Australian Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2015

Blog site for the 2015 MSU study abroad program.

5/31 – Hollie

Hello to everybody following our journey down under!

Get ready to be submerged into a journey packed day.

Today we started our journey by leaving Cairns Queenslander (our hotel) right around 8 a.m. We started heading Northwest towards the village of Kuranda. On the way we stopped at Barron Falls. Barron falls is part of the Barron Gorge National Park and the park is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (Queensland Government, Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing, 2013). There were two concrete dams upstream of the Barron Falls that were part of a small hydro-electric power station that was built-in the 1930’s. In 1963, this station was relocated downstream and is called the Barron Gorge Hydro.

Barron Falls is where the river descends from the Atherton Tablelands to Cairns coastal plain, in Queensland, Australia. These falls flow heavier during peak months of summer and less during the winter months. The falls are surrounded by trees along the sides and it looks as if the earth has been cut in half for these falls to be present, which is what has been done.

Barron Falls where the river descends from the Atherton Tablelands to Cairns coastal plain, in Queensland, Australia.

Heading into town from the falls we found a box on the side of the road with two kittens inside. As a group, we decided to take these adorable kittens to the nearest shelter. Once we made it to the village of Kuranda, we had about an hour and a half to look around and grab some souvenirs for our family and friends. The village of Kuranda is located in Far north Queensland and is surrounded by World Heritage Rainforest(

After this, we took a trip to Jaques Coffee Plantation. This plantation is located on the Atherton Tablelands in Mareeba, North Queensland. The owners brought their passion of coffee from Tanzania. Hard work began to make their dream come true. However, the Jaques have faced many hardships along the way. In 1986, the recession hit which caused the plantation to liquidate. With continued determination the Jaques started over and were doing well until the Department of Primary Industries sprayed for a fruit fly that was not present. Again they fought through this tragedy and rebuilt (   The plantation itself contains 85,000 Arabica Coffee trees. We had a guided tour that consisted of a short video on the plantation’s history and a ride on ‘the bean machine’. During this tour we learned that coffee beans are actually encased inside a red bean and the coffee bean has to be extracted.

Our tour guide explained the process of coffee trees starting in the beginning ending with the coffee we drink. The process starts with a small red bean that has to be skinned and goes through drying processes to get to the coffee we drink. She also showed us some of the machinery they use.

Listening to our tour guide explain the process of coffee trees all the way to the coffee we drink.

Our tour guide also talked about their use of solar energy on the plantation. They produce more energy than they need and  feed the extra energy back into the grid. The tableland area is very abundant with renewable resources and this solar power helps get towards Australia’s renewable energy  goal of 41,000 GWh by 2020( After learning these interesting facts we got to sample our choice of coffee drink. They offered coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate, tea, etc.

Many people never really thought about what a coffee tree looks like. Well in fact, it is almost like a bush that has red berry looking things on it. These are actually the coffee beans inside that have to be extracted to get the flavor of coffee.

The coffee tree starts as a red bean that eventually turns into your brown coffee you drink.

At the end of the tour, the majority of us decided to buy their coffee products. They had many different products including different coffee roasts, coffee mugs, hot chocolate and many other options.

All of us ecstatic with our coffee purchases- by the way, the coffee is amazing!

From there we headed to Wetherby Station.  Wetherby Station is located North West of Cairns in the far north Queensland. Wetherby Station operates as a sustainable beef cattle enterprise in conjunction with the established tourist and ecotourism enterprises. The property straddles two bioregions, the Wet Tropics and the Einasleigh Uplands. Employing sustainable land management practices is a high priority on Wetherby. All of us students got to put up our own tents.  That was a fun experience for! Sleeping in tents was also more sustainable than splitting up into hotel rooms. We didn’t have electricity available except in the bathrooms.

We had the privilege of setting up our own tents. Some of us did this with ease, while some of us struggled more. All in all, it was a great experience for the whole group to learn a skill if they didn't already have it.

The beginning of tent set-up.

At the end of tent set-up, we were all very proud of our accomplishments and the site looked awesome.

Post tent set-up!

One of the owners, John Colless took us to view his cattle and had a discussion with us about artificial insemination, stress-free grazing, and the benefits of grass feeding over feed lots. John said in Australia there are 28 million cattle. He believes that stress-free grazing allows for the animals to trust their owners more and do what they are asked to. The meat of the cattle later on is also better quality when the animal is not stressed throughout their life. Sprout magazine goes into more detail explaining that grain-fed cattle are more tender due to a higher fat content.

John also talked about the female surrogates that they use to produce cattle. This is  seen as more viable and sustainable instead of commercially breeding heffers and bulls constantly. Therefore, they have many females that act as surrogates to the eggs they chose. John and his farm also practices rotational grazing and puts 1 cow to every 10 acres bringing their total acreage to 5,000 acres with 500 cows. Horses are also integrated into this system and graze among the cows.

During our time at Wetherby Station we got to hear a talk by John Colless on cattle insemination and the importance of this to the future cattle generations. He also discussed the high demand of beef and how this artificial cattle insemination plays a big role in providing for this large demand of beef.

Listening to John Colless talk about cattle insemination.

John taught us a really good acronym to bring back with us to the states. The acronym is S.M.A.R.T. which stands for sustainable, measurable, achievable, repeatable and time relatable. He also taught us about the triple bottom line where not only profit is important in a business but also the people and the planet. These two things are very important when it comes to learning a new way to think. John explained this type of learning is a harder way to think but better in the long run.

Another skill we got to use at Wetherby Station was fire building. After eating dinner we built a large fire (Leon mostly) and relaxed around the fire.

A great big fire to end the night, thanks to Leon

Reflecting back on the day, we saw a lot of cool things and learned a lot about the food system in Australia. We got to experience living more sustainable by not using electricity and tenting for the night. This experience really opened our eyes to how much electricity we use on a daily basis and set a goal as students to use less once we got back to America. We also got to learn about coffee production and many of us didn’t even know coffee beans were red on the outside. Jaques struggled to keep their business afloat many times but it finally paid off through determination. This is a great example of how hard work pays off. Along the way, Jaques has made changes to help make their business more sustainable and seeing this put sustainability into a new perspective for us. Not only is sustainability important for the planet, it is also important for the economy and us as humans. We want to sustain the lifestyles we have along with the plants and animals we are using. Jaques helped show us this because they don’t just want to make a profit but being sustainable with the land they are using and the plants they are producing. Going back to Wetherby Station where we learned about the S.M.A.R.T acronym, this is another thing that will stick with us. As many of us are just beginning our lives we will keep S.M.A.R.T in the back of heads for all of our life goals and choices. After all, S.M.A.R.T can be applied to everything in life.  We ended the day with an amazing home cooked meal and talked around the fire. Today was an overall success in opening our minds to different ways of thinking sustainable and seeing more beautiful parts of Australia.


For history on the Barron Falls please visit here:

For more information on the village of Kuranda:

To learn more about Jaques coffee or purchase their products click here:

To learn more about Australia’s renewable energy target use this site:

For the history of Wetherby Station visit here:

To learn more about grass-fed vs feedlot cattle:


One thought on “5/31 – Hollie

  1. That was a great summary of our day! I really enjoyed the coffee plantation and of course the Wetherby Station! I thought the story about starting the coffee plant in Australia coming from Tanzania was extremely interesting and motivating. After failing for a second time I figured that they would be done but it was inspiring how they kept pushing for their business. I am a business major so that’s something I can look up to. On top of their story it was refreshing to hear that they do not use all the energy they produce and they are able to sell it back and get money from the government for it. I found it surprising that the solar panels are able to produce that much energy. On top of the renewable energy, they also made excellent coffee. I absolutely loved all the samples we tried.

    After leaving and heading to the Wetherby Station, I expected he night to be long considering we had to camp outside. But it ended up being a blast! It was motivating to see how much they lived off their own land. The idea of growing your own food sounds like a difficult task but after seeing John and Kathy come so far with their gardens it gives a sense that everyone can do that. I also thought the cow reproduction was interesting. The day was awesome and ending with a bonfire was the perfect ending to such a fun day!


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