Put Your Heart Into It: Eco Gatherings

22 April 2016
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. 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

#trgcollab: The workshop was a gift by by Put Your Heart Into It. I use the hashtag #trgcollab to help readers idenifty items or services that were gifted to me or are paid post. This item was an unpaid gift. All views are my own. I only accept gifted items or services I would use personally. 

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

19 April 2016
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!


Plastic-free water filter

12 April 2016
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.

o 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.

The tricks I used to change my plastic habits

5 April 2016
When I made the decision to sign up for Plastic Free July in 2013, it was a challenge. Saying no to single use plastic was SO hard. The difficulty was not in the lack of options to replace my single use plastic habits. The challenge was in the changing of my habits. 

Pre 2013, I was used to never thinking 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
Putting reminders into my secondhand phone. 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. After a month, the reminders had become so engrained that I expected them, and so 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 to become a new normal.

How did you remember to bring your reusable bottles or bags? Is changing habits as big of a hurdle for you?
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