During my last trip to visit my daughter Maddie in Byron Bay, I took her on road trip into the beautiful Byron hinterland. I’d spent a lot of time up that way many years ago and will make any excuse to return whenever I can, even to pass through the dotted hamlets with their alternate residents and rainbow banners or a quick stop to relish the familiar smells and sounds of the rainforest, brings back those wonderful vibes of enchantment and awe.
On the way back we stopped in at Lismore to pick up some goodies from the local bulk food supplier and as I slowly explored the interesting layout and incredible variety of produce, I wondered why we didn’t have something like that in Sydney, or at least the part of Sydney were I live.
Not long after that trip, I joined my local food co-op in Sydney having discovered a bunch of my local permaculture friends were interested in doing the same. It’s a slightly different set up in that it’s an online purchasing system but so far, it’s proving to be a very successful decision.
I aim to live as sustainably as possibly by using permaculture principles as a guide and while we’ve done lots to retrofit our lives, one of the single biggest sustainable changes we’ve made is to obtain a yield from our garden by growing healthy organic food. I use as many of my own fresh garden ingredients when I cook and add to that from a range of bottled and preserved fruit and vegetables, jams, sauces, pickles and chutneys that I’ve made by catching and storing the energy from seasonal surplus fruit and veggies. But when it comes to staples, I always seem to have a shortage of something and could never really see myself being free from supermarket shopping.
But what if I could do something to reduce the number of times I had to go to the supermarket each year and at the same time make an impact on my household waste. Any reduction in the amount of food packaging would be positive so I signed up with the co-op stop.
Through the online co-op I can buy larger quantities of high quality certified organic produce and while some products are imported, a good number of them are Australian grown. As a person who cares about healthy, nutritional food, the closer I can get to clean simple local ingredients the better especially given my policy is to eat local and eat organic in the first instance.
There are also potential savings and efficiencies to be gained from buying bulk foods but these can only be attained through good organisation and an understanding of the quantities your household would ordinarily use. I mainly buy larger amounts of rice, legumes, seeds and nuts, grains, whole wheat and flour and smaller amounts of dried fruits, sugar, coconut oil and vinegar. Working with the right volumes also reduces the potential for spoiling and waste so for some ingredients it’s simply more efficient to buy them in smaller quantities at the supermarket or look for simpler alternative recipes.
The online ordering is fairly straightforward and our small groups of shoppers organise orders through an i-cloud spreadsheet. It’s just so clever and thank heavens for James, our youngest member who designed the system in a flash. Some of the really big quantities are split between members which means you can usually get the product you want.
There’s a group co-ordinator who for a small fee, tallies quantities, places orders and takes care of the financials and pickups. Goods are delivered to one location where order splits are done if necessary.
Once the goods are at home, they need to be stored in a cool safe place and lucky for me, out the back of my kitchen is a little room we call the ‘bat cave’. There’s no bats in there of course but it’s cool and dark like a cave which makes it ideal for long-term storage.
I feel very lucky to have this space so close to my kitchen but a garage, cellar, larder, pantry or even a cupboard or bookshelf in a cool area of the house would do. We retrofitted the room with a series of purpose built low VOC cupboards with strong adjustable shelves and Luke, Roz and Chris installed it in a day.
Besides having a cool place to keep your stores, you also need strong, re-usable, sealable containers to safely store your produce. Most of my containers are glass because we occasionally get the odd native mouse or bush rat who can gnaw through the thickest of plastic but if you’re okay with plastic there are some very good quality stackable food grade buckets on the market.
That short trip to Byron was a special one for me for many reasons and sparked a question which led to a positive solution. I’d still prefer to be able to source my staples from local growers but that’s a thing of the past in Sydney. Some 30 years ago, the government planners viewed the Sydney basin as being way too valuable an area and it was targeted for large scale residential development. When asked where our food would come from, in their infinite wisdom they responded ‘dunno, Queensland or somewhere’! What a fatal mistake given that the most fertile and productive land in Australia is found in the Sydney basin particularly along Sydney’s western edge and we’re now building houses on it and importing our food from other states.
I have a very, very exciting week ahead having just finished a brilliant Permaculture Farm Forestry weekend with David Holmgren, Permaculture co-founder who is in Sydney for a few weeks for a series of talks, courses and workshops. Better still, I’m staying on for a 12 day Permaculture Design Certificate course also being run by David along with some other big names in Permaculture circles including Aaron Sorenson, Dan Deighton, Janet Millington and Penny Pyett.
It’s so wonderful to be back at Bandusia, the home of the Permaculture Sydney Institute and learning under instruction from some of the best Permaculture teachers in Australia is an honour and privilege. If the weekend workshop was anything to go by, the week ahead promises to be nothing short of life changing.