the use of ferrets to control pests in the Australian ecosystem. Australian farmers must go to great lengths to control populations of pests like rabbits, which reproduce rapidly and greatly contribute to erosion through overgrazing (Miller & Spoolman, 2010). Using ferrets to chase the rabbits from their warrens is a way of doing this that doesn’t introduce potentially harmful chemicals to the environment. 

Then, we had a delicious meal of locally sourced foods like pumpkin and celery. After that, we sat around the campfire, watched the stars, and got to know Pennie’s three college aged interns, James, Tara, and Laura.

For more information about these topics, please visit these links:

http://www.greengroveorganics.com.au

This is the homepage for the farm that operates and in part supplies the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory. You can find information about the organic manufacturing of these products and also information about purchasing their wares.

http://www.nasaa.com.au/steps1.html

This website will give the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia’s requirements for organic certification and also news and information about organics.

http://www.wollundrygroveolives.com.au/about-us.aspx

This website gives background and retail information about the Wollundry Grove Olive Estate. You can use it to learn about the history of the farm or to find news and events related to olives. 

https://www.australianolives.com.au

The Australian Olive Association’s website gives information about the standards olive oil producers must meet to market their oil as extra virgin. This can be used as a resource to verify and fact check. 

http://www.bushgoddess.com/?m=1

This link will take you to the Pennie Scott’s blog for more information about her history and her objectives. It can also be used as a resource to learn more about eating local.

http://www.sustainabletable.org/254/local-regional-food-systems

This link will provide more in depth about what it means to eat local and what each individual can do to lessen his or her impact on the environment when it comes to food.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s