Organic vs local

These days we have a reasonable range of organic food available to us locally whether through the supermarket, our local shops and/or box deliveries. However, in common with nearly all modern food, much of it travels substantial distances before it gets to us. In addition it is often out of season for our local environs. This has created a modern conundrum where shoppers seeking to buy organic must often choose a product with many air and road miles included in its true cost of availability. From a purity of food perspective the decision is easy, always choose the organic or biodynamic product. But if you are concerned about your carbon debt or eating in season, its sometimes seems that buying locally grown non organic is a better choice. This dilemma is nicely captured in a cartoon by Mike Adams.

The article accompanying the cartoon at is worth reading and goes into some detail to explain the options shown in the cartoon. Here in Australia we are relatively less affected by this problem than Europe in particular, where a great deal of the fruit and vegetables available seem to have been air freighted from the Mediterranean or the US. The ideal arrangement is to grow some foods yourself (homesteaders may grow nearly all their needs) and also to live near a variety of small farmers who produce the other products that you need. It is then possible to enter into schemes like Community Supported Agriculture where farmers and consumers establish direct trading relationships. The next best thing is a local farmers market, which fortunately are starting to become more common and feature a expanding range of products. I recently found the web site of the 1466group, two couples who have joined forces to farm biodynamically and to setup a Community Supported Agriculture system on the mid North Coast of NSW. As someone who tried to move away from the city and eventually came back for various reasons, I admire their efforts and wish them every success. Check them out here.


A very small farm

When I considered which of my favourite books to write about for this blog, one of the first to come to mind was William Paul Winchester's wonderful memoir of life on his 20 acres - A Very Small Farm.

This is a book to pick up over the years and read a few pages, just for the enjoyment of immersing yourself in the manifest simplicity of Winchester's life. Divided into chapters that are essentially diary entries, you are drawn into the joy he experiences from being engaged in the world around him. Many entries begin with details of the weather (particularly clouds) and then precede to illustrate his appreciation of the rhythms of life that flow through his farm.

Winchester built his own house, barn, put in a garden and orchard, acquired a milk cow and took up beekeeping. Yet he describes his simple life with a humility that belies these substantial achievements, the size of which will be apparent to those who have taken on a piece of land and made it into their own sanctuary.

This book fits into a cannon of naturalist writing that is often compared to Thoreau's Walden, and it is for me at least, a book that I turn to with the same anticipation of reward.

It is not a how to book for the "back to the lander", however there is much in it that will appeal to those readers.

It was published by Council Oak, however they no longer list it on their site, so it may be out of print. Amazon still have copies available.

Another very good publisher of books relevant to this blog is Chelsea Green, I will be reviewing some of their books in future posts.


Krinklewood biodynamic wine

The Krinklewood vineyard was recently given a positive review in the local media so I thought I would give it a try. We would have gotten around to it anyway as we are very keen on organic and biodynamic wines. So last night I picked up a bottle of the 2007 Verdelho which we tried with some high quality lebanese food at a local restaurant. Wow, this is a delicious wine. I haven't drunk much Verdelho and was not sure whether I would find it interesting. So we were pleasantly surprised to find a light crisp taste with definite citrus/passionfruit characters. To my palate it was not unlike a mild sauvignon blanc. Highly recommended and very good value at around $A21. Importantly there were no negative effects the next morning :)

Here a few notes on the winemaking (read more on their website) "The fruit was picked in the cool of the night at optimum ripeness and was crushed with only the premium free-run juices being used. Fermentation took place in Stainless Steel tanks under cool conditions. The wine was bottled early to retain freshness of the primary fruit characters with very fine filtration" Its good to see bottles boldly declaring their biodynamic origins prominently on the label.

Until recently many makers of organic and biodynamic wines were loathe to promote this aspect of their wine, apparently many wine buyers were of the view that this was synonymous with poor quality. Its also encouraging to see biodynamic wine of this quality coming from the Hunter Valley region. I've written previously about the inland region of Mudgee where many of the organic/biodynamic fruit is grown successfully, partly due to the lack of moisture related problems that are difficult treat with the limited arsenal available to the organic/biodynamic grower.


Slow food university

When Slowlane joined Slow Food recently they sent a booklet outlining their various initiatives, The Slow Food Companion. Two ventures that sounded particularly interesting were the University of Gastronic Sciences (UNISG) and the Terre Madre. The university is based in Piedmont and claims to be the first academic institution in the world dedicated to the study of gastronomy. Subjects include Botany, Food Technology, History of Agriculture, Sensory Analysis and Anthropology. The curriculum combines humanities and sciences with food technology and culture. An article appeared today in the Sydney Morning Herald about a local man who is studying at the UNISG, he is living a simple life in the local village, going to the market three times a week and practising what they are learning by cooking for fellow students in the evening. Also mentioned in the article was the Terra Madre, an annual Slow Food gathering in Turin that bring together thousands of artisanal food producers, farmers, fisherman from 150 countries, cooks, academics from over 200 universities, representatives of NGOS, journalists and of course slow foodies of other descriptions. This years Terra Madre promises to be huge, I hope to attend one of these in the next few years. Sounds amazing.


New perspectives on money

The May/June issue of Resurgence has arrived and it looks very interesting.

Its a special focus issue titled "The money delusion: In search of true wealth". It kicks off with an excellent editorial from Satish Kumar which introduces the topic.

Here are a few quotes to give you a flavour of the article:

"Let us be clear. Money is not wealth. It is a delusion to think that money is wealth. True wealth is good land, healthy animals, flourishing forests, clean water, honest work, abundant creativity and human imagination"


"For example, there is never a shortage of money for wars and weapons, but it is always in short supply for arts and education"

Its worth a read and can be found here


Organic wine

Here in Australia we have a vibrant wine industry including an increasing number of vineyards producing organic and/or biodynamic wine. We are especially keen on the wines from Mudgee in central NSW. This is a dry inland region that is ideal for organic growing due to the lack of humidity which reduces the amount of mould and fungus problems compared to locations closer to the coast, these are generally treated using chemical sprays. One of the oldest is Botobolar, they produce a range of affordable wines that are great examples of big red's, not too subtle but good value drinking. The vineyard is unirrigated and has been much affected by drought in recent years, sometimes picking no grapes at all for a season.

Our favourite vineyard in Mudgee is Lowe Wines, these are really classy organic wines and the cellar door experience when the owners Jane or David are around is definitely worth making the trek for. They are very passionate about their wines, especially the award winning Zinfandel to which we have become quite attached. The 2003 Zinfandel won an international award, beating off well established makers from the US and elsewhere. These are hard to come by now, we recently opened a bottle to ensure that it was keeping well and were blown away, its still a fantastic wine. Now we have to hide the 5 remaining bottles from ourselves or they will all go the same way.

Also worth a mention is Thistle Hill. There are many others around the country and a great place to find them is Recently major chains have started to see the light and are experimenting with stocking some organic wine. Last week the Vintage Cellars chain advertised a Sauvignon Blanc they have sourced from a co-operative in France. Its a pity they haven't chosen to promote a local label, still I am keen to try it. For an international overview view of organic wine have a look at the Organic Wine Journal.


Clear thinking - well informed outspoken

No its not this author, although we can aspire...I'm referring to George Monbiot, who's new book Bring on the Apocalypse - Six Arguments for Global Justice has leapt to the top of my reading pile. To do that it displaced Nicholas Shakespeares book Secrets of the Sea which I reserved at the library with great anticipation due to my attachment to stories about Tasmania. Not to mention any number of magazines and other tempting material.

The essays in Monbiots' book were, I suspect, originally published in the Guardian in the UK. This makes for snappy, easily digested reading. If only we had such daring writers regularly featured in our daily rags here in Sydney. Monbiot makes no bones about being left wing and he lets fly with compelling discussion about so many of the ills of modern life that you find yourself cheering him on as you read. He is driven to write the material that he knows will not be well received by the establishment and bravo to the Guardian for being prepared to publish him . If it wasn't we would only find this sort of gutsy writing in journals like Resurgence and The Ecologist.