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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).

Programs

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!


beechworthfoodcoop.org.au

The benefits of eating seasonal and locally grown food

25 November 2014
I have made the move to eat only seasonal and locally grown food. It is one of the best decisions I have made. My wallet and health agree with me and you might too.

The benefits of eating seasonal and locally grown food

Do you know where your food comes from? No not the location of stores and markets where you gather the weekly groceries. Where is your food grown and harvested? How many kilometres does your food travel before it gets to your shop? And do you know what seasons your food grows?

I didn't until recently. Now we have made some changes and decided to become local and seasonal food consumers.

When the builder and I moved in together we made a consciences effort to shop and support local business as we navigated the ins and outs of living and shopping plastic free. We frequented the green grocer, butcher, fish monger and the grain and nut store. It was not until the Builder questioned whether our green grocer's fruit and vegetables were organic that I began to investigate what it meant to eat sustainably.

I looked at our food buying habits. Nope we were not buying organic fruit and vegetables. Although we were supporting a small business not all of the food was coming from local farmers. Much of it was travelling from several states away resulting in a larger carbon foot print.

We decided that aside from organic fruit and veggies, we also wanted to make less of an impact and could achieve this by simply supporting local farmers and eating what is in season. Aside from being a sustainable earth friendly choice there are other benefits too only buying food that is in season and from within our own State. Let's look at why...

Environment

Our food has a smaller distance to travel equaling fewer carbon emissions. The fruit and vegetables we buy come from farms that are less than three hours away, some even closer. An organic farmer will steer clear of toxic chemicals and pesticides, using only friendly methods to grow food. If the farmer grows organic it is a sign that he cares about the environment just as much as you and me. Eating locally grown food means we have to eat seasonally. It goes hand in hand.

Supporting local businesses and community

Recently one of Australia's big name supermarkets were sprung marketing and selling freshly baked bread that was...no joke...baked in Ireland and shipped to Australia. Now no harm to the Irish, you are very gifted bakers. I adore your soda breads and potato breads dearly but this was ludicrous. It makes me cringe when I think of not only the environmental impact but also the economic and social impact eating food shipped from far away countries and regions has on food growers in my very own State. By going to a certified farmer market we support food businesses in Victoria which in turn supports local families and the local economy.

Save money

Eating seasonally will also save you money as food that is purchased out of season can be marked up. Think about it; tomatoes grow naturally in summer. They are a summer fruit and a delicious one at that. So for farmers to grow tomatoes out of season will require more effort which requires more money. The farmers then have to pass this added price onto the shop owners. Then the shop owners can mark it up using the valid reason a tomato is not in season so it is a premium sale. Since buying food that is in season we have enjoyed a reduction in our weekly grocery bill.

Health

I am limited with the food I can buy. Coming from a habit where I used to buy whatever I fancied I did find the change limiting. But now I am glad for this change. I know food is picked when it is ripe, providing my body with all the nutrient benefits. Let's take the humble strawberry which is in season right now. It is programmed by nature to be eaten this time of year. The farmer should not need to add anything to them to help them grow or put them into greenhouses, which are usually made of plastic to prolong seasons. There are no weird chemicals, waxes or preservatives to make them look nicer. Nor have they been picked and frozen. They come as they are, never looking supermarket perfect but always bursting with flavour. The foods that flourish in the different seasons are aligned to help our bodies through winter, autumn, spring and summer.

At the farmers market I am able to talk to the people that nourish me. I have a direct relationship with the person that grows my vegetables and fruit; farm to plate to belly. I am cultivating community.

We downloaded a list of what is in season from the Victorian Farmers Markets Association to help us understand what food is in season. Sometimes there have been items at the market that are not on the list so we ask them how they are storing the food. There are even some leeks still available but now they are on the smaller size because the season is finished. The list is there a guide. The best person to ask is the farmer or produce seller.

"Our accreditation system means that shoppers can be sure they are buying freshly harvested, seasonal, local food direct from the person who grew, reared, baked or caught it. And it means local food producers can get a fair price for their goods." Victorian Farmers Markets Association

Of course the best way to eat local and seasonally would be to grow your own and partake in local food swaps. But if you are like me and are still a novice gardener, lack the space or simply don't like gardening then I suggest you check out your local farmers market. If a farmers market is not an option and the idea of eating seasonally appeals to you search for what is in season in your area.

The benefits of eating seasonal and locally grown food

We are able to avoid plastic and any other packaging, keeping our shop to complete zero waste. If our food comes tied in elastic bands we take them back for the farmers to use. One upside of buying at the farmers markets is there are no stickers on our produce. One downside is that buying meat or fish is not worth trying as our market is took small to have effective refrigeration which is required to sell meat in Victoria. The upside is that we are now eating a lot less meat. 

Another downside is that most of my cookbooks are not season friendly. Like at all. Or the food blogs I frequent. So recipes have kinda gone out the window and ingredients have become king to inventions resulting in dishes that are simpler and resulting in less time in the kitchen.

Check out what is in season and locally grown were you live. I promise you will enjoy eating food that is good for you, grown with care and will feel good about making a sustainable choice that will save money too.

Tell me, what is your fave food to buy in season?

Interview with Fair Food Forager

15 September 2016
Choosing how and where I spend my money is important to me. This rule also applies where I choose to eat my food. 

Melbourne is known, unofficially, as the foodie capital of Australia. Being from NSW, I joke it's because the weather is not the best in Melbourne and they don't have the beautiful beaches Sydney has to offer, so the city has to entertain/lure people with something else. 

It feels like there is a new restaurant/cafe/venue opening up every day, making this city a competitive place to find a meal. And if I want to find a meal that meets my eco values, it can feel like I'm searching for a needle in a haystack. 

I value places that think about their waste (both food and packaging), composting, reduced plastics, community minded, local food, fair food, organic. 

Fair Food Forager helps me to pick a business that aligns with my values. Their website and smartphone app, connects people like me, with the food business I want to spend my money with. When I am looking for somewhere to eat, I simply put in my post code and can browse the ethical food choices in my area. 

Food business are added to the app and website, by every day eco conscious individuals or by businesses themselves. The team at Fair Food Forager will then asses if the businesses nominated for listing, align with their ethical values. 

I got to chat with the developer Paul Hellier about what inspired him to build his fair food community website and smartphone app. 

Interview with Fair Food Forager

Interview with Fair Food Forager

What is Fair Food Forager about?
Fair Food Forager is creating a competitive / business reason for food growers, sellers and artisans to include ethical and sustainable practices in their business model. To achieve this, we have created a website and smartphone app that lists the more ethical and sustainable options right across Australia. Basically we want to highlight the businesses that are worthy of your money and make consumers aware of some of the little but very positive things being done in thousands of food venues, everywhere. We want to change the way the world eats, by helping people make better and more thoughtful decisions regularly.

What inspired you to start the website?

After about a decade of picking up litter, daily, from my local beach and being frustrated by the constant supply. I decided I wanted to do more, have a greater impact and felt that technology had to be a part of whatever that solution was.

After another year of deep thought, consideration and talking to lots of people, I decided that food was the link I needed. After a trip away and trying to get myself a sit down coffee in a ceramic mug to no avail. I realized an app to help me find the businesses that care, was definitely the way to go. The rest is history.

We want to highlight the businesses that are worthy of your money and make consumers aware of some of the little but very positive things being done in thousands of food venues, everywhere. We want to change the way the world eats, by helping people make better and more thoughtful decisions regularly.

Interview with Fair Food Forager

Interview with Fair Food Forager

Tell us about your new app?
The Fair Food Forager app lists restaurants, cafes, grocers and suppliers who are making steps to be more sustainable and ethical. You as the consumer can help us populate the app, so that we can all work together to help people find food that is lighter on the planet.

Often when we are away from our hometown we end up settling for something not so healthy or ethical because, well we are just hungry and have already looked for a while and there just isn’t anything around. However it is regularly the case that there is something, we just don’t know where to find it.

Our plan is, that people discover these great caring businesses; they list them and help the next caring consumer to find it. Then as business owners realize that consumers are choosing ethical options, they will see the need to either increase their levels of sustainability or start tackling it in some way.

We have identified 11 categories of sustainable practices with individual icons (Sustainable Palm Oil is coming soon). At a glance, these icons identify what areas a business is tackling and helps the consumer make a choice based on what is important to them.

The icons list categories including; Fair Trade, Sustainable seafood, reduced food waste, reduced plastic waste, chemical free, local produce, homemade, charitable, ethical / free range, vegan and vegetarian.

What has been the challenges developing this kind of service?
Funding and time are by far the biggest challenges for us. I am not a web developer, so I had to pay someone with these skills to create the website and app. I’ve saved and borrowed money to make it happen, but I thought that if I’m going to get it off the ground, this is the quickest way.

The team has grown to 6 volunteers including myself, we all have bills to pay, and so everyone is working on Fair Food Forager in their spare time. It’s a team of motivated, go-getters, who all contribute massive world changing ideas. Though for now, we must prioritize and only do that which is most important in changing the way the world eats.


Interview with Fair Food Forager

If any readers would like to develop a website or app that relies on user input, what is your advice on how to approach it?
I think you have to talk about it and talk about it a lot, to everyone. Don’t worry about someone stealing it. Chances are they aren’t going to put in the work that you have, or they are going to copy it anyway, once you are live. You can hide your idea, but then no one will know about it and worse still, you will miss all of that invaluable input.

There are many reasons to talk about it. You might speak to that one person that can really help you get the word out there. Or, people will tweak and refine your idea with fresh ears and eyes and that could be the difference between something that works and something that doesn’t.

Also I think its important to tell the like minded, find your tribe and they will help you spread the word. You can’t be everywhere.

What plans does Fair Food Forager have for the future?

Our biggest plan is to make this platform valuable all over the world. I love the idea that I could travel around the world impacting less as I go. People could list their favorites, in say San Francisco that will benefit us when we travel there, and that person will benefit when they travel here in Australia. Everyone wins!

We are also working with some great partners on a variety of things, from reducing plastic waste to educating consumers on sustainable palm oil, sustainable seafood to reducing food waste. There is just so much good to do.

I have to add that I look forward to working with people like you Erin, people passionate about the state of the planet. I believe that we shouldn’t under estimate the power of our purchasing dollar, the more people choose to avoid over packaged, unethical, unhealthy food. The more business will listen and cater to what the people want.

As a community we can all help to minimize the negative impact that eating has on the planet.

If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be?

Just do something, start somewhere simple, make it a habit and go from there. You don't have to be perfect, but who knows, you might change others with your new behaviour.


Right now, the website and smartphone app are only available in Australia and New Zealand. If you know of a cafe/restaurant/venue or run a business of that nature, and you believe it should be listed on Fair Food Forager, PLEASE add it. I truly believe sharing is one of the most important actions that will help shift awareness. Plus, I love travelling around Australia and would prefer to support ethical, waste minded businesses as much as possible :) 

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: BEAM Bulk Food Scheme

1 March 2016
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.

Bulk food stores are the go-to for living plastic free and zero waste lifestyles. These shops are more easily found in cities and less in rural areas.

But, location has not stopped passionate individuals coming together in rural areas to reduce their need for over packaged food. This week I am going to share with you different groups, from different areas of Victoria, that have created bulk co-ops. They will explain how they did it, while sharing issues and insights. Interviewing these groups has reminded me, that we as consumers can choose the way we shop. We do have the power.

Essentially, 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. 

Today I have BEAM Bulk Food Scheme, from Seymour in Northern Victoria (about 1 hour north of Melbourne), explaining how a bulk food co-op works. 

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: BEAM Bulk Food Scheme



What is the BEAM Bulk Food Scheme? How long has it been in operation? Why was it started?

The BEAM Bulk Food Scheme (BBFS) commenced in 2013 at the instigation of a group of members of BEAM Mitchell Environment Group, all with an interest in sourcing local, ethically produced and organic/biodynamic foods; avoiding the big supermarkets; and reducing packaging/waste.

The Scheme was one of two ‘projects’ identified at a special meeting of about 15 BEAM committee and general members held in October 2012. The meeting was inspired by the AGM presentation by David Holmgren which highlighted issues of food security within the context of climate change and peak oil, and focussed on the importance of sourcing locally grown and produced food. Initially the scheme ran for a 12 month trial, which aimed to explore the various systems on offer for ordering and purchasing, and identify the level of interest in the community.

Issues such as insurance coverage for participants were also explored during this period. At the end of the 12 months, a report was presented to the committee of BEAM, recommending that the scheme continue and identifying how BEAM could support an ongoing scheme. BEAM continues to auspice and support the scheme, in conjunction with the food eXchange.

The Bulk Food Scheme aims to obtain Australian organic (including bio-dynamic) and ethically produced foods at an affordable cost. The objectives are to:

  • Obtain better quality food direct from wholesalers and producers
  • Reduce packaging & “food miles”
  • Save time and feed your family for less
  • Contribute to community resilience by building local food security
  • Meet other like-minded people and share knowledge about local foods, markets, recipes and other food-related activities
  • Reduce reliance on the big supermarkets

How does it work?

The Scheme administrator, Cynthia Lim from the food eXchange, put a lot of effort in the first 12 months to developing relationships with mostly Victorian food producers, so we can obtain food directly from them and bypass wholesalers. Suppliers include Broken River Ingredients, which produce flours and puffed grain products in Benalla; Burrum Biodynamics, which produce BD legumes in NW Victoria; and Powlett Hill which produces BD spelt pasta in Western Victoria near Ballarat. We also obtain olive oil from Seymour, where the BBFS is based, honey from nearby Broadford and eggs from a local free range farm. Other goods are sourced from a foods wholesaler in Melbourne.

Orders are made quarterly, with members completing an Excel spreadsheet developed by the administrator. Following collation of individual orders, and ordering of the goods, invoices are sent out to all participants and must be pre-paid prior to the goods arriving. There is a four week turnaround from orders opening to order collection, with 2 weeks to submit order forms, and 2 weeks to order in the goods. Freight charges are calculated according to the amount of the order, and a levy is paid by all participants to ensure the scheme is successful and ongoing.

Order dividing up/collection day is a joint effort, with all participants expected to be involved. Those who can't help out on the day pay a higher levy on their order. Over time we have refined our systems so that dividing up day runs as smoothly as possible. This includes printed copies of all orders, setting up a number of weighing stations, and a dedicated person crossing off the lists as the orders are filled.


Do people bring their own bags or containers for reuse?

Yes, this is an essential part of the scheme. Everyone supplies their own containers or bags, even if they can't attend on dividing up day- it's their responsibility to ensure they are ready on the day.

Of course it's sometimes hard to judge how many or what size containers you need but our participants are always willing to help each other out by sharing containers or bags.

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

We get approx 12-15 orders per quarter. Some of these orders are from groups of people eg families who live close by, and so can be very large. We try to respond to members requests for new items, but we maintain a commitment to buying local or Australian products first and foremost, then organic/BD if possible.

How many people work or volunteer to run the the food scheme?

We have one paid administrator, and two other people involved in the BBFS committee to assist with identifying new products and; contacting suppliers, maintaining the BBFS facebook page, updating the BEAM website, and generally advertising the scheme throughout the area. All participants are expected to help out with dividing up day wherever possible.


What would be the process to start one up in a community?

We would suggest starting with a meeting of interested people, to explore ideas and gauge the priorities of the people who will be buying from the scheme.

Is your first priority eliminating/reducing packaging, or do you want to access all organic products? Do you have the space and capacity to order in true bulk or will you just be bulk buying small packets? Is there commitment from participants to be hands on and help reduce costs? Or are people willing to pay more for the convenience of having the products packed for them?

Other questions to think about are, how often can the orders be made? How easily can you access goods eg is there a courier able to collect and deliver the goods for a reasonable price?

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

The main issues we dealt with in the first year were cash flow issues and questions around insurance coverage- for both the dividing up day (we lift a lot of heavy bags!) and to cover faulty/spoilt products. At the end of the first year we requested that BEAM dedicate an amount of money to a cash float and $2000 was allocated for the purpose.

This allows us to pay suppliers prior to invoicing participants, which has helped avoid unnecessary refunds when suppliers are unable to supply a product that was ordered. By sticking to non-perishable foods and products we are able to provide insurance coverage to the scheme through BEAM's insurance.

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

We hope to provide access to more local foods and support more producers and suppliers throughout Victoria. We are also keen to help other towns/areas/groups set up their own bulk buying schemes.

If someone is interested in shopping with BEAM Bulk Food Scheme, what do they need to know?


The best place to start is the BEAM website, where we have posted heaps of useful information about how the scheme works and how to prepare for bulk ordering. We also post the quarterly order form on this page. The BEAM Bulk Food Scheme facebook page also keeps people updated. For further information, people can contact the administrator Cynthia Lim on exchangefood@gmail.com.

I hope you enjoyed this interview with the crew from BEAM Bulk Food Scheme. I have another insight into rural bulk food co-op's from Warrnambool coming up too. If you know of another bulk co-op from rural Victoria, please let me know, as I'd love to feature them on the blog and show that bulk shopping is not just for us city folk. 

Zero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?

3 March 2017
I usually wax lyrical, as do many other zero waste bloggers, on the virtues of zero waste food shopping. Those photos of us, filling up our jars or bags with bulk binned food, is one of the more popular visual associations people have with the zero waste lifestyle. See below.
Zero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?
But when the curtain is pulled back on the store room of these bulk food shops, you would find there is no such thing as zero waste shopping.

Yes, zero waste shopping does not exist! Hear me out, because I am going to talk about a solution further down. Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest we all start growing everything from scratch in our backyards either. 

Bulk food shopping allows the consumer (you and me) to buy food without packaging. We go in, collect our food, shampoo, cleaning products, honey, soy sauce etc from bulk bins. It's usually purchased in jars, plastic containers and cloth bags that are used each time we all shop. Bulk shopping is about the reuse of packaging by the consumer.

It's also about freeing up the responsibility of disposing the packaging. When I take my newly filled jars and bags home, I don't have any packaging to throw away. This type of shopping model is challenging the present supermarket individually wrapped system and I applaud it. Bulk food shopping puts the responsibility back onto the store where I bought it – it's up to them to find a way to deal with the packaging.

When I shopped at the supermarket or corner store, the food came individually packaged for us. Once I emptied the package of food, we disposed of it in our rubbish bin or recycling bins at the supermarket. I was making the rubbish and it filled up the bin each week.

Zero Waste shopping does not exist, because those bins of food we collect it from, is originally filled with food that is packaged, just on a larger scale. Large plastic sacks and tubs, that can not all be recycled or reused is what you would find in the back room of a bulk food shop. If that packaging is recycled, it would be down-cycled, meaning the plastic become another item of plastic and thats it. Down-cycling is the end of the road. Some items do come in paper, but not many. So while we the consumer are not making rubbish, our bulk stores are and that is why there is no such thing as zero waste shopping. It does not exist, yet.
Zero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?
At my wedding, we hired TAP. Wines to serve wine. We chose them because we loved their business model; to challenge the wastefulness of wine bottles in restaurants. In a nutshell, TAP. have stainless steel kegs, filled up at wineries and then fitted into restaurant/cafe/bars, providing wine on tap. Rather than a new wine bottle, that comes with a cork or metal lid, stickers, boxes etc, TAP. simply fill up a stainless steel barrel, drop it off at the venue and replace it when needed. The stainless steel barrels are cleaned between refills and will last for over twenty years. At the end of their life, they can be recycled completely, not down-cycled like plastic. One, 20 litre stainless steel keg, is the equivalent of 26 bottles of wine. That is a lot of resources saved. 

The business model got me thinking about bulk food stores. Could a third party company do the same, but for bulk foods and make the zero waste food shopping actually zero waste?

I'll explain how the idea works using chickpeas:

  • Farmer harvests and prepares chickpeas for sale 
  • Puts chickpeas into stainless steel barrels 
  • Third party business that owns the stainless steel barrels, picks up the packaged chickpeas, transporting them to bulk food stores 
  • Bulk food store empty the chickpeas into their dispensers OR let's them sit on the floor for use straight from barrels 
  • Once barrels are empty, third party business collects barrel from bulk store, takes it to another location where it is clean/sterilised
  • The newly cleaned barrels are then dropped back at the chickpea farm
  • The circle continuesZero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?
That's my idea to bring zero waste food shopping a step closer to zero, and make it more circular. My intentions when writing this blog post, was not to call out bulk food stores. As mentioned before, I applaud them for challenging the system. I'm merely putting an idea out there, hoping someone, say a millionaire that would like to launch or invest in a sustainably minded business, has read this. You are free to take this idea and run with it. Truly.

Tell me, what do you think of this idea? Or is there a simpler idea on how to make zero waste shopping truly without waste? How would you do it?

My visit to Yarra Valley Estates Edible Forest Garden

28 February 2020

One hour from Melbournes bustling CBD tucked away in the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley is one acre of Edible Forest Garden. Louise Ward owner of Yarra Valley Estate where the food forest garden is located created the space out of a desire to reduce food miles but has since evolved into an education space open to the public interested in learning about growing a food forest garden at home, how to create healthy soil naturally and the importance of food security.

A food forest is a self maintaining perennial polyculture meaning there are a variety of crops of different heights within the same space similar to how a forest works. The plants, with some help, look after each other.

Food forests are a regenerative form of growing food that works to keep soils healthy rather than deplete them of carbon and minerals. Our current food production systems have been working in the opposite way. A regenerative method like a food forest garden helps to return carbon along with nutrients to the soil. If the soil doesn't have nutrients, this affects our health.

The goal of reducing exposed soil by covering everything in plants reduces soil erosion, protects groundwater, puts nutrient minerals back into the soil, allowing farmers and home gardeners the opportunity to move away from synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. A return to regenerative farming and gardening would helps address malnutrition, food insecurity, healthy water supplies, limit food waste, and reduce pollution from the production of agriculture chemicals. And a bonus is gardeners don't have to weed as much.





As I entered the Yarra Valley Estates Edible Food Forest Garden I felt like I was being drawn into a calming hug. The space is abundant in over 850 of edible and medicinal plants, with some specifically used to improve soil quality. Everything growing on the site is cultivated for the guest kitchen on site and used in workshops held in a up-cycled shed overlooking the garden.

For those who are used to the standard farming system of single crop structured in rows could be confused as how something wild like this would thrive. Forest gardens like this combine vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, shrubs and other plants to coexist aiding one another in their survival. The photo below is proof of this.



The large tree in the left photo is sugarcane used to protect the plants below it from the biting frosts in the valley. Yes, that is sugarcane growing in a very cold climate in Victoria. There are rambling strawberries for ground cover, something I had not thought of in my own garden. I discovered the plant Society Garlic, a perfect garlic alternative for me since I can't eat as much garlic any more. We munched on unopened Day Lillies (photo on the right) another unsuspecting specimen I have in my garden that I didn't know could be eaten. I feasted on gorgeous mulberries, tommy tomatoes, met cinnamon yams growing along side aromatic hops.


Yarra Valley Estates Edible Forest Garden is still in its infancy having started five years ago and only open to the public last year. Tours operate Monday to Saturday, at 10am and you can find out more on their website www.edibleforest.co/



What had me excited was the education this space will offer. I can't think of any other edible food forest garden space open year round so people can see it at different times of the year. Often these edible forest gardens are private and only open for a handful of days throughout the year. I can't wait to revisit in winter and spring. The staff are kind and passionate, happy to share their huge amount of knowledge with visitors. It was inspiring to learn urban gardeners are visiting from Melbourne looking for help to get their own edible forest gardens started. Involving people and having interactive places to learn is necessary to creating confident gardeners. It's different reading about an edible garden and being able to walk through one.

Growing our own food, even if a little, helps the planet in so many ways. We reduce food miles and our fuel, packaging is not needed and we help improve soil quality for future generations. We learn new skills. We help draw carbon down. Our bodies get to eat food filled with healthy nutrients. And if we are lucky we can share the surplus in our communities, growing and nourishing connections.


Plan your visit:

Edible Forest at
Yarra Valley Estate
2164 Melba Hwy
Dixons Creek VIC 3775
www.edibleforest.co

Tours operate Monday to Saturday, at 10am for approx. 45 mins—1 hour and an additional Saturday only tour at 12pm. Bookings are necessary.

Tour, Taste & Educate – $15 Per Person
Tour, Taste, Wine & Dine – $65 Per Person

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Warrnambool Unpackaged

8 March 2016
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. 

Mainstream media the key to making zero-waste normal?

20 December 2018
I have come to the conclusion that for zero-waste to become normal and mainstream, then we need to ask for help. Most of us who care deeply write to politicians and businesses (often) requesting them to propel this change through legislation, redesigning practices and packaging. While this is important (and please don't stop!) I'm wondering if we should carve out time for writing to another powerful group in the country:

The media!

In May 2017 ABC aired the TV show War on Waste reaching 4.3 million Aussies. It kickstarted conversations across the country with viewers paying closer attention to what they were throwing into their bins. The ABC's war on waste didn't end after the second series was shown this year either. If you pay attention you'll notice many programs and digital content created by the ABC are continuing to encourage us to rethink our plastic use and how much we throw away.

This is highly commendable and I applaud them for their commitment, but we all know the ABC doesn't have the viewership that commercial TV does. When the War on Waste hit our screens Masterchef on Channel 10 still out performed in viewers for each metro city. While the War on Waste was fantastic and necessary viewing, what we need is for these messages to make their way into more mainstream shows like The Block, Masterchef and even sporting events, because it turns out the most watched TV shows in Australia are our football Grand Finals....and a show called Australian Ninja Warrior?? I got the stats from ad news.

If we can convince these TV stations to weave messages to reduce plastic use, composting, rethinking food waste then this whole movement we are trying to push would pick up pace because it would appear normal. This would then lead to further changes by businesses if they see more consumers wanting to buy everyday items like food without all the excess packaging.

Let's look at our bins and what is making up most of it - FOOD! 40% of our bins are comprised of food scraps. That's almost half. When our food goes to landfill we are throwing away water and energy used to grow and ship our food, plus the farmers time and hard work. It's also a waste in landfill because the nutrients that could go back into the earth simply don't. Organic matter like food doesn't break down in landfill. It either becomes a liquid or mummifies, all the while creating methane a damaging greenhouse gas.

Related blog posts: Composting for all types of homes and Make your own compost bin

If TV shows like My Kitchen Rules, MasterChef Australia and The Block started integrating messages on food waste and composting (and plastic, because I think plastic packaging contributes to the problem in a big way!) we’d see change faster. It would help make the practice of diverting food from landfill a normal practice.

For instance The Block could make worm farms and composting a feature. How simple! Buying vegetables without plastic, reminding viewers that writing a shopping list will reduce waste can be easily integrated within the Masterchef dialogue. A visible food scraps bin so viewers can see the contestants putting scraps within. Then repeat these actions throughout the season so that by the end it looks normal.

Mainstream media the key to making zero-waste normal?
Image Network Ten


It might seem farfetched, but then I never thought we'd ever see a TV show dedicated to a war on waste! If you think it's possible I'm going to invite you to help write emails, letters and comment on their social media letting the commercial TV stations to prioritise these messages.

Below is an example of a letter or email you can copy/paste with contact details:

To whom it may concern,

I'm writing to let you know that while I enjoy the TV shows produced, I would like to see an emphasis on waste education throughout your programs going forward. Some suggested ideas you could work into your TV shows are:

  • Encourage composting and worm farms 
  • Write grocery shopping lists to stop people from buying to much food and wasting food 
  • Buy fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging 
  • Using a reusable produce bag 
  • Talk about reusable coffee cups 
  • Include stories about repairing items that break instead of buying new

50% of the food Australian's waste is in our homes and household bins are made up of 40% food that could be composted. If all Australian's kept organics out of their bins then what we send to landfill could almost be cut in half. Since your TV shows are so popular I believe integrating the messages mentioned above would help Australians make some much needed changes.

If you would like to discuss further, I'd be happy to share more idea.

Kind regards,
(your name)



How to get in contact:

Endemol Shine Australia produce Masterchef and a range of other TV shows
Email: info@endemolshine.com.au

Channel 10
Email: contactus@networkten.com.au
Postal addresses: tenplay.com.au/contact-us

Channel 7
I was unable to locate an email
Postal addresses: sevenwestmedia.com.au/contact-us

Channel 9
No email only a contact form ninehelp.zendesk.com/hc/en-au/requests
Postal addresses: nineentertainmentco.com.au/contact-us


OR you can write a message to their social media too:

I enjoy watching (insert tv show here) but would love to see you help raise awareness on reducing waste especially food waste and teaching Aussies about how easy it is to composting/worm farms. 50% of the food Australian's waste is in our homes and our household bins are made up of 40% food that could be better used as compost. If all Australian's kept organics out of their bins then what we send to landfill could almost be cut in half. Since your TV shows are so popular I believe integrating the messages mentioned above would help Australians make some much needed changes.


Plastic free kitchen (almost)

13 October 2013
I am excited this week. You might think it's because I have my impending trip to Myanmar in six days. Well I am excited for that! But this week I'm excited about something else...

My kitchen is almost free of plastic packaging.

That’s right. I predict in the next fortnight there will be no more food in plastic packaging. The pantry and fridge will be void of packaged pasta, rice, noodles and frozen vegetables. Admittedly I did decant my spices into glass jars I found at a second hand store and recycled the plastic (more on that below).

The last remaining plastic packaged items are rice paper rolls. Hurrah.

I’m not going to throw out food for the sake of my plastic-free crusade. I have accepted this is a slow process and I'm tackling this at the speed of a turtle. Turtle speed power! After all it's about making better choices and not perfection. Being new to this eco living and less plastic thing I feel the need to always remember that I'm still learning.

While I have been tempted to throw all the plastic packaging away and start fresh, instead I'm honouring the resources by reusing instead. Some of the plastic packaging will work great to put loose vegetables and food from the bulk store when we do our weekly shop and I'll use them until they begin to wear. Then I'll look into getting reusable cloth bags. I wouldn't be surprised if this doesn't happen for another year.

We buy our grains, beans, rice, flour, nuts, cereals from a bulk store now and the vegetables are from a grocer as they have more plastic free produce. Shopping at bulk food stores has been an interesting adjustment. Nothing is packaged! Instead there are big bags, dispensing bins, tubs of whatever food you want. I then come along with my own packaging, bag, container, jar and fill it up. Just yesterday I took bags to the bulk store, they weighed them, then I filled them up with lentils and nuts (seperate bags of course), the staff at the store reweighed subtracting the original weight, I pay for the food not the packaging, we have a chat, then I leave. This is called to tare.

There is a bulk food store right here in our suburb that the Builder's grandparents shopped at. It's not huge and is more of a ethnic food store, but is affordable compared to the dedicated bulk store Friends of the Earth in Collingwood. I would like to visit CERES bulk food store soon too. I need to visit these stores if I want more variety, spices, cleaning products and even shampoo! Yes, I can get my shampoo bottles refilled. Or go back to shampoo bars.

When I get home I then transfer most of the food to glass jars that I've kept from recycling or gathered from Op shops. You don't need to buy new glass jars at all. Repeat, you don't need to buy new glass jars. The old pasta bottles are sturdy and work well.

Let’s get back to these plastic packages I have been left that we can't use to shop with. Some went to landfill but most we discovered are a soft plastic that can be recycled through the new RedCycle program at Coles a local chain of supermarkets similar to Kroger in the US or Tesco in the UK.

recycle plastic australia

REDcycle allows shoppers to return packaging to be recycled into outdoor furniture and signs. Presently, soft plastics can't be recycled through kerbside collection.

What can be recycled at REDCycle bins?
  • Shopping bags
  • Fresh fruit and veggie bags
  • Bread bags
  • Biscuit packaging
  • Confectionery packaging
  • Rice & pasta packets
  • Frozen food bags
  • Reusable or ‘green’ bags

REDcycle bins are found at a variety of Coles around Australia. Hopefully there will be more in other locations soon.

We are keeping a box in the pantry to collect any incidental soft plastics that may find themselves in our house. It's essentially there for emergencies including any soft plastic i pick up on my walks, and if the builder buys food that is carried in soft plastic or visitors at the house. While the Builder supports my decision to say no to plastic packaging, I realise this is my journey so I don’t beret him if said plastics end up on our pantry shelves.

Habits are had to break and giving consumers the option to recycle is fantastic. But I feel we need to see more innovative ways to stop all this plastic packaging. We can't recycle our way out of this. I guess this is when we begin writing to companies and the government to look at alternatives.

We ran out of our plastic cling wrap too and are using plates on top of bowels, jars, tupperware instead. And it works! I did read about beeswax wraps and had a look online to buy. They were a little expensive so I might try making my own with local beeswax and cotton remants from Spotlight. The beeswax acts as a water proof barrier for the cotton and they can be washed in cool soapy water (never hot).

I've also begun making homemade dips like an avocado tahini dip which is amazing! Simple vinegar based salad dressings, mustards, mayonnaise and pasta sauce.

I'm seeing more food scraps in our bin now they aren't hidden under plastic packaging. So to reduce the food scraps I am...

  • Making my own apple and pear cider vinegar from scraps. It's very easy! I take 6 large apple cores and peels, 1 tablespoon of sugar and around 6-7 cups of water, preferably without the chlorine (I was told to let water sit for 24 hrs and the chlorine will break down?). Cover everything in a sterilised jar then cover with a breathable cloth. I try to do this on a Friday night so then I can stir it several time on the weekend. Then once it starts t bubble you can decrease stirring to once a day which you'll ave to do for two weeks. By this stage it will be ready so strain and bottle, remembering to burp (open to release the air) the bottle every so often. The leftover fruit goes onto the garden.
  • Saving up the tops and tails of all my vegetables when cooking to make a vegetable broth and i've also experimented with making a relish with them too. 
  • Storing my fruit and vegetables properly. Such as tomatoes in the fruit bowl not the fridge, carrots in water. Wrapping herbs in a damp towel. Avocado in a glass jar with the seed.
  • Using citrus skins infused in vinegar to make homemade cleaning products. The oils in from the citrus really help to cut through grime. I just fill up a jar 3/4 of the way with the peels then top with the vinegar and let it sit for six weeks. Strain it off and into a glass pray bottle I upcycled from an old glass bottle I found at home. The citrus is then sprinkled on the garden. 
  • Making candied citrus peel. I'm not wholly sold on that but it's an OK snack.

Now we are no longer using plastic, we are storing food differently too. Glass jars for the freezer. Which might sound intimidating but really it's not. To freeze cooked food, i simply let it cool down before transferring to a jar. I never fill to the top, leaving a two finger gap to allow the food to expand. I also try not to use glass jars with shoulders too and the wider the mouth, the better. Also be careful to stack the freezer so nothing slips out. I have been thinking about getting old socks to put around the jars just incase a jar should fall or if it breaks.

If I want to freeze raw vegetables or fruit in their own and not part of a meal, i'll put them onto a tray and freeze, then place into a glass jar. That way I can get out what I need easier, for example if i need half a cup of frozen carrots then I can pull them out easily, just like a plastic bag of frozen vegetables. I was freezing food in the plastic bags but find the packaging gets holes rather quickly. So off to RedCycle it went.

I'm also been thinking about how lucky I am to access to stores where I can buy food without packaging (technically there is packaging, but I don't have to deal with it), the time to research and try this new way of living out. Having an OK income is a factor that could make it easier but if anything I'm saving money. Then there is also my physical ability because buying in bulk is heavy on the arms! Part of this journey has highlighted that some of these eco swaps are easier for those with less physical ability, time, location and money. Just something I need to keep in mind.

Composting for all types of homes

19 March 2016
When anyone asks what steps they should take to reduce waste, composting is one of my top answers. This blog post covers ten composting systems for the person with a large backyard to the apartment dweller. 

Composting became a non negotiable when I began the journey to reduce my rubbish. It was the quickest way to reduce what went into the bin each week. Over 40% of our bins are made of food waste. 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, a potent 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.

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.

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

Composta is a wormfarm and garden in one. It uses your everyday kitchen scraps and the magic of composting worms, to produce organic fertiliser, which feeds the plants growing within the pot itself. It's clean, easy to use and does not take up much space making it perfect for apartments and units.
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.

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

ShareWaste is an online tool that helps you find someone in your neighbourhood who's willing to accept extra waste and compost it. Visit sharewaste.com to sign up.
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: Compost Collectors.

Brisbane: 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 it's a mad dash in the rain.

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?
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