Why Food is an environmental issue. By Harry Freeman


Why Food is an environmental issue

It is fairly easy to see that when we leave the tap running or the light switched on we are using water and energy. It may not be so obvious that the items that we buy, like food, can also involve the use of these two resources. In fact over a third of the Greenhouse gases a typical household produces are connected with what we buy at the shops and most of this is due to the purchase of food. Some of the main issues are:

Food miles or the distance some food items travel before they get to the shelves. Nowadays we are used to seeing items on the shelves from around Australia and the rest of the World (like oranges from California and kiwi fruit from Italy). The further your food travels, the more fuel has been used to get it to you and so the more greenhouse gases have been produced.

Packaging is an issue in two ways. First there are the materials, energy and water that are consumed in making and using the packaging. Over the last 30 years we’ve doubled the amount of such resources used in packaging per capita in this country. And then there is the ....

Waste that all this packaging produces. As well as the resources that are used in producing it, packaging has become a major part of our rubbish. The 1.9 million tonnes of waste we produce in Australia each year produces as much greenhouse gas as 860 000 cars. This waste plus the waste or scrap food that is also in many rubbish bins make up around three quarters of all the kerbside collection in the region.

The Joy of growing your own Food


For various reasons, more and more people are responding to these and other issues and turning to find the joys and benefits of growing their own food. Today’s report looks at some local people and groups that are part of this development and finds out the health, environmental or other reasons for their involvement, including the pleasure and satisfaction they get from eating something they have grown themselves and picked fresh from the garden. It also gives you some ideas of how you can become involved, whether you are someone who is experienced and able to share your ideas with others or you’re a complete novice looking for advice.


The Harvest Centre


One place locally where people meet to share their gardening knowledge and enthusiasm (or take the first steps in learning what to do) is The Harvest Centre a community garden next to the Rail Trail behind Mitchell House in Wonthaggi. The Centre was established by members of the local community in 2005 as a result of a Transition Towns initiative. Since then the Centre has grown so that now there are a diversity of vegetables in communal raised beds; compost bins; strawberry beds and fruit trees. The site is always developing and newcomers are always welcome.


The Harvest Centre is open to the public on Wednesday mornings 10.00am -12.00pm, during term time. Times and dates of workshops are advertised in “The Grapevine”, the Mitchell House activities programme. Ring 5672 3731 or email mitchellhouse@dcsi.net.au for details.

There is also a Food and Produce Swap every month; it meets at 10:00 am to 11.30 am on the second Saturday of the month to swap home-grown produce, seeds, seedlings, preserves and home cooking. New swappers are always welcome; current swappers love to see new faces and compare produce! It is also a great chance for garden planning and swapping tips. Entrance is by gold coin donation

Bass Coast Adult Education Centre – Community Garden

Wonthaggi is lucky in having two Community Gardens. A second one has been established at the Adult Education Centre on White Rd. It contains a number of garden beds as well as a mini orchard, compost bins and a Tool Shed with all the necessary equipment. Some of the beds are looked after by individuals, some are communal and some are used by specific groups from places such as local schools, Moonya and a nearby children’s centre. The garden is open to the public on Thursday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. Workshops on topics of interest are run regularly. A special program will be run on Thursday, May 16th to celebrate Volunteers’ Week. For more details contact the coordinator, Adrian James, on 0488 366 300 or wonthaggicommunitygarden@gmail.com .


And there’s more! – the Bass Coast and South Gippsland Community Garden Network

In fact there are many community gardens throughout Bass Coast, South Gippsland and nearby areas. They have formed a network to share information and ideas. If you want further information send an email to wonthaggicommunitygarden@gmail.com .


So who are the local gardeners?

Two of the Harvest Centre’s supporters are Barbara Hallett and Marianne Khew; one is very experienced, the other describes herself as a novice. Between them their stories give an idea of the variety of reasons why people grow their own and the many benefits they get from doing so.


Backyard Bounty

Barbara Hallett has lived at the same suburban house in North Wonthaggi for over 50 years now. Starting as a novice she has turned her garden into a cornucopia which provides her with almost all her food throughout the year. So how does she produce such impressive results?

From novice to expert

To begin with she asked lots of questions and just tried things out to see what worked. Today she’s still happy to experiment but she’s also able to pass on her expertise – through giving advice to other gardeners and in articles she writes from time to time for two national gardening magazines.

From early days Barbara has also been putting a good deal of effort into improving and maintaining the quality of her soil. This has happened mainly through composting her kitchen scraps, waste from the garden plus chook manure and any other organic waste she can find (like her friend’s grass clippings from the lawn).


Barbara has three main reasons for gardening so enthusiastically:

  • Reducing the food bill – this has been particularly important in the past, such as when her builder husband had no regular work for a year and she was able to provide a healthy diet for a growing family at little expense
  • Health –when she was young Barbara suffered from severe asthma and other allergies. Now she has become a vegetarian and knows where her food comes from she is much healthier
  • Pleasure – but now Barbara’s main motivation seems to be the sheer pleasure and satisfaction she gets from all she is able to achieve from her own efforts – that plus the fact that she is able to stay fit and active at a time in her life when many others would be considering slowing down.

She goes to the Harvest Centre food swap because she likes sharing her produce and seeing what others have on offer. And she is always happy to share the experience she has gained with others, she sees it as her way of helping the community she lives in. Barbara is also a member of a new gardening group that has been started at Wonthaggi Bunnings.

Barbara’s garden

Barbara has between 20 and 30 items growing in her garden at any time of the year. At present there are a variety of vegies, such as broccoli, kale and sweet potato as well as several herbs and fruit trees (including the yellow tamarillo in the photograph which is her latest ‘experiment’!). When there is no fresh fruit she is also able to eat the food she has bottled earlier in the year.


‘Gardening takes me to another place’

Marianne Khew and her family live in Kilcunda just along the road from the Cafe and pub with a magnificent view out to sea. She considers herself a novice gardener and so she enjoys being a member of local gardening groups at the Harvest Centre and U3A because of the ideas and information she can pick up from people like Barbara.

Marianne has gradually built up her garden since the house was built 6 years ago. She now grows a number of vegetables and herbs all year round against a backdrop of exotic flowers, such as giant Birds of Paradise, that she has planted to create a tropical atmosphere. At present she is able to pick silver beet, bok choi, beans and several herbs. Even though she feels she is still learning, Marianne is able to provide at least two home-grown items for every meal that is prepared at home.

Marianne enjoys gardening because she says it takes her to another place and she loves to see plants grow. It also helps her deal with her coeliac condition and other food intolerances. She knows from experience that food she has grown herself from traditional, heritage seeds is literally easier to digest. In fact there are some foods, like tomatoes, that she is intolerant to when she buys them from the supermarket but which she can handle perfectly well if she eats the home grown variety.

Marianne is always keen to pick up more tips and regularly goes to the Harvest Centre when the garden is open on a Wednesday morning. She also attends the U3A community garden most weeks on Tuesdays where, as well as talking to other gardeners, she looks after two extra plots.

Marianne is also keen to ensure that other food she eats is grown locally. She attends the monthly Harvest Centre food swap and buys her meat from a local farmer who sells direct from the farm.

Buying locally grown food

If you can’t grow your own food there are ways of buying locally grown food. For example, there are a number of farmers markets in the area. Also there are groups like Grow Lightly which provide fresh local produce. For more information see their website at: http://www.growlightly.com.au/ .


All sorts of people visit the Bass Coast Adult Education Centre Community Garden.

Lorraine, Tonya, Adrian (with Lily) and Win Kyi take a well earned rest in the sun.