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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

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Growing food

Anyway, as far as the food is concerned I started, you know, wanting to cultivate that aspect of growing food but it was really hard to find people that would be interested, and even if you find one or two (and the man power is difficult) so then if you get volunteer man power, when summer comes you get invaded by weeds if you’re going to go organic, so you’ve got a tendency to spray. Here we’ve never sprayed because we… in 2004 or 05 we registered for organic with OGA. So we refrained from using any kind of… chemical use.

There’s one of the great sages in the scriptures, he says that whenever you try to fix a problem the solution to the problem is always more complicated than the problem itself. It always happens like this. So, you know, people thought “great, you just spray.” I think it was the post-war, or even previous the second world war, where industrialisation began. Everybody was rural basically, and then they decided “what the hell, grow vegetables, we’ll go to this city we’ll get a job and then you can live nicely”. So then when they sorted and trialled DDT, they thought that was ‘fix all’. It killed the insects, it killed the weeds, great! Then they started, people, seeing people grow with three arms and one eye, and maybe that’s the wrong thing. So they had the solution. You can look in the history of any platform, any kind of aspect of life, whenever the broader solution, that solution was more problematic than the problem itself. So you tend to think “let’s not go down that road”. Also, “we’ve seen, we’ve heard that, let’s not go there”, so therefore we refrain from chemical usage.

But at the same time it was quiet difficult to grow, because here it is sub-tropical climate. You are dealing with frost, here it can go down to -4, -6, for about an hour in the morning, on harsh winters; and about 8, 9 o’clock it will go up to 15/20 degrees quiet quickly. And during summer it gets quiet hot – 36/40.  The sub-tropical… is always difficult to grow stuff. Anyway you would perceive it and ah, I remember in 2006/07 we had three acres of vegetable crops down there, it was really going well. So how or other with very little man power we managed to, to keep it all under control. And, October 20th, I still remember that I was in the shed and there’s this hail storm came and the hail was as big as tennis balls. It was 14 cm big. So it just plummeted the whole place. And the next day another came and finished it off.

You get that and you get the lack of man power. Then we grew, but we grew sporadically, little bit in the beginning of winter and towards winter because it’s quiet clement. And then when summer came and the weeds grew that’s it we lost it. We let everything go to pasture and slash again start everything so we couldn’t have any infrastructure. So that went on for a while and then I realised really what we needed here is actually, you know, if we were going to go organic we needed either a system or mains power. So this is what we created.

There’s two systems going on at the moment. One is under plastic, which is plough, put the plastics down, and… that controls the weeds and mulch in the middle. The other one is simply mulch, the whole thing. We’ve kind of boiled down to two things, but then one thing I realised last year is that we’ve really go to improve the soil condition. So to do this we have three systems, one is biochar. You know what biochar is? Another one is we’ve got, we started a commercial worm farming. That’s one of the units, and at the moment in the shed they’ve got the equipment, they are building another nine. So on this side of the shed there is a whole platform that’s been built in the last couple of weeks. They’re going to establish ten commercial worm farms. So what happens with the casting of the worms and the worm liquor we create bio-life which then be introduced to the ground.  Now what happens when you put the worm castings (this is a tiger worm that we use in the commercial farm) we put the worm casting on the ground. What happens is, the worms from underneath, the earthworms come up because the, tiger worms are not earthworms they actually live, just chew up stuff, in a farm, so the worms from underneath they come up and they perforate the ground. They come up and they eat those castings, meanwhile they create biological life which is necessary in the 15/20 centimetres above the ground. Which generally is destroyed by commercial farming by just ploughing. If you are just plough and rotary hoe this is all destroyed.

So that’s one aspect to regenerate the soil condition, which is around the valley, quiet clayey. Another one is called bio-regen. Bio-regen is actually, we take all the cooked foodstuff that we’ve got, and the raw stuff, leftover vegetables whatever, and we put it through this grinder that turns it into liquid; and that liquid is stored into a thousand litre tank and there’s a special bacteria platform that is introduced and incubates for 28 days. After 28 days the liquid turns like, looks like Coca-Cola. An that’s diluted, one to fifteen and spread over the acreage, and the biological life in there actually multiplies a great deal in the ground, and you get biological life.

Of course everything is based that if your ground is healthy, your weeds will be less, your insects will be more contained to where they want to go. Which means you grow different things at different times.  So one of the problems with conventional growing is that when they have, you know, the big rows of the same thing then if one type of insect comes, or a disease, it will wipe out the whole thing, this is what they are looking for. But this type of growing which is more… I don’t know if you have seen on the western gardens we have pumpkin, we have spinach, we have beans, we have sweet potato, and then we’ve got a row of fruit trees, mulberries and then citrus, and the we’ve got ginger, and then again silverbeet etcetera. So that kind of balances. We have found even with weeds in the middle, we mow the weeds, that keeps the balance, so we, since we’ve been doing that we’ve found that the attacks from pests has been a lot less. Quiet a fair bit less actually than anything else. But every time that you concentrate on the one type of crop it really… you really basically put yourself out for a pest attack.

Another aspect of conventional growing is, what really just kills it is the transport. Because if you talk about keeping the soil in good condition you have to put whatever you take from the soil back into it. The more you put back into the soil the better the quality of your vegetable. Of course growing is one thing, growing good thing is another thing. If you really want to have a good production for… You know if people are well nourished, with the proper amount of vitamins and minerals, they actually behave better.

If someone is lacking something, you know the question is like this; people eat meat, in order to digest the meat they drink some amount of alcohol (especially as they get older because digestion is going down). Meat eating is questionably very, it’s mostly done for animals who have a very short digestive system because the meat will rot in the system. If the meat rots, when you’re young it’s ok you can basically digest nails, but as you get older it get harder to digest. And because the digestive system of the human being is very long, it takes a long time to process, therefore people end up with bowel cancers and you name it, whatever. But unconsciously to help they start drinking alcohol, because the alcohol of course is a digestive, a very strong digestive, and it gets rid of all that. But happens that when one drinks alcohol, then alcohol is high in sugar, so when it’s high in sugar it very acidic, it means that your body’s PH is out of balance (supposed to be around the 7 something like that) but it comes, it becomes very acidic because Sugar actually makes the blood acidic. And because it becomes very acidic then you try alkalinising it, so how do you alkalinise the body? You smoke; because smoking tobacco is alkaline. (Cigars are very alkaline; cigarettes can be either depending on what’s in it. Here is an example: Additives are used to make cigarettes that provide high levels of ‘free’ nicotine which increases the addictive ‘kick’ of the nicotine. Ammonium compounds can fulfill this role by raising the alkalinity of smoke. So cigarettes can be altered with additives that reduce its acidity and make it addictive such as ammonia.) So you start smoking and you feel good. And that’s why people smoke because they just don’t feel good. So you see that in nutrition, so you can apply the same thing for vegetables. If you eat vegetables constantly, but you don’t have the proper vegetables that is grown in the proper area with the proper soil, the soil has to be in good condition. If it’s not in good condition, then what happens that even, you can eat until your belly just goes out but you go this sense of, it’s not satisfied.

The soil has to be in good condition, to actually, the problem is people grow things just for money. But, if you try and grow to make people satisfied. And plus there is another thing also… Well anyway, once the food is grown properly it has this effect on, you know, people who eat it that they feel just satisfied, they don’t have cravings. And all this junk food, it is born out of a demand because in a market nobody just makes something and you know, there is no demand for it. And the demand is because people feel actually quiet dissatisfied in their eating habits, of course because you know the junk food came after all this meat and all this kind of stuff. And due to the lifestyles people became very unsatisfied and then, you know what do you feel like and they are starting to design these things to satisfy their cravings. So now you go to the shop and you’ve got a whole array of stuff [laughs], you know? And we are part of it as well, you know I’m not pointing the finger at anyone but that’s actually, this is what happens.

You know one thing here in the valleys is very microclimatic. So you go just across the road and you’ll get a different thing, yeah. We have olive trees here, specific for this climate the guy across the road he specialises in tomatoes, he’s got ah, greenhouses.

At the beginning I was getting a fair bit of advice from the Department of Agriculture in town. They know their thing well. But mostly I reverted to our main crops as what is good for this area. Sweet potato, gold sweet potatoes it’s like fantastic, and macadamia nuts, all the trees around there are all macadamia nuts, we gotta…. See mango trees we, we ventured, we’ve got about 350 mango trees. And they’re mostly tropical, so in sub-tropical they produce every two to three years. So you, you, you do get advice from various growers but they have their own way of doing things. And they do say it’s very microclimatic. So, you know, tell you any advice and they say “well it’s up to you how you do things”.

But we’ve had neighbours come to see us to see how we do things. Even though in the midst of our experiments. But their… yes some, but at the moment we’re quiet steady up here because what we can do is produce all year round; which to me is actually a type of achievement; because before it was very sporadic. But now all year around, and having the man power is extremely…, I’ve had a, you know, whole patch, like two acres of pumpkin going to waste because it was infested by the weeds. But ah, you met Madraya, huh? He went in there with the WWOOFers and in two days they had weeded whole thing, as you can see pumpkin it’s quite, you know it’s not something easy to weed. So man power is actually a great help, in ah, in that.

Yeah so, I did get advice from various growers, but at the end of the advice they turn around and say; “you know, we do that but the way you going to do it, it’s just your way and just, try your best”. You’ve got to figure out, you’ve got your soil. I’ve tested the soil in various places and you’ve got a variation in PH, from, like from two or three metres. We’ve got soil in the north-west corner and its black and the western gardens it red.

You know the river has moved here. The river used to be where the WWOOFer village is. That was about 80 years ago. And now it’s moved across the paddock and it’s where the bridge is. But that, that little cattle grid that you cross at the entrance, if you look when you pass that cattle grid, probably five or ten metres further down there’s a large creek, which is dried up. That used to be the river there. So, so when the move, when the river shifted it created a whole alluvial soil. You know it’s like 8 metres deep of top soil, and that’s black soil. But if you go to the original soil which is more on the western side, this is all, which is only 50 metres up the road, that’s red. So we grow sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach grows very well and um, ginger grows quite well here. And of course the other, you know, like zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes, mostly for the community.

Is that about bringing the food to other people, or is that about supporting the community, or…?

Ah, it’s a blend; because um, there’s a few things. First we’ve got to have a presence out there. Two, we’ve got to create the stage two – we have to create an economy. Three, we’ve got to employ, certain youth in our society that we are trying to employ, somehow or other to sustain, give them association amongst each other. Four (which is not in terms of preference or order, but…) four is also that we’ve got to present a type of food that, at least, harms the least possible the planet. I’ve had people, (I used to shopping in the market in Brisbane and, and you know what they’re like or whatever) and they are very nice people and everything; but it’s like steak, you know it’s the steak meal and everything. I spoke to a few “oh, do you go the restaurant?” and “we go don’t there” I used to give them a little voucher. So they go down and they have a look and the guy tells me after that, “I’m driving from Brisbane to Burleigh Heads just to eat, you know”. It’s kind of given them a taste that you do not have to be so harsh on the planet and the animals. You, you know that slaughtering animals can really have a big impact on the environment. I think it something like, 5 million litres of water for 1kg of meat, so then you’ve got a water shortage everywhere. You know these kind of things, you know, so people don’t think about it because they, they just out of sheer innocence, maybe ignorance, whatever it may be. They think “I’ve got to eat my meat. My mother had fed me like that. I gotta do it”. But ah, having that restaurant out there it gives these people at least a chance to come in contact with something that will satisfy them; as well as, ah, be helpful for the planet.

 

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