Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

It wasn't a great day at the markets yesterday (they're monthly) but I'm proud of my snazzy market cart which is being renovated.
Looking gooood.
It used to be a bike cart and I'd carry my community artz workshop wares around from school to school with me peddling up front.
Since it has been used to ferry my canoe to the seashore.

Now it's a perfect produce market artefact. What style, eh?
And, of course, there's no show without Punch!

For those who pursue the market route I tell you the challenge of picking and preserving the stuff is a big one, even by day-before standards. I made a mistake yesterday and wrapped the greens in wet paper as an experiment. Thinking: I'd get horizontal display.

Did not work and wilting was a big problem, esp with the young greens

Best practice so far (from my limited experience) is to:

  1. Pick early in the day of harvest.
  2. Immediately place the cut stems in water -- just like flowers in a vase. &/or refrigerate/cool storage overnight.
  3. Always shade your produce. 
  4. Use an atomiser spray to water the plants when on display.

Rather than weigh out and such I sell in $2 lots -- so I have freedom to decide on what goes in the batch or bundle.

Since harvest is such a fickle schedule -- I'm trying to promote drop-by market days from home. Market one Saturday-open garden day a fortnight later....'pick while you wait'.

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Comment by Rob Walter on August 8, 2014 at 10:27

I hadn't heard that fibre industry explanation, Elaine, but I have certainly heard the argument that the fact it's so easy to grow at home (much easier than brewing your own booze) means governments are keen on it, and the alcohol industry is obviously against it too.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on August 6, 2014 at 16:25

The real reason behind Mary Jane being criminalised goes back to just post WW2 and the growing might of the chemical companies. Particularly the development of synthetic fibres which hemp was seen to be a major competitor especially in ropes. Without the THC in it, MJ would still be grown for its fibre, there wouldn't have been a scapegoat reason to ban it. Now even the varieties developed without THC, authorities in lots of places including Australia, are loath to legalise it for fibre and oil. Both of which are high quality and worthwhile as foods.

Comment by Rob Walter on August 6, 2014 at 15:56

Speaking of Nimbin, I wish they'd hurry up and legalise marijuana use and possession. I'm personally totally drug and alcohol free, but I think it would be great to be able to grow it at home, share with friends, sell in little baggies at work or in class. On reflection, I'm talking about high value specialty produce again, aren't I?

Here's a great satirisation of Community Supported Agriculture, for those of you who've ever tried to get into that model:

Comment by Dave Riley on August 6, 2014 at 9:04

Of course there's the 'other model' -- that folk grow more of their own needs for home consumption. What interested me was fostering ways -- locally -- to distribute the -- locally grown -- surplus.

In my estimation (as I've suggested before) 'a' market stall, for instance, could offer produce grown from several backyards. Thats' neither one thing  nor another...and would indeed be my perspective. I can imagine a few tweaks to that end. A sort of collective process relying on residential space. 

This isn't about a new alternative economy a la  Nimbin. Even my butcher here distributes locally grown surpluses from backyard gardens -- for free. 

But you have to be out there, mixing it in the distribution milieu  to draw traction like that.

That's different, you see, from the 'community garden' process.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on August 5, 2014 at 22:37

Quite frankly, I'm happy to grow food for me and my family (Yes, I know it is properly, my family and I, Elaine!)  And Dave, I will pick up that acerage gauntlet.  

I have a tiny 600 m2, most of which is taken up by the house.  My three chickens are looking good to come into lay in the next month or so.  I know at least half of my initial 25 jade perch have survived and are getting slowly closer to eating size.  I keep myself in tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, paw paw, passionfruit and chives.   I have newly planted lemon, orange, mandarin, lime, mulberry, grape and lemonaide (I got three devine fruit off that). 

To my mind, while you have a sound view of your produce (having fun selling the spare), I suggest (most boldly, I recognise) that you should focus on competing with yourself. Over the next 12 months, can you earn more than the last 12?  I recognise money is a poor way of valuing "enjoyment" but it is quick and easy.  And, who cares if the first 12 months is 50 cents and the second $1.  It's not actually about the money.  In my view, as "urban farmers", the problem is we have few sensible role models.  Why do we need to profit from it, when the real joy is the fun and challenge of doing it?

I think this sums it up - I love that damn cart.  Would you have it if you weren't farming?  Would you have kept it if you were making a bomb and traded up to 300 acres?  

And that, good sir, is my esoteric contribution for the evening.  

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on August 5, 2014 at 21:40

Broadacre monocultures may make economic sense in the short term. Long term the degradation of soil fertility, soil structure, washing out of nutrients, locking up of nutrients, poisoning of bees and so on, are going to mean we will need urban agriculture/backyard farming even more.

Comment by Dave Riley on August 5, 2014 at 20:45

Well, let's not get too optimistic...any agricultural activity is ruled by hard work and long hours.Within that is the ups and downs of demand and the complication of the weather.But growing produce for market isn't novel economics.It's as old a Methuselah. 

I'm not into alternative distribution systems in any special way but I think that with food there is a lot of creative leeway on offer between producer and consumer. This article on Woollies and Coles -- Supermarket monsters -- is a very big wake up call. It's long -- but warrants ploughing through.

Elaine coolowl shared it on this site and it is a must read.

In the urban context there's no easy 'farm' aspect because size does matter, and you need acreage rather than suburban blocks to feed whole cities.But there is a niche related to fresh vegetables, greens especially, where  cities can indeed possibly supply most of their own needs.

Grains no. Tubers? I doubt it. Fruits? Very unlikely -- despite food foresting.

So them's the base economics.

I referenced Jean-Martin Fortier  before -- but he is supplying  only about  200 families 'some' of their needs(albeit with other outlets on offer that he supplies).After all, broad acre monocultural agriculture is brutally efficient. Our gardening habits  are  also very labor intensive.

I think David Holmgren  has pointed out that our  environment-friendly, carbon sequestering,  methods  are much less water intense than the big farm approach., and while I'd like to reference any number of overseas examples I fear that the Australian context is warped by this country's aridness. That's why the nation is so dependent on the Murray Darling basin for is produce..

But therein rests the core of agricultural economics: inputs. But we still  have to confront the fact that a cucumber gown in 500 km away, harvested, refrigerated shipped, off loaded and displayed at Coles down the road is gonna be cheaper than one gown in the neighborhood, 500 metres away.

Scale does matter. Broad acre, monocultural,  farming makes economic sense.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on August 5, 2014 at 20:31

Oh, and have you ever thought of painting flames down the side of your cart?  Might make it go faster. 

Comment by Rob Walter on August 5, 2014 at 15:58

I would second Andrew's sentiment regarding not wanting to sound critical. As an aspiring economist, I'm interested in the possibility of alternative distribution systems and I challenge ideas in order to clarify how it might work in economic terms.

Comment by Dave Riley on August 5, 2014 at 9:15

No. Don't worry about the critical thing. I'm over-using this forum -- sorry about that, folks, for being so in-your-face of late-- because I'm trying to think what I'm doing  through. So I seriously value the exchanges. Indeed, I'm dependent on them.

I learnt long ago that the best way to understand what you are doing is to try to explain it to someone else -- the better to be exposed for the faulting thinking  in your perspective and to be forced to consider further..

But on the transition thing...a lot of what we do in Australia, ruled by formats like Permaculture, tends to get abstracted from the ongoing reality in front of us as communities.The advantage of a market gardening agenda is that:

  • it pulls the tasks back to the here and now of growing locally
  • it promotes a model that , so long as you have land access, is very low capitalisation.
  • it suggests an incremental growth process that can be stalled at any level.
  • it is brutally practical and enforces a very concrete agenda on you.It's about production.

If you check the history -- before the Coles and Woollies behemoth took over -- market gardening and fruit and veg shop running were successive job opportunities for waves of migrants to Australia. Without their input neither our diet nor our horticultural skill level would be as rich as it is today. So in that sense, no one is gonna re-invent the wheel.

In Europe, produce markets rule so many communities.Here we are held hostage to Westfield. 

This has all been done before...except a lot of it has been marginalised and driven from our localities as monoculture and supermarket contracts took over...and higher property rates, smaller suburban blocks, etc. 

But one thing is very clear: you cannot change the production parameters without the distribution of produce means. So my thesis is that without moving the fruit and veg out of the backyards and into the market basket, the dynamic is sure to  shallow. 

In Brisbane, as we know, the shift is to smaller suburban blocks and culled public space. The popular Permie culture  isn't so conducive to annuals and a marketable niche (I think so anyway). 

If you want to overview this, the introductory essay in Urban Farming by Thomas J. Fox musters a strong argument, that transcends the personal self sufficiency paradigm. And he's a part timer, but gets it. 

In my case I have a big why not ? (He thinks.)Let's see how far this thing can be pushed. I'm set to garden anyway and the 'cost' is a few more seeds and litres of water. I've found that there is very little difference in the energy demanded by the extra 'tillage'.

But the distribution is an open question.And, of course, that's key. Given our extensive growing season here in the sub tropics it's an interesting topic. Nonetheless, while suburban property rates are as high as they are it's unlikely that the market gardeners of yore will return to our suburbs. The La Perouse dispute affirms that . But even big cities in the US work around that constraint, some localities even bring in laws that protect urban farming.

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