Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

How food shapes cities

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

ABC Radio National’s Alan Saunders – host of By Design – interviews British architect and author Carolyn Steel about ’sitopia’, the power of food in shaping cities and the significance of urban agriculture. It’s a story of the challenge of our times for city dwellers largely disconnected from the source of their food. Download the audio file. You can also read Steel’s book, Hungry City: how food shapes our lives, ISBN 9780701180379, published by Random House.

Orange pippins and other apples

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

You may remember that we had a delightful surprise at the end of Granny Smith Natural Food Market’s first summer of trading when we received a generous haul of heirloom apples from Orange. In 2003 our store was reviewed in The Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Good Living’ guide. The review was seen by Borry and Gaye Gartrell, heirloom fruit orchardists and winemakers, who farm some magnificent country on the slopes of Mount Canobolas near Orange in central western NSW. My experience of community-supported agriculture, mentioned in the article, encouraged them to bring me some of their fabulous apple varieties. Everyone raved about the beautiful, developed flavours of the fruit. Like most fruits and vegetables, true heirloom varieties rarely make it to market. With more than 170 varieties of apples growing at an altitude of 1000 metres, Borry knows them all. Some are perfect for apple sauce, some for drying, some for eating fresh, some for cider. Some are super-early, ripening in January, and some – like Granny Smiths – can still be on the trees when the first snow falls on Mount Canobolas in May.

I’ve been intending to go up there each year to get some more of this amazing fruit but, being busy, it never happened. That is, until late March 2011, when I drove to Orange. Though the apple season was mostly behind us, the next-to-last of late season fruit was still on the trees, having grown slowly through the warmer months to become fully-flavoured. I helped Borry pick three late season varieties: Democrats, Roman Beauties and King Davids.

A few weeks later I returned for the last of the Cox’s Orange Pippins – the world’s finest dessert apple, Lord Lambourne, Lady of the Snows, the superb Carrington, and Buncombe. By this time – late in March – some of the Borrodell apples had developed a honey core: golden and juicy through the centre, like honey comb, the hallmark of intense flavour development in fruit still on the tree.

Lord Lambourne is described on authoritative website as one of the earliest of the season’s English-style dessert apples. Carrington ‘Early’ is described by a Tasmanian orchardist as a ‘Christmas apple’, small, red and with bland white flesh. This is not how I would rate the Carrington picked from Borry’s orchard this autumn past. Beautifully crisp much after Christmas, it was superb. Buncombe – also known in North America as Red Winter Permain or Red Fall Pippin – is thought to have been raised in North Carolina in the 1800s. It is described as a high quality dessert apple.

We’ve been very pleased at Granny Smith’s to enjoy a wonderful response from customers to our stocking – albeit for a short season – these heritage apples from Orange. One customer ordered a case of Bramley’s Seedling. She was overjoyed to find that someone not too far from Sydney was growing this quintessential English cooking apple. The intense acidity of Bramley’s guarantees, when cooked, ‘the lightest and fluffiest of purees’, according to England remains the only place in the world where a distinction is made between ‘eaters’ and ‘cookers’ among varieties of apple. Bramley’s is undoubtedly the perfect ‘cooker’.

Borry and Gaye Gartrell’s Borrodell on the Mount heritage apple orchard
Heirloom apple authoritative website

Bees and food security

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

BEES pollinate up to 90 per cent of the world’s food crops. Without them, most of the foods we eat would disappear. Basically, we’d starve. So the ongoing issue about the dieback of bees in many countries should be ringing alarm bells  loudly in our ears.

The increasing use of mobile telephones and the subsequent rise in the usage of this broadcast wavelength has been examined. Chemical use has been studied. Most fingers seem to point to the overuse of certain chemicals known as neonicotinoid pesticides and, with our very food supply at stake, erring on the side of caution in surely the only sensible route to take.

You can help by signing a web petition managed by Avaaz, an international, web-based, ‘people power’ organisation, to support a ban on the use of neonicotinoids in the European Union and the United States until independent research can prove conclusively that these are safe. Nearly one million concerned citizens have now signed it, urging legislators to act.

Sign the on-line petition

Sydney’s disappearing farmland

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

WITH a State Government slating great chunks of north-west and south-west Sydney for urban development, we are in trouble. How do we feed ourselves when the farmland is gone? There is an assumption upon which such development relies that there will always be food available from somewhere, even from abroad. Many are beginning to question the wisdom of basing our future food security on imported foods, however action may not come quickly enough to achieve any meaningful response.

Local governments in western Sydney are concerned about urban development across local farmland but State and Federal governments have been rather slower to acknowledge the problem. A spread of articles on the issue, published by the Sun Herald in 2010, includes an interactive map that demonstrates clearly the importance of the Sydney basin to various crops.

Many of Granny Smith Natural Food Market’s favourite suppliers feel pressure from such land development. Where will our beautiful tomatoes come from if they need to be brought in from more than 1000 kilometres away? Could they possibly be as fresh or taste as good as Alf and Lee Sorbello’s from just up the road? What about Michael Champion’s magnificent salad greens? Peter Clinch’s chickens? With more and more housing covering the Sydney basin and ever greater urban run-off, how long can we expect clean local oysters and fish to hold out?

Please take a few minutes to email Senator the Honourable Joe Ludwig, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry, about your concerns.

To bring the matter to wider public attention, you can email the letters editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and email the letters editors of the Sun Herald.

Alternatively, please cut and paste the following if you prefer to not write your own email:

I write to you to express my concern about the disappearance of farmland around Sydney. Many of the products that are now grown locally, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and chicken, appear on my dinner table regularly. Where will they come from if farming in the Sydney Basin disappears?

We already have water issues in other parts of the country and transport costs are rising. I do not wish to have fresh vegetables grown overseas as my only option and with dietary-related health issues costing more each year, how does this protect our long-term health and food security?

I look to you to take action to protect Sydney’s remaining urban farmland in perpetuity. We cannot afford to lose this vital source of food to urban sprawl.

Please keep me appraised of the action you are taking.


Your name

Hawkesbury Harvest


Saturday, August 15th, 2009
San Francisco store window

San Francisco store window

Same nutrition as squeezed from your own garden's oranges!

Same nutrition as squeezed from your own garden's oranges!

Three continents of growers, another continent to pack it

Three continents of growers, another continent to pack it



the place of origin or earliest known history of something: a carpet of Persian provenance

  • the beginning of something’s existence: something’s origin: they try to understand the whole universe, its provenance and fate.
  • a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality: the manuscript has a distinguished provenance.

Provenance refers to the important element of recognising something’s origins as a distinct value. There are many works of art that have been copied all over the place; it’s the original, with an attested provenance that has true value. So too with food. Merely looking at food as a collection of measurable nutritional values assumes several things:

1. that we are clever enough to measure everything that is of nutritional value. Given that nutrition is an ever-developing science, this assumption is clearly not correct. There are nutritional elements that have only been discovered in the last few years, take GI value, for example. A human requires much more than merely a collection of vitamins, minerals, fibre and so on to maintain health.

2. that we ignore entirely the greater values embodied in food, values we all recognise that may not be scientifically “measurable”. You’re in hospital, for example, and your elderly granny, at great personal effort, bakes your favourite cake for the first time in years and brings it in to you, beautifully wrapped and with a card wishing you a speedy recovery. Someone else brings you in a sponge roll from the supermarket. Granny may never have even been the best cook but which cake means more to you in your recovery? They’re both identical in terms of fibre (probably nil) and other scientific nutrients but if you’re talking about what’s going to make you get better, it’s obvious.

Sunday lunch surrounded by your favourite family and friends, looking out at a beautiful view, sun shining … or the exact equal nutritional values manifested in a frozen, reheated meal cramped alone on board an aeroplane? Food is obviously so much more than just a collection of nutrients and many of us value quite highly the values of how a food is grown (organic or biodynamic over conventional) and where it’s from (my backyard or Peru).

Following a questionable study on organic food out of the UK last week, the report of which had the flippant headline “Organic food is no better – but at least it’s expensive” (Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 31st July, 2009), I wrote a published reply:

Once again, a study reduces organic food to a measurable collection of nutrients with a high price tag. Such studies miss the vital point: organic food is a farming and food production method, not a nutritional value. The nutrient outcome may or may not be higher, but the values that food represents are equally important.

Organic food supports production methods that put soil health and land-care methods centre stage. With salinity and with rivers bled dry to produce cheap food and fibre, land health is vital to our long-term ability to feed ourselves. For many organic food supporters (I am a certified organic retailer), the amount of vitamin A in different units of food is irrelevant.

Society devalues food as we allocate less and less of our budget to it. This puts producers in the difficult position of producing similar ‘‘output’’ under constant pressure. Cramming more chickens into sheds leads to equal nutritional output, at better value to the consumer, but does nothing for the chickens, or for our sense of living reasonably and humanely. Such examples permeate our expectations of ‘‘cheap’’ food and explain why topsoil is rapidly disappearing while food insecurity rises for billions.

How I buy everything determines how I want society to be. Do I buy the cheapest clothes, knowing they come from sweat shops in Asia, or do I seek out more expensive, Australian-made clothes, knowing that keeps a fellow Australian employed? Do I buy Chinese pet food (much better value) or seek an Australian product?

If food is merely combinations of vitamins, minerals, fibre, GI value and so on, wrapped up in kilojoules, you might as well swallow a pill. For those of us who value food, such studies are odious. The implicit reasoning behind them suggests that obtaining daily nutrition should be run only through the filter of ‘‘economic value’’.

Peter Kenyon Turramurra (SMH, Saturday, 1st August)

The SMH summarized my letter with yet another flippant headline: “Organic food a lifestyle, not nutritional, choice”. Well at least they published it. The person who came up with the headline would seem to have not read my letter at all. “Lifestyle choice” is generally used in a pretty disparaging way to describe someone’s unjustifiable excesses which can’t be sustained with any logical explanation. It reveals, yet again, the mindset of the person for whom food is merely a collection of nutrients obtained at cheapest personal financial cost. There’s a distinct tendency (for some Australians in particular?) to want to “save” those of us into “organic lifestyles” from ourselves by pointing out that we’re being ripped off.

I wonder why those same people don’t run up at the traffic lights to every driver of a Mercedes, BMW or other luxury car and tell them that they’re also being ripped off. After all, a Merc costs considerably more than a Daihatsu and they can both get you reliably from A to B. What about a home with a view compared to a home without one? An iPhone over the cheapest mobile phone? It’s very likely those of you reading this already value food highly. Thanks.

The Real Granny Smith