Earlier this year as part of the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal, we put out a call for people to support our friends in East Gippsland and purchase trees for landholders in areas that had been devastated by the February fires. Many people heard the call, and together with 15Trees we were able to offer Chris and Christine Watts, of Blue Sky Organics, 100 trees (and guards) for a revegetation project that will help restore native bushland. Organic farmers were heavily impacted by the bushfires across many areas of south east Australia and the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal continues to support each farmer in ways that they need.
Blue Sky Organics is a family farming venture located in the East Gippsland located on the Murrindal River, VIC. Their family team consists of Madeline, Talsy, Jaklan, parents Chris and Christine Watts and grandparent Ian Watts. Last month, 100 native trees and shrubs were planted out along their creek beds, a true family affair!
A note from Christine ‘We had some significant pockets of gorgeous gullies and creeks etc before the fires. Alas not so gorgeous now! And so we have concentrated our revegetation efforts in these areas. The creek banks are a priority as the trees will stabilise the banks (roots hold the soil together), provide habitat to native wildlife and help keep the creek water clean (so important for down stream ecology).
The bush up the back has not come back at all yet. We are still hopeful. We will not re-plant there as it is rocky and mountainous. Nature is going to have to do her own thing there.
We are actually wildlife rescuers and we do have a particular love of wombats. The wildlife here suffered immensely with the bushfires. Simply heart-breaking. I guess I would like people to understand that wildlife need us to care and regenerate their land. And with the help of Fifteen Trees and ORICoop we can make a start.’
Thank you to everyone who contributed in any way. Christine Watts | Owner | Blue Sky Organics
ORICoop is pleased to be working with Fifteen Trees to continue to raise the funds needed to purchase 1500 trees (+ tree guards) for this district and other affected by bushfires over the last Black Summer. If you are interested to support you are invited to contribute to this ongoing support. Colleen from Fifteen Trees will keep a tally of all trees purchased and offer more trees to this area in 2021.
This past summer was one of the most challenging Australian seasons ever and giving support to East Gippsland will be an on-going commitment.
Registering for our volunteer crew for our next Farm Blitz (post Covid restrictions)
And remember that many of these farmers are a long way from being ‘out of the woods’. Many are still dealing with the heartbreak of last Summer. Many are still managing their recovery and getting their business back on track. ORICoop is excited to continue to walk with them, and to support each of them in their journey towards recovery.
“Never has it been more necessary to find solidarity with those whose values align and more important to garner skills from those who have beaten the path before us. ORICoop with the support of BCCM have created an online workshop series to help us all build skills and community. With a 90% subsidy being offered by BCCM, a broad range of topics, guest speakers and interactive Q and A time on each gathering, its a low cost, high value offer that can all be booked and undertaken online by clicking here – book into one or all five”
The Co-operative Farming program offers a 90% bursary for this course. You can find out more and apply at https://coopfarming.coop/learn/educational-bursaries/. Subject to approval, you will receive a discount code that you should apply at the checkout, this will ensure your payment is reduced to 10%.
1. Community driven business structures – Thursday 3rd Dec 6.30pm-7.45pm 2020 and Thursday 10th December 6.30pm – 7.45 2020
Eager to connect with your fellow growers and find ways to get your food to a local, engaged and appreciative audience. Hear from those who’ve trodden this path already, hear first hand about their wins, challenges, growing pains and opportunities. Most importantly ask the questions which allow you to consider what will work for you and meet other growers and producers on a similar trajectory.
2. Getting to Know Your Region and Community – 4th February 6pm – 7.45pm and 11th Feb, 6pm – 7.45pm
While every community beats to a different drum, many follow similar patterns and the insights of others who’ve observed and engaged in community building is a valuable process to support you in your existing efforts or as a foundation of knowledge before you begin. Meet food system pioneers, leapfrog with their learnings and kickstart or reboot your own efforts to work collaboratively as a whole community.
3.Taking Your Collective Business Online – 25th March and 1st April, 6pm – 7.45pm
While we know the increasing influence of online marketplaces, Covid showed us just how powerful it can be for farmers wanting to diversify their paths to market, work collaboratively and be the price maker for their hard grown produce. Learn practical skills, loopholes and opportunities from those who’ve done it and specialise in supporting you to do it too.
4. Resilience in Your Business – 22nd April 2021, 6pm – 7.45pm
Business stability is about being diverse yet focussed, nimble yet strategic, committed yet open to change, having an excellent relationship with your market and always looking to the horizon of innovation and adaptation. Learn from farmers who’ve developed business plans in consideration of these complexities and seek advice and guidance relevant to your specific farming and business needs.
5.Transitional Ownership Pathways to next generation, 13th May 2021, 6pm – 7.45pm
Succession planning is one of the single greatest threats to farming enterprises yet when undertaken successfully, one of the most powerful and rewarding aspects. The complexity of building a successful succession plan is a well trodden path and our expert panel will share a diverse range of case studies of well executed plans, and some of the common pitfalls.
The Organic and Regenerative Investment Co-operative (ORICoop) is focussed on bringing together farmers, friends and businesses for the better. ORICoop exists to increase the productivity and profitability of organically and regeneratively managed land in Australia, while supporting farmers to be better land stewards of our ecological farming systems. We support organic and biodynamic farms to transition their agricultural businesses for the better. This builds a more resilient Australian food and farming economy that can change the way our farmers do business … for the long term.
WHAT IS THE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF YOUR BUSINESS?
We are excited to announce the creation of a direct Business-to-Farm carbon and ecological offset.
Bringing together farmers interested to drawdown carbon – and in the process offset the carbon footprint of business. Eco-Credits™ are a credible and definable instrument to measure ecological health, whilst enabling business to OFFSET their carbon footprint. A true WIN-WIN between conscious businesses and ecological farm stewards, that supports our planet for the long term better.
ORICoop has created Eco-Credits™ so conscious businesses and individuals can offset their carbon footprint, with direct, measurable and tangible outcomes. Eco-Credits™ are deployed to selected organic farmers who commit Eco-Credits™ to their farmland. These credits are independently and annually verified using the latest technology and measurement parameters. Each business receives a report provided by the collective of farm contributors each year – detailing what the Eco-Credit™ collective outcome has achieved in terms of carbon offset and ecological health.
Eco-Credits™ – ‘An ecological and farmer driven market instrument that offers a pathway to a stronger and more robust organic farming industry. That is empowered to withstand market pressures on farm production systems, together with sustainable and measured outcomes. Demonstrated via shorter supply chains, better food security, reliable market data, and a transparent market that enables farmers to achieve the best value for their work.’
Vitalise capital to connect business, food and farming for better long term outcomes
Enable farmers to benefit from the value of natural capital in their farming systems
Connect business and individual carbon offsets directly to farmers
Align with accredited stewardship measures and outcomes
HOW CAN FARMERS REGISTER FOR the ECO-CREDIT™ PROGRAM?
Farmers around Australia have a massive opportunity to draw down carbon into their farms both above and below ground through best practice ecological stewardship. Farmers can be rewarded for improving the land that they manage, and the carbon that is sequestered terrestrially via biodiversity enrichment and through an increase in soil organic carbon. Eco-Credits™ are deployed directly to organic and regenerative farmers – that are committed to increase the amount of carbon stored in their soil and to honour the value of water, soil, ecological health and biodiversity in their organic and agroecological farming systems.
Key measurable outcomes of Eco-Credits™ include:
Increase in sequestered carbon in soil, trees and biomass
Increase in biodiversity quality, area and ecosystem health
As the end of this financial year runs to screaming halt – it’s time for us to take stock, and assess the type of world we live in – and how each one of us could be part of the solution to a better world!
Given the incredible outcomes of the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal, we are excited about the next steps from here for ORICoop. And how we as a member owned Co-operative can step up to help when it’s needed. And stick to our key mission of increasing and enabling more organic farmers to be better stewards of more land over time. And meet the specific needs of our farming community, member to member. While connecting our friends, eaters, farmers and investors more closely together, for a better and more aligned food and farming system.
Choose to invest your funds to enable ethical and sustainable returns that don’t cost the earth
We are launching the FIRST edition of BioLogical shortly. Here you will get the first glimpse of this collaborative journal, that covers organic farming, local stories, bushfire recovery, ethical investment and our community.
And make sure at this complex time, that you connect more closely with your local farmers and your food system. One bite, one meal, one good investment at a time!
You can keep up with ORICoop via Instagram. Or subscribe to our blog for our regular updates.
As we launch into such uncertain times – it is critical we connect local farmers, food, events (virtually) and encourage all of use to look out for each other and see the world through old wise eyes.
Our grandparents lived through war times, of basic rations, of raw food, of eating what was available. We all need to return to our roots, and remember what our elders taught us. We need to be the shining lights to our farmers, communities, and localised food systems. Now more than ever. And to deeply care about each other, our communities and the planet.
As many events and conferences are either cancelled or transitioned to a virtual format, ORICoop recognizes that farmers, food servers, and all those who labor to grow, harvest, prepare, and serve our food are among those most impacted by economic and health effects of COVID-19 and many with limited access to quality medical care in regional areas. Adopting attitudes of empathy and care is needed more than ever to protect our most vulnerable.
At a time when we are seeing impacts on global supply chains, we see the urgent need for our local economy and community resilience. It is a critical time to buy nutrient-rich food from local farms in your area and to take advantage of home delivery where possible. By supporting policies and models for locally owned land and shared ecological stewardship, we can all ensure there is a future where local organic agriculture supports our health, carbon is sequestered in our soils, and sustainable stewardship of the earth provides a pathway for our generation and future generations to connect with the land and to each other.
ORICoop brings together farmers, eaters, businesses and partners to directly support farmers in their time of need. Together we are focussed on increasing the amount, diversity and productivity of organically and regeneratively managed farmland around Australia, while building a resilient food and farming system that can change the way our farmers do business…. for the better!
There has never been a better time to care more about your community! Join ORICoop today, and connect more closely with your food system, one meal at a time.
It’s hard to paint an accurate picture that encapsulates the scale and extent of Australia’s current bushfire season, and with more than 50 separate fires still burning across the continent at the time of writing, it may be some time before the magnitude of the crisis is fully understood.
Unprecedented in their intensity and geographical scope, fires have been burning across every state, but particularly fiercely through the coastal and eastern ranges of New South Wales (NSW) and north-eastern Victoria. As of 14 January, 2020, bushfires this season have burned through an estimated 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres), destroyed close to 2,500 homes, damaged more than 10,000 buildings and resulted in the loss of 33 lives. Air quality across the country has reached hazardous levels prompting a rise in people seeking emergency treatment for respiratory problems, with both Melbourne and Canberra’s air quality rated the worst in the world on several dates across January. The cumulative smoke from the bushfires has, on several occasions, surged more than 17 kilometres up into the stratosphere, blanketing New Zealand’s South Island and travelling approximately 11,000 kilometres (6,800 miles) across the South Pacific Ocean to South America. The ‘fire clouds’ that have formed as a result have stimulated their own weather systems, with thunderstorms and lightning strikes igniting new and unpredictable fires – and, at this writing, it’s only halfway through the summer.
As the driest inhabited continent on earth, bushfires have been a natural part of the history and mythology of the Australian landscape for tens of thousands of years. The fire conditions of the current 2019/2020 bushfire season, however, are without parallel on several fronts. Beyond the geographical scale and intensity of the fires, this season’s bushfires have burnt through areas and ecosystems comprised of typically fire-proof vegetation, such as wet eucalyptus forests, rainforests, heathlands and dried-out swamps. World Heritage-listed national parks that are considered some of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots, like Western Australia’s Stirling Range, have experienced severe casualties of rare and threatened flora and fauna, and may never fully recover. While images of dehydrated koalas and singed kangaroos have captured the world’s attention, a (highly conservative) estimate of 1 billion mammals, birds and reptiles have perished, not counting the losses of bats, frogs or the invertebrates that make up the foundational elements of the food chain. The numbers are particularly harrowing considering Australia already bears the highest rate of species loss for any region in the world.
The climatic backdrop precipitating the spate of fires is one of several years of historically hot and protracted summers. Australia’s mean temperature in 2019 was 1.52 degrees Celsius higher than average, making it the warmest year since records began in 1910. Continental-scale droughts, affecting the eastern states most acutely, have been endured for several years, while water levels in key catchment areas, such as the Murray Darling Basin, have been at their lowest levels in a decade. Coupled with record lows in rainfall and soil moisture, and the soaring temperatures and wind speeds of this summer’s weather, the conditions were prime for small fires to become major infernos across large swathes of the country. Amid these conditions, Australian cities and towns in the past month alone have also endured tropical cyclones, hailstorms with stones the size of golf-balls, duststorms and heatwaves. Well and truly before this year’s bushfire season even began, the impact of droughts and flooding rains culminated in mass fish kills, hundreds and thousands of livestock losses and the decomposition of precious wilderness areas. A fragile and dry continent, Australia seems continually caught in the grips of extreme weather roulette, with the stakes likely to become more erratic in the context of a rapidly warming world.
A number of contributing policy failures and government inaction surrounding land and bushfire management have also compounded the risk and severity of the bushfire season. While the federal and NSW and Victoria state governments have announced independent expert inquiries into the bushfires, it should be noted that since 1939, there have been at least 18 major bushfire inquiries in Australia. According to former senate committees, ‘Previous inquiry processes have not resolved the issues that have been so consistently brought to the attention of governments.’ Some of these issues include inadequate protective burning and fuel reduction (both on public lands and around assets), insufficient resources for fire and land management agencies, and the disregard of local knowledge and experience – including traditional ecological knowledge and land management practices – in managing publicly and privately-owned land. These well-established concerns are likely to resurface in the next series of parliamentary inquiries, the question is whether the recommendations from these will be implemented.
Farmers on the frontlines
It will take some time before the economic, environmental and social costs of the bushfires can be truly ascertained. Significant impacts are already being felt by the agricultural sector, the repercussions of which are likely to affect Australia’s broader food system. While farmers have been grappling with the ongoing impacts of low soil moisture, water and feed shortages for some time now, the localised impacts of bushfires have manifested in unprecedented and highly complex conditions. While tens of thousands of livestock are likely to have perished (or had to be euthanised) as a result of the bushfires, farmers must now face the grim task of burying the carcasses to prevent potential public health and biosecurity risks. The task is so considerable that Australia’s Defence Force has been assigned to dig mass graves, while 100 veterinarians have been deployed across the country to assess and euthanise thousands of stock injured by the blazes. Some farmers have been in imminent danger and continue to face the threat from multiple firefronts, but due to their daily farming enterprises cannot leave their farm. Notwithstanding the defence of their properties and livelihoods, farmers also make up a large proportion of the more than 70,000 volunteers of the Rural Fire Service. It is not uncommon for these volunteers and their families to suffer significant losses or be made homeless while protecting the homes and lives of others.
As food, fuel and water run low in bushfire-hit regions, and some communities are cut-off from electricity and telecommunications for days on end, everyday farming tasks such as milking cows, feeding cattle, weeding or watering crops are no longer tenable, impeding production. Damage to vital infrastructure, such as sheds, storage facilities or machinery is critical, while the destruction of fencing leaves farmers with no way to safely contain their animals. In the absence of physical damage, excessive smoke can taint fruit and vegetable crops, with wine grapes being particularly susceptible. Entire cattle holdings, timber plantations and vineyards have been completely wiped outand charred by flame. When the landscape is burnt and blackened, microbial populations in the soil, particularly fungi, can suffer extensive damage. Depending on the intensity of the fire, it can create bacterially dominant soils and may destroy organic matter, opening up areas for the take-over of invasive weeds. High-intensity fires can also impact water quality by increasing the sediment and nutrient concentrations in waterways. With all the ash and silt pouring into estuaries and waterways, several oyster farms have been closed for harvest due to higher readings of algae, ash debris and other contaminants. Production losses are just the beginning. A whole network of vital infrastructure involved in packing, cool-storing and transporting goods can become impeded by road closures or power outages. Consumers can expect to see higher food prices as the costs of the bushfires add up.
From the ashes: recovery, restoration and regeneration
As the bushfire crisis unfolded across Australia, the world watched attentively. But with the rapid-fire nature of news cycles (and now the downpour of rain and floods across NSW), global attention and conversation has already shifted. How can a transformative dialogue emerge and be sustained after the fires are out? One that not only considers the risks posed by nature on human life and property, but also triggers a re-evaluation of how people conceive of themselves and others in their relationshipwith(in) nature? Such a dialogue will likely involve deep questioning about cultural and social values and beliefs, regulatory, legislative and financial institutions and the interdependence of biological and environmental systems. As people begin the long process of recovery, restoration and regeneration, how can they stimulate conversations and activities that don’t necessarily dictate a particular pathway for ‘resilience’ or ‘adaptation’, but rather, opens up possibilities for more sustainable futures to emerge?
For farmers Penny Kothe of Caroola Farm and Vicki Jones of CSM Organics, it was the catastrophic fires of Black Saturday that raged through Victoria over a decade ago that sparked a total rethink of the way they approach their farmland, families and community. As they began the physical and emotional work of rebuilding their lives, homes, businesses and towns, both farmers made the choice to shift from conventional to regenerative agricultural practices. Predicating the interdependent relationship between humans and the landscape, regenerative farming systems utilise a set of farming practices not just to grow food but to progressively improve the ecosystem in which that food is grown. A holistic and diversified approach, regenerative agriculture seeks to mimic the natural, self-organising properties of a healthy ecosystem by focusing on diversity and the health of integrated natural and human systems.
For Penny Kothe, the Black Saturday bushfires were not only a catalyst for reassessing her farming practices, but they also spurred a deeper contemplation of her place on the land and humanity’s collective responsibility for managing it. ‘Losing everything in a house fire made me realise the important things in life – family, health and community – and from that, I started out on a whole new track. Whilst I’d previously read books on permaculture and holistic management, the fire gave me a whole fresh start and determination to lead my life the way I wanted. It made me reflect seriously on the question: what are we even here for?’ For Vicki Jones, the Black Saturday fires prompted contemplation of issues such as farm succession, learned helplessness among farmers and the link between rural isolation and mental health. The rising input costs of feed and fertiliser, the social isolation experienced in supplying long and fragmented supply chains, and the financial volatility of the market during the global financial crisis were factors to consider in the family succession of her farm. These cumulative pressures prompted a shift from conventional to certified organic dairy farming, as well as sourcing an alternative market for her products. Vicki now sells through Prom Coast Food Collective, a producer- and community-centric, low waste model that returns 95% of the dollar to farming families
As both farmers attest, authentic regenerative agriculture requires the broader community to adopt an ethos in their approach to food, landscapes and culture. ‘Regeneration’ in this sense, requires a reshaping of the human journey, one that cultivates the values of environmental stewardship alongside more localised economies that strengthen solidarity between farmer, eater and the Earth. It encourages farmers’ social participation and connectedness with their local communities while instilling a strong, collective ethics of care in response to the social and ecological challenges of our time. As Kothe reflects, ‘It is through such disasters that we re-evaluate the meaning of our lives, come together as communities and divest ourselves of our consumeristic attitudes that have become so ingrained in our way of life.’
It is the collective experiences, voices and defined action of people from impacted communities that will help shape the vision for long-lasting, impactful, transformative change. For frontline farming communities, the solution starts with building thriving local economies which provide farmers with dignified livelihoods that are ecologically diverse, healthy and resilient. It continues beyond the farm through opportunities for integrated land management that draws on indigenous knowledge and the best of modern science. The local and global impact of Australia’s current bushfire crisis is being felt through grief, stress, frustration and disbelief. But perhaps from the ashes, transformative dialogues and new narratives can emerge – ones that create opportunities and pathways for a regenerative future.