Put Your Heart In It: Eco Gatherings

Learning, laughter, beautiful food, wine - all of these made up my Thursday evening last week, with a Put Your Heart Into It eco gathering.

I first came across Put Your Heart Into It (PYHII) via Instagram. They offer sustainable wedding planning and styling workshops, and I am trying to plan a sustainable wedding. Perfect match! After some tooing and froing, I could not attend the workshop before my wedding.

Our mission is to create sustainable and eco-conscious experiences that not only inspire but aim to promote a slower lifestyle, where simplicity and community involvement are cultivated as well as nurturing a hands-on approach to getting creative.

Luckily they host a long list of other sustainable and eco-conciousess workshops. So I did something that I had wanted to do for a while; learn to weave. If you live in or near Melbourne, check out their upcoming workshops here.

Put Your Heart In It: Eco Gatherings

Roz, a Melbourne based textile designer was our teacher on the night, assisted by co-owner of Put Your Heart Into It, Laura Issell. It was lovely to hear in person the inspiration for creating the company, the purpose of their workshops and goals for the future. Even the building, Big Bang Studio’s, where the workshop is located was a wonderful story to hear. Very cool things happening on the banks of Merri Creek.

A beautiful grazing table was laid out, most of it bought in bulk without packaging. The intention is to not only enjoy the food, but to also have conversations about where the food comes from. There was flavoured water, served in simple glasses with reusable bamboo straws. I appreciated that the eco choices were integrated into the evening seamlessly. We could weave, grab some food, chat, laugh, drink, weave some more…have more food. It’s safe to say we were well fed.

Put Your Heart In It: Eco Gatherings

Put Your Heart In It: Eco Gatherings

Down to the weaving – it was fun. There was no pressure to create something perfect (or anything at all). The goal was to relax and learn. After a long day at work, I found the weaving very peaceful. That might have been helped by the wine too…

My basket mid weave

Put Your Heart In It: Eco Gatherings

The finished product

Put Your Heart In It: Eco Gatherings

Put Your Heart In It: Eco Gatherings

I made my basket out of rope, along with collected yarn from second hand stores found by our teacher. It was lovely to work with natural fibres, knowing that it will break down completely at the end of its life. 

All the workshops on offer at PYHII are geared at learning practical skills, with emphasis on reusing as much as choosing natural eco materials. It has inspired me to use up some cloth scraps I have at home and *try* weaving into a basket, rug or wall hanging…

It was nice to take time out to indulge my messy crafty side. I am going to inject this new found inspiration to create, it into my wedding planning.

Speaking of which, the wedding is in less than a month. So I am signing off the blog and diving into the final stages, of planning my attempt to host a zero waste/plastic free wedding. Wish us luck! x
This is a continuation of the rural bulk food co-op series, I have been sharing on the blog. The intention of these blog posts, is to shine a light on the possibilities that exist, for people wishing to reduce waste, shop away from larger supermarkets and become more connected with their community but happen to live in country locations.

Each of these blogs posts is an exploration on how a rural co-op's function, while sharing issues and insights. 

A co-op is a group of people who voluntarily work together through a fairly run business.

These co-ops function the same way a regular bricks and mortar bulk store works. It just happens to operate out of someones space or public room and run by volunteers. Memberships are often required, meetings are held and decisions made by the group for the group.

A bulk food co-op is a way for people to come together, buy staple foods in larger quantities, at an affordable price too. It is a great way for rural communities to reduce their packaging.

So far, my journey has taken me to a rural bulk co-op in Seymour and the unpackaged co-op in Warrnambool here in Victoria. Click through the blog posts to learn more on how each community runs their own co-ops. Today, we are visiting Beechworth Food Co-Op with Jade Miles, Co-Op president. 

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Beechworth Food Co-Op

What is the Beechworth Food Co-op? How long has it been in operation? why was it started?

The Beechworth Food Co-Op is 100% community owned, operated and registered not for profit enterprise. We are located in Boiler House Lane, a developing food and artisan precinct of Beechworth and currently open three days per week. Opening our doors in January 2015 we strive to create genuine community connection via the medium of food via our retail shop and programs.

The Beechworth Food Co-Op has five primary objectives. They are: 
  • To make available whole and local fresh food to the Beechworth community 
  • To promote and support local sustainable agriculture in the Beechworth region 
  • To promote and support healthy diets and improved health outcomes within the Beechworth community 
  • To proactively assist with the minimisation of and education about reducing waste 
  • To provide a place for community connection 
The overarching objective is to support and grow a vibrant local food production system that provides high quality fair priced fresh and dry food whilst also building community resilience and connectedness around food.

To achieve this the following strategic objectives have been identified, with actions and measures articulated for each.

1. Healthy Food Access: To provide increasing access to high quality local food (Food Co op Bulk and Fresh)

2. Food System Development: Actively collaborate in local and regional food system development (Advocacy). Support the growth of local sustainable agriculture

3. Business Strength: Develop leadership commitment system management and financial viability within the organisation

4. Community Communication and Education: Foster a deep community connection through food and education (Food Co op Living)

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Beechworth Food Co-Op

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Beechworth Food Co-Op

How does it work?

We are open Tues 3-6, Thurs 2-6 and Saturday 9-3. We have one paid staff member who covers half of these hours and the rest of the staffing is undertaken by volunteers. We operated for the first 12 months completely on volunteer commitment alone but have recently been viable enough to employ someone for ten hours a week.

Do people bring their own bags or containers for reuse? 

About half do. The other half either use recylced bags available in store which are gfree or they can purchase brown paper bags for 10, 20 and 30 cents.

How many people work or volunteer to run the Beechworth Food Co-op?

We have a board of nine, a working member base of 17 and one ten hour a week staff member.

What are the number of members? Can they request new items be added?

We have grown to service 216 households which equates to an approximate 400 adults and 400 children. We began with just 60 items of food on the shelves and now we offer over 350. Now if new food is desired we place it on a blackboard and once it has 5 votes we source it.

What would be the process to start one up in a community?
​​I have attached our very first prospectus as this was the very first document that we circulated between a working group of 10 people. These 10 then recruited 5 each and once we got to 50 members we opened the doors and began trading. We have since evolved our documentation substantially as we now have a logo a website and an entire operational manual.

We secured space that we paid very little for and we relied soley on volunteer hours. Our range and hours grew as our membership did.

We wrote a rules of association and a strategic plan within the first 12 months and we formalised our governance within 8 months of operating. These were crucial foundations to lay to ensure ongoing viability. I present on the start up stage monthly at various places around the state and am more than happy to discuss this in greater details with you if you like.

Were there any hiccups encountered in the first year? or can you share any lessons learnt from running a co-op? 

We had to move venues three times (nightmare, but maintained low operational costs and are now in a great place which services us perfectly for where we are at.

Managing volunteers was a tricky process too. We have since changed our model to the one reflected in the membership prospectus. The new system is that all members pay $45 or $25 for health care and pensioner card holders and they pay the same price for their food which has gone up to an average of 25% on top of cost. There are 17 working members positions plus board members who still pay the same membership prices but they now receive a 20% discount off all purchases. This is a more efficient system as we only need to managed a very small committed group of volunteers.

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Beechworth Food Co-Op

What does the co-op hope to do in the future?

Food Co op Fresh and Food Co op living are both the projects on the cards at the moment.

Membership Communications

Membership communication has gradually become more streamlined with monthly e-newsletters, the website, Facebook and volunteer emails all being utilised. Currently a range of people manage the various platforms, but it is projected that this will continue to become tighter and more consistent as time progresses.

The strongest following is on Facebook, and this social media outlet has been used to good effect for advertising produce as well as events. The e-newsletters include information sourced from a variety of Board members and are designed to be consistent and follow the Co-Op branding utilised in-store and on the website. Currently, volunteers are communicated with via a separate email chain from the Volunteer Co-Ordinator. New software is being trialled to see if this process can also be streamlined.

The website was designed with Co-Op branding in mind, and is a great resource for members and curious onlookers alike. Information (such as the Co-Op’s top sellers) is easily available, and the range of produce is captured via the inclusion of a product list. An option exists for members to request items they would like to see on Co-Op shelves. The website is easy to use, inclusive and informative. In future years it is projected that the Education and Fresh sections will come alive, as these portfolios grow and mature.

Retail Shop

Our retail shop is not typical. We always have a pot of tea and a freshly baked cake to share (supplied by volunteers) while members connect and share food stories, recipes and meal plans. We provide a childrens play area, seed swap and abundance boxes. Our retail shop currently has a product range of over 350 competitively priced bulk dry foods and a growing range of locally (and ideally organic) grown meats, fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs, plus a growing range of household cleaning and personal care products. The shop opens three times per week on a Tuesday 3 – 6pm, Thursday 2 – 6pm and Saturday 9 – 3pm.

Co-op shifts are operated by a Working member. Working members are sought each quarter by the Volunteer Co-ordinator, placed on a quarterly roster and are expected to complete three shifts per quarter. Benefits for a Working Member is a 20% discount on items which carry a surcharge (in accordance with the product purchase hierarchy).


Co Op Living - Wholefood education via events, forums, workshops and school programs.

Beechworth Food Co-Op Living is a commitment to deliver a minimum of 12 educational and connecting workshops per annum. Our first workshop was with Humble Hemp and was incredibly well attended with overwhelmingly positive responses. We have a vibrant and diverse line up of events in the coming months. The objective of this arm of the business is to educate our community about genuinely living a simpler, more connected and more mindful life that embraces the Co-Op ethics.

To stay true to the overarching objectives of the Food Co-Op, a systematic and diverse educational program is being developed for delivery to the members to expand their understanding of what wholefoods (and their health benefits) are and how they can be used. We offer a schools excursion program where kids learn in a tasty hands on environment what the meaning of food provenance, local food systems, organic, wholefoods and food miles are. This has been utilised already by 3 of the 5 local schools across all year levels from prep to year 10.

Weekly meal planners, ‘how to use cards’ and an annual cookbook are being developed and progressively released. We have a e-newsletter that shares recipes, provides updates, promotes upcoming events in the region, highlights new products and producers and opportunities for community members to connect.

We have cooking demonstrations where local producers cook with their product and share their stories.

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Beechworth Food Co-Op

Community connection

A clear objective for the Food Co-Op shop space was to create a ‘third place’(a location that is not your work or your house). Somewhere that is not yours, not mine but ours. A place that can be shared, a place to connect, a place of open, warm friendship where everyone is welcome and learning is encouraged.

We host seasonal morning teas to bring our members together and educate about ways to support local food and utilise wholefoods in their everyday family meals, creating a healthier more connected community and localising our food supply system.

The Food Co-Op delivers quarterly catch up days where mugs of soup or coffee and cake are shared. These mornings have been well attended, are vibrant and richly connecting events which will continue. In addition to the special quarterly events, a weekly addition is the offer of a freshly baked cake (baked by a volunteer) and a cup of tea, this is regularly the reason for more than 20 members at one time to extend their stay at the Co-Op to connect with others.

Abundance boxes

Another community connecting attribute of the Co-Op is the ‘abundance boxes’ which are a free ‘take and leave as you please’ system that encourages those with plentiful amounts in their garden to share with those who do not. This system enhances the understanding of seasonality, encourages the desire to share with others and inspires the creation of recipes which are readily shared.

Seed library

The Co-Op houses a seed library which is serviced by members who deposit their saved seeds and take the seeds from others as needed for their next seasons plantings. Again this instills a strong sense of community connection, inspires questions and results in learnings.

All of these existing initiatives provide the backbone of a strong community group that enables a successful launch into the aggregation and provision of fresh food. Connecting farmers to eaters!

Collaboration and alignment

The Beechworth Food Co-Op has direct organisational links to key local, regional and national organisations. Our closest link is to the Beechworth Urban Landcare and Sustainability Group, from where the Co-Op grew. We share common ideas and collaborate on projects that build community resilience, connections and positive environmental outcomes. The Beechworth Food Co-Op is a contributing member of the North East Sustainability Alliance (NERSA) which is the regions peak body for sustainability groups.

The Beechworth Food Co-Op also sits on the ‘Local Food Network North East and Riverina’ committee which is the regions peak local food advocacy group with connections to local government, health agencies, catchment management authorities and local educational institutions. The Beechworth Food Co-op is represented on the Indigo Shire Councils Environment Advisory Committee taking a leading role within the Local Food sub group. On a national scale the Beechworth Food Co-Op is a member and active collaborater with the Australian Food Soverienty Alliance.

We have initiated an alliance with the Beechworth Montessori School and shall contribute to their Montessori Adolescent Program which includes the building of a permaculture garden. We plan to contribute to the education of children and adults, and in doing so help create a more sustainable, self supporting food system.

If someone is interested in shopping with Beechworth Food Co-op, what do they need to know?

Just come on up and visit us during the opening hours - we are open and welcoming to all!

Last year we toyed with the idea of getting a water filter. One of those fancy tap ones. Instead, we decided to get skylights. One downstairs and one upstairs. Our town house gets very little sunlight during the day, and certain areas, like my desk, the stairs, and front of the house require us to turn the lights on to get about during the day. We figured if we installed sky lights, we would not need to use any lights and would save on electricity. These areas rarely get used at night and having lights on during the day was kinda crazy. Needless to say, the skylights have changed everything (so much light!!!!) plus the one upstairs opens to let fresh air in. This was amazing on hot nights. When we open it, the heat is sucked straight out, making the air conditioner completely redundant...which is good, I don't like air conditioners and this will also save us money in the long run too.

We forgot about the water filter, until Happy Coal contacted me about their plastic free water filter...made of charcoal.

Yep, charcoal – well white charcoal, to be precise, that is confusingly, black.

The charcoal is Kishu Binchotan, made from oak branches that are baked at high temperatures inside kilns over the course of a month. The process is an old tradition from Japan, and has been used as for cooking for hundreds of years. Recently, it's porous structure has shown it to be ideal for removing chlorine, heavy metals and to alkalise water.

Filtering water is personal. Water in Australia is clean, meaning most of us can turn the tap on and drink, without contracting a water born illness. For it to be clean, the water is treated with different methods to ensure no micro-organisms breed. One of the treatments is adding chlorine. You only need to type the word chlorine, with the word water into a search engine, to find the varying views on this chemical in our drinking water and its potential harm to our bodies. I'm not about to start complaining about it. Not when there are people without clean drinking water. But if I can remove something like chlorine from my drinking water, then why not.

Unlike most water filtration systems on the market, such as jugs or permanent taps with inbuilt filtration, this simple charcoal branch is plastic free.  It doesn't require multiple parts. At the end of its life, the charcoal goes onto a garden or compost.

How to use
  1. Open packaging. Put binchotan into boiling water and boil for 5 minutes to sterilise. Remove and cool.
  2. Put binchotan into a water bottle. Use 60 g per 1 l of water. Take care not to drop it. Binchotan is easily breakable. Fill with tap water.
plastic free water filter
  1. Leave for at least 5 hours to filter. For best results, leave binchotan to work its magic overnight.
  2. Enjoy clean, soft, delicious, alkalising water!
  3. Refill your bottle again and again. Reuse for up to 2 months. Boil binchotan every 3 weeks to refresh and remove build-up.
  4. Once binchotan is no longer effective, compost it in your garden.
I enjoyed this product. Normally, when I am asked to review a product, I don't. Usually because it does not interest me or it's something I would not use. I almost did not say yes, because the binchotan comes from Japan and I try my hardest to support Australian made. For the record, Happy Coal is an Australian company.

The packaging is fully compostable, made of 100% recycled material manufactured in Australia along with the shredded recycled paper.

Below is how the goods were sent to me. All reusable and compostable elements. The packaging is just as important as the product. There was no hidden plastic.

I would use this again. The experience was enjoyable, easy to use and the water did taste cleaner. Binchotan would be a fantastic option for people who buy water in plastic water bottles, because they don't like the taste of tap water or don't like the chemicals that are present.

I have one Happy Coal Premium Binchotan gift box worth $25.00 to GIVE AWAY. 

To win, simply comment below or email me, with your favourite quote about water. It can be a line from a book, poem, song, quote...anything. The winner will be randomly selected. Entries are open until midnight, Wednesday 20 April 2016. Australian residents only. Competition closed.

I was not paid to write this post. Happy Coal asked if i'd like to try their product and give an honest review. I received this product for free.
When I made the decision to sign up for Plastic Free July in 2012, it was a challenge. Giving up my plastic was SO hard. Not because there were no options to replace my single use plastic habits. The challenge was in the changing of my habits. 

I was used to not ever think about my purchases. If I was thirsty, and forgot my refillable bottle, i'd buy a plastic packaged water bottle from the store. If I was shopping for groceries, I'd use the plastic bags the store offered me. If I was wanting a snack, I'd buy one pre packaged, ready for me. No thought, only convenient consumption.

There are plenty of replacements for all these plastic items. In fact, these replacements existed well before plastic came along. My reusable water bottle, replaced my need for buying packaged plastic water bottles. I have cloth bags that now replace the plastic bags when I shop. And snacks are now collected in reusable containers or reusable cloth snack bags. The solutions are there. What I needed was a way to remember these solution.

Getting into a new habit of remembering, was the bridge I needed to cross.

According to James Clear, writer on behavioural psychology and habit formation, every habit we have follows a pattern known as the 3 R's of habit change. These are Reminder, Routine and Reward.

The reward for me was using less plastic. The tools to start the routine were readably available. It was the reminder, the first step in the pattern, that needed the most work.

Below are some of the tricks I used to change my plastic habits

Electronic reminders
Most people have smart phones these days or some kind of device that will send electronic reminders. I used my calender on my phone or my email calender, setting up events with phrases like:

“don't forget your water bottle”
“write your shopping list tonight, put bags at front door”
“put your reusable bags into your handbag”
“say no to plastic bags”
"don't get a straw in your drink at the pub tonight"
"sit in and enjoy your hot chocolate"

The tricks I used to change my plastic habits
Photo by Anthony Strong
My phone would beep throughout the day. When I received one reminder, I would put one in for the next day. The constant repetition of reminders worked well. When they stopped, the reminders had become so engrained that I expected them, that I began consciously asking myself if I had my water bottle before I left the house or if I had a cloth bag with me.

Visual reminders 
I would hang my cloth bag on the front door. Did I forget from time to time? You betcha. But seeing it there and rehanging the bag each time, became a visual reminder that, like the phone reminders, I expected it to be there.

The tricks I used to change my plastic habits

The tricks I used to change my plastic habits
Photo by Anthony Strong
I also stuck notes on my handbag, the fridge and anywhere that I passed by often during the week. I even had one in my wallet.

It might be daggy or cumbersome to put notes about the house or into your phone. But it's not forever. As each day moved along, the reminders helped to action new habits, that did eventually stick.

How did you remember to bring your reusable bottles or bags? Is changing habits as big of a hurdle for you?
Some of you may have seen on a recent Instagram post, about my joy of finally getting a copy of Sarah Wilson's Simpilicious from the local library. It has been on my hold list for over five months. A popular book in the north western suburbs of Melbourne for sure.

I flicked through the pages, making notes of stuff to try and reading Sarah's tidbits of wisdom. One in particular stood out to me, that I had to share, because it's good.
Get over it

In a nutshell, the quote is about eating locally and seasonally.

85% of the cookbooks I own, feature mostly recipes that call for foods from all the seasons. When I first started buying and eating with the seasons, I was frustrated because my old favourite recipes asked for vegetables or fruit available in season at various times of the year. It was hard to buy local, if I wanted to stick to the recipes 100%.

I learnt early on, that if I want to cook a recipe and don't have a vegetable because my farmers can't grow, say a tomato in winter, I will have to get over it and get creative. Use my noggin. And it's easy to do. So many vegetables and fruit can be switched out for local and in season produce.

Some culinary adventures have been a great success and others have not. It's all part of the fun, getting over things.

This mindset has filtered down into other areas of my life too.

I don't normally do random posts like this, but I just had to share Sarah's gem of wisdom. I think "getting over it" is a thing most people who go plastic free or zero waste or are making the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle face along the way. At least I did...and Sarah.

Gexy /greksi/adj. used to describe a sexy or appealing person who is also a greenie.

What makes up more of your eco-footprint than transport and home energy use combined?


A whopping 1/3 of our personal eco-footprint is made up of the food we buy. Not to mention the way our food is packaged has a wide reaching impact too. Reducing our eco-footprint is key to limiting climate change. Since most of us eat three times a day, changing what you put on your fork and how it gets there can make a world of difference.

As a proud ambassador for Sustainable Table's Give a Fork April challenge, I’ll be sharing on Instagram and Facebook, the different ways I eat, buy my food and how much I love my Victorian farmers, as I take on one of the three 30 days to #grexy challenges:

Challenge 1 - Grexy Teaser
Cut the disposable cup, carry a drink bottle and request your drinks shaken, not strawed. This means that for the month you pledge to buy your takeaway drinks in a reusable cup and say no to bottled water and straws

Challenge 2 - Halfway to Grexy 
Make meat a treat, get your veg on and commit to meat-free weekdays for a month. Show the world that eating veg is just about as grexy as it gets. Making meat a (free range) treat also tastes way better and is great for the environment too.

Challenge 3 - Drop Dead Grexy
Learn how to eat right for the planet and your health. The ultimate 30-day crash course – a perfect intro to sustainable living. Attempt to fit all your landfill waste for the month into one container and learn how to incorporate sustainable eating and living habits into your daily life, without turning it upside-down

You can join in too. Sign up with giveafork.com.au this April and take on one of their challenges to help bring sexy back to environmentalism and I will give you a glass straw + brush. Okay, not everyone, just one person. Scroll to the bottom to find out how to win a reusable glass straw. 

This 30-day challenge is just that – a challenge. It challenges your thinking and your everyday habits. It challenges you to check-in with yourself and your life and ask yourself – am I living my life according to my values? If I love the look of beautiful clean beaches, am I minimising my plastic waste? If I adore animals and only want the best for them, am I also buying ethical meat? In saying that, this challenge is also simple. It’s not designed to turn your whole life upside down and inside out in a month. It’s designed to introduce you to sustainable eating and living habits, to give you a little taster and to help you to achieve baby steps towards a bigger, more fulfilling and long-term journey. Small, easy steps. And yes, it’s designed to increase your sex appeal, big time.

  • By the end of it, you’ll be a lean mean #grexy machine. 
  • How to reduce your food and packaging waste: eg, getting your zero waste kit together, shopping waste free, starting a compost 
  • How to eat a well for the planet, choosing ethical meat and sustainable seafood: e.g. where to find it and what labels to look out for, Seasonal eating: what’s in season when 
  • How to support local farmers and producers: e.g. where to shop, finding the best shopping solution for your lifestyle 
  • Free eBooks
Take a #grexy challenge or dine out this April and show the world that taking care of the planet is way sexier than trashing it.
Image from Glass Dharma
To help you with the challenge, I have partnered with Glass Dharma to give 10% off their glass straws. Just enter THEROGUEGINGER at the checkout to collect your discount. 

Sign up to one of the challenges through giveafork.com.au to be in the running to win a Glass Dharma straw + cleaning brush. Let me know in the comments below or via email, with your name/email that you signed up for one of the challenges by April 2nd 2016. I will pick a winner at random. Winner announced Wednesday 3 April 2016. CLOSED!

When anyone asks me, what steps they should take to reduce their own waste, I always preach that they should get composting. Below are 8 ways to get composting for all types of homes. 

When I began my journey to reduce what I was sending to landfill, composting became a non negotiable. It was the quickest way to reduce what went into my bin each week. Over 40% of our food ends up in landfill, usually wrapped in a plastic bag and piled on top of one another, weeks after week. The combination of our garbage in plastic bags and the way landfill is configured, means that the food won't break down properly. It can take up to a year for food wrapped in plastic to decompose. Huge amounts of methane gas is created too, a heavy contributor to green house gases.

Our food, the normal unprocessed stuff, is designed to break down in soil. There are all types of insects, bugs and worms that will eat it up, helping return nutrients to the soil. Our food scraps going to landfill is a big fat waste.

When food scraps are composted, they don't become waste anymore, instead they are food, for the soil. The act of composting embodies the quote “there is no garbage in nature.” It's closed-loop perfection.

Composting also renders a plastic bin liner obsolete. This is the biggest obstacle people seem to have, when wanting to give up plastic bags. If nothing wet, like food scraps, is going into a bin, the plastic bin liners are really not necessary.

In this post, I am going to share 8 ways to get composting, whether you have a backyard or live in the CBD of Melbourne. Let's make composting the necessity. A habit of our weekly routine.

And, composting will make you grexy.

Garden Composting

Great for those with a backyard or apartment complex with a shared outdoor garden.

This type of composting is what I grew up with and what I do now. It is very simple to set up. The one thing that is needed is some space. You can straight away by picking a place and begin adding food scraps, garden off cuts, leaves, paper. Or grab some planks of wood and square off a space. We created one out of a metal garbage bin, then we decided to make a larger one using scraps of wood down the side of our house (we don't really have a backyard). We still have the metal one - now it holds our finished compost before it goes onto the garden.

If you are putting your scraps right onto soil, worms will come along the party. But if your compost is contained, grab a box or worms from your local nursery or ask friends if they have any to spare.

Hardware stores also have a range of ready made bins too.

The idea is to add green and brown to the compost. The green part is the food scraps and some garden off cuts (think cut grass or weeds). Green is the nitrogen. Adding brown, the carbon, helps to balance the nitrogen. So things like paper, wood, leaves or left over mulch. It's not a necessity to get the balance right. Your scraps will break down, it will just take a little longer.

You will need to turn the compost at least once a week. So grab a shovel or pitchfork, and turn turn turn. This helps feed oxygen in. If you turn the compost (also known as aerating) it won't smell. It is best to put this type of compost in an area that does not get too much sun, to prevent everything drying out. If you notice the compost is a little dry when turning, water it until moist to keep your worms happy.

Don't think that an acre of land in required for this type of compost. We built our compost on the side of our town house in suburbs. A garden compost can be altered to fit where you have enough space (at least two to three metres).

Apartments with a shared garden space, can also get a similar option going. Speak to your body corporate to see if they would allow one on the communal garden. Some councils also provide discounts on ready made garden composting bins.

8 ways to get composting for all types of homes

Worm Farm
Perfect for those with a small outdoor area (apartment balcony or courtyard), a backyard or apartment complex with a shared outdoor garden

Worm farms are a great alternative for those with less space or who don't want too add anything other than food scraps and the occasional water. It's a simpler method, with many places selling worm farm kits or you could try making your own, using a variety of materials. Kits come with 1,000+ worms.

The brilliant thing about worm farms, is the juice produced. This is liquid gold for plants, as is the castings.

Like a compost heap, worm farms do better in a shady position. Most worm farm kits are not made of man made materials, and can heat up if in direct sunlight for a long period of time. 

I have seen worm farms set up in garages, on balconies, in courtyards or along the side of the house. Check Gumtree.com.au for second hand options or visit youtube to learn how to make your own.
Images from Tumbleweed
Bokashi Bin
For apartment dwellers, small spaces and those who want easy access.

The appeal of the Bokashi bin, is that it can be kept inside, on the kitchen counter or in a cupboard. It's 1.5 litre size means it won't take up too much room. The added bonus is, there is no smell AND it will take meat and dairy.

It's not a compost in the traditional sense, instead the food scraps are broken down by a fermentation process. As the scraps are put into the bin, users then sprinkle the Bokashi One Mix. This is full of micro-organisms that ferments the food in an airtight bucket. Like the worm farm, juice is collected at the bottom and used as fertiliser on plants.

However, a Bokashi bin will not reduce all the waste to liquid. It does need to be emptied once full. This means users need to find somewhere to drop off the compost if they don't have a garden. Otherwise, dig a hole in your garden, drop in and cover with soil.

There is also the added expense of buying bags of the Bokashi One Mix each time. 

Image from greenlifestylemagazine.com.au

Electric composting

For apartment dwellers, small spaces and those who want easy access.

I first discovered electric composting through Joost Bakker's zero waste cafe. An electric composting unit, needs, well electricity and food scraps..and depending on the type of machine, some type of brown part (sawdust or paper). And everything is turned into compost within a 24-48hr time frame. Most food can be added to the unit too; fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, paper, teabags excluding hard shells like oyster and scallop shells. Large bones are also discouraged. I imagine if then are used in a stock a couple times, then the bones could be fed into the unit.

Units for the home can range from a couple hundred dollars. Yes, it carries a bit of price tag, and I imagine there might be some noise. But I think for a large family or even shared by apartment dwellers in a communal space, it would be a savvy investment. The compost can be used for the garden or passed onto others. When I first discovered the wonder that is electric composting, I thought about setting one up in our garage and encouraging neighbours to donate their food scraps, then selling the compost onto a garden centre. Possible business idea?!

“Heat, agitation and airflow are applied to the unit's contents to assist the naturally occurring microbes in the starter material compost your food waste.”

The only downsides appear to be the electricity usage and the potential smell if the balance between green and brown matter is off. I could not find how much it costs to run.

There are two companies that sell the electric units, in Australia and in the US;

Closed Loop Organics have a domestic composter called CLO'ey. This machine can compost 4kg of waste in 24hrs. (based in Melbourne, Sydney and London).

Nature Mill range from 11L to 15L. (based in Ohio, US)

Community Garden Composts

For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

Most cities and towns have a community garden. It's a place where locals from surrounding areas can rent a plot and grow their own vegetables. And most of them have a compost. You don't have to own a plot to drop your compost off either. My best advise is to contact the community garden about dropping your compost off.

Some places might be hesitant, due to people not adding the correct food scraps to the compost (for instance meat). If there are rules, they must be adhered to (It's only fair). Some places might also ask for help maintaining the compost or even a donation to go towards the community garden.

Community gardens are usually open on Saturday's. This means saving your compost up all week. Before you start worrying about smell etc, I suggest saving them in a bag in the freezer. This will stop any smell. On the day you want to drop it off, take the bag out of the freezer. The bag can be washed out and reused again and again. Who knows, you might score some free veggies from members of the community garden or get inspired to have a patch of your own.

If you are unsure about a community garden in your area, phone your local Council. They will know about all the options in your area.

School Garden Compost

For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

Some schools, especially primary schools, have gardens and composts or worm farms on site as part of the children’s curriculum. If you are a parent of a child that goes to a school with a compost, ask if you could drop off your food scraps one day per week, offering to turn it. Just keep the scraps in the freezer during the week, so they don't smell.

Friends Compost

For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.
Another way to get composting, is to approach friends that have their own compost, worm farm or even electric composting system (the Bokashi bin would be too small). Ask if you are able to bring around your food scraps. I'd happily let my friends bring around theirs (i'd ask them to give the compost a good turn). Again, the scraps can be left in the freezer until the you need to take them around.

Compost Collection

For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

Compost collectors is something that I came across when I was in the US last year. When I found out that there are business that charge a fee to take your food scraps and bring back a bag of compost, I wondered if there was anything like this here in Australia.

Melbourne has Compost Collectors.

Brisbane has Mallow Sustainability. They currently only take from cafes and restaurants green waste. But that could change if there is demand.

What do I keep my food scraps in, before they go to the compost?
Usually a normal ceramic food bowl from our cupboard. We collect everything into the bowl while cutting/cooking and then empty into the compost before we go to bed. Sometimes its a bad dash in the rain.  My parents use a bucket under the sink.

But...the plastic?!
I know some of these options are made of plastic. It is near impossible to find plastic free solutions for smaller homes. I see it this way - if a plastic composter or worm farm is going to be used for a very long time and keep food out of landfill, then I don't see it as particularly bad decision. The worm farms and bokashi bin can be found made of recycled plastic. I'm not anti plastic, just anti the misuse...and I don't see competing as a misuse. 

Let me know in the comments below about any tips you have for composting. What can we do to make composting cool again? If you don't compost, I'd love to know why it does not appeal to you? Is it the space? Time? Smell?
Last week I shared the story of a rural bulk co-op in Seymour, how it works and other insights into setting one up in a rural area. Today, I am sharing another rural bulk co-op, based in Warrnambool, a seaside town, three hours from Melbourne.

To read about what a bulk co-op is and also about Seymour's operation, click here.

A bulk co-op is different to a bulk food store. A bulk co-op is community run and not for profit. It is run by members, for members.

It is also an accessible alternative for rural communities to get their food in bulk and reduce packaging. If you are from a rural or regional area, are interested in reducing waste and don’t have a bulk food store near you, this post is for you.

The Warrnambool Unpackaged Food Co-op first began in 1994, over 20 years ago and continues strongly today, with 45 households taking part. It operates out of a room, donated by the Uniting Church.

They sell, rice, beans, nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, pasta, flours of different sorts, baking products, cleaning products, shampoo, conditioner, soaps, oils and much much more.

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Warrnambool Unpackaged

Originally it was set up by the Uniting Church, so that food and other goods could be purchased collectively and without the unnecessary packaging.

Today, it's original aim still holds.

Below are the rules that were in place at the start, and remain today:
  • Food must be able to be purchased in bulk to avoid as much packaging as possible 
  • Food is purchased directly from the wholesalers to cut down on costs 
  • Members share the labour in ordering, purchasing, collecting and distributing foods 
  • Where possible foods produced in Australia are purchased 
  • When certain foods are not available from Australia, an attempt is made to purchase the products from as just a source as possible 
  • Where possible, foods or organic origin are included 
  • Where foods are available in the required quality and quantity they are purchase from local businesses 

Membership is required, with an annual fee of $12 for families and $6 for singles. These fees go towards bins, scoops, scales, printers, ink and will help cover the cost of excess stock. All goods are sold with a 10% markup to cover freight, postage, stationary, photocopying and stock losses among other things.

Members are also required to completed work on three to four monthly food pick ups throughout the year. This is conducted on a roster system, with three shifts for each pickup. Roles include setting up, helping people pickup their food and packing up.

There is a committee of up to five people, each with their own roles. These include coordinator, communications, orderer, treasurer, and stock taker. These roles are held for one year

“Unpackaged seeks to provide a low cost, environmentally friendly alternative to the mainstream supermarkets”

Pickup is on the first Friday of each month (except January) from 1.30-2.30pm and 4-7pm. They have a facebook page for those who are interested or you can turn up with a some of your own containers and let the staff know you are new.

Just like a regular bricks and mortar bulk food store, members bring their own jars, plastic containers, cloth bags (any container you want).

Staff rostered on will weigh the containers, fill with food and then weigh again, subtracting the original weight of the container (this system is called tare weight). Payment is made on the day, by either cash, cheque or bank transfer.

Alternatively, members can drop off their clearly labeled containers and return later to collect their goods.

As you can see, there is no set way to run a bulk co-op. While the Warrnambool Unpackaged co-op has similarities to the Seymour run BEAM bulk co-op, there are differences that reflect the area and people.

I got to meet and chat with some of the women that run the Warrnambool bulk food co-op. Some had been with the co-op for over a decade, while others had been there for only a year. Each of the women spoke about their unified distaste for over packaged food. Being apart of a bulk co-op puts the power back into their own hands and wallets. They also spoke of the fun they have together, and friendships built through the co-op. One lady said that it was nice to be aligned with a group of people had the same views when it came to better food choices for herself, her family and her environment. They also spoke of the money they saved, too.

I asked if they ever felt like their required shifts were hard work or cumbersome, my answer came with laughter and a shake of the head. To them, it was a chance to meet up with friends.

While I could not get an answer on how the original group came together 22 years ago, I brainstormed some ways, people who want to start up their own bulk co-op, could meet like minded people in their own rural community.

  • Put a notice in the local paper 
  • Tack a notice up outside a popular community centre or notice board 
  • Talk with friends and family about your desire to start up a bulk co-op 
  • Write a letter to the editor of the local paper or 
  • Call up your paper, ask a local journalist to write a story about over packaged food, and what can be done in the community to combat it 

It does take a group of individuals to come together for a bulk co-op up to get up and running. But the benefits seem to go beyond just the reduction of packaging and waste. So while some rural areas might not get to see a bulk food store come to life where they live, there is every chance a bulk co-op can work, thrive and be part of the community for a very long time.

I'd love to know of other bulk co-ops that operate in rural locations around Victoria and parts of Australia. Let me know in the comments below. If you are interested in starting one in your area, I encourage you to get in touch with either the Warrnambool or Seymour groups, as I know they would be happy to share how to get one up and running.