The Organic & Regenerative Investment Cooperative kicked off the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal with the fires in November 2020. What started as a $12,000 load of hay to NSW bushfire affected farmers has grown into a significant appeal. Now capturing more than $324,000 (including financial, donations & in-kind support) in value, this has directly benefited each of the bushfire affected organic farmers in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia!
Collectively between supportive organic farmers, best practice organic advisors, volunteer teams, our bushfire committee and donors, ORICoop has brought together a band of knowledge, experience and learnings. This network can only enhance the long term resilience and benefit of the organic industry. We thank each of you – and we are not finished yet!
Breakdown of $324,000 raised (and mostly distributed) bushfire appeal funds so far includes:-
$89,000 cash raised
$28,907 donated organic inputs
$72,000 donated organic fodder
$14,611 freight subsidy (fodder)
$85,000 donated professional time
$35,000 donated volunteer coordination
Best Practice Organic Farm Expertise
For many of the bushfire affected farmers – the best ‘value’ of the Appeal, has been their appointed volunteer bushfire recovery consultant. They have walked through the biology (courtesy of AgPath) and soil nutrient (EAL) tests with each farmer. From this data they identified the effect of the bushfires and the needs of their farm recovery. Together with ascertaining the physical damage and parameters using a Visual Soil Assessment and photos, these farmers are now on their road to recovery. Though the journey ahead is likely to be long and hard, the farmers won’t be walking alone.
Donated organic inputs
We would like to pay tribute to the organic input providers that have generously supported this Appeal. These are all organically certified products – and each has been tailored to the needs of these farms and their recovery.
The Bushfire Committee is currently finalising the last of the applications for the Appeal and putting in place plans for ongoing support of the fire affected farmers. Now with the COVID-19 restrictions easing, the Committee is looking forward to finalising plans around bushfire recovery workshops and volunteer projects.
ORICoop has a need for volunteers to assist with the following (depending on the COVID-19 restrictions of course)
Contact us if you are interested in hosting a community fundraiser – with funds to support bushfire affected organic farmers in your closest region. ORICoop is keen to see these farmers be supported for the long term. For some this is going to take months to years to recover. Ongoing community support for these farmers to continue is very important. Some of the farms have lost 30-40% of their orchards, with much of the bushland and wildlife destroyed. Many have lost infrastructure not least fencing, thousands of metres of irrigation and annual fodder stores.
Farmers tell their stories
We look forward to sharing more about these farmers, and their courageous stories of resilience and recovery. Christine Watts and Kym Green joined Carolyn, talking about the Bushfire Appeal as part of the Farming Secrets Summit HERE Both of these farmers show much courage and grit from the devastation they felt. And the heart behind their farming choices.
You can also catch up with more stories around the Bushfires, in our upcoming BioLogical Journal. And you can follow our Instagram page HERE.
Stay Well – and now more than ever, support your local organic farmers!
(photos supplied by Kym Green – credit to Nutri-Soil for their generous donations!)
The stories are shadowed right now by COVID – 19, but we know these bushfire affected farmers are rising from the ashes, and their resilience will be a shining light to all of us. We are thinking of the regional communities affected by bushfires, and their impending risk and impact of the virus on their people and place. May strength and resilience be our friends through these uncertain times.
As these farmers take stock and move forward with their recovery journey – it has been incredible to see the photos of the greening orchards, the response to the rains, and natures’ assurance of ‘it’s going to be ok’. And how the environment has a way of it’s own in recovery, some of which we don’t give her credit for. At least not to the extent we should!
The great outcome from the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal, has been connecting some of the leading biological and organic consultants together, to nut out the best process and plan for recovery for these organic farmers. As these farmers recover, we look forward to sharing their stories, and the journey of their soil, farm and businesses being restored.
The first steps to recovery for any farm post bushfires, or other natural disasters is assessment. Both physically, biologically, and above the ground.
All these farmers have been encouraged to follow this process, outlined by Gerhard HERE. These steps can be followed by any farmers looking to become more aware of the biological strengths and weaknesses of their soils. These key steps include:-
Once these tests are done – you can put all three together to obtain an accurate picture of the effects of the bushfire, both on the biological response, and the nutrient load or bank. It has been really interesting seeing these results come through for each of the bushfire affected farmers. And the diversity of farm systems (all organic), together with the expertise of the farmers themselves (some with more than 30 years of experience in organic farm systems), with the biological consultants. If you are interested to engage with any of these specialist consultants, you can contact us directly and we will put you in touch. You can also join the Organic & Biodynamic Farmers Facebook group – to ask any questions of your fellow farmers.
I was privileged to join a call between Gerhard Grasser and Greg Paynter, both pioneers and long term supporters of the organic industry. Highly experienced in soil agronomy, biological principles, organic standards and sustainable growing systems. Together they discussed the latest soil and biology tests for each of the farmers, the way that the Bushfire Appeal funds could be best utilised to get the most efficiency from the existing nutrients from the results, and to restore the biology to support the tree and soil systems over the long term.It is so clear that there is not one single answer. That every farm is different. That every farmer has a different response. The one aspect that is clear – is that together we are better. Together when farmers can share their stories of fire affected pastures and orchards, when leading consultants can liaise together to learn from each other’s strengths – that is when our industry has the opportunity to grow and prosper. We look forward to fostering that. More and more.
ORICoop is proud to have stepped forward to assist these farmers in their hour of darkness. And we will put together these stories as case studies for future farmers to use. And we hope that with each natural disaster, we can build case studies of resilience, or ways that farmers have used natural means to work with nature, and to see restoration as a journey, not a destination.
If you are a bushfire affected organic or biodynamic farmer – make sure you have applied to the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal. Due to COVID-19, it has been agreed that the Appeal applications will close mid-April. So the funds raised can offer direct assistance to those that need it. And see their farms through recovery. As much as possible.
** We would like to take this moment to thank all our biological consultants for their efforts to date. Offering pro-bono support to these bushfire affected farmers. And to EAL and AgPath for offering their soil & biology tests at cost to these affected farmers (cost covered by bushfire appeal funds).
In conclusion. It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the postponement of our ALL volunteering events for bushfire affected farmers until further notice. We are saddened to have cancelled all the volunteer projects in the pipeline – due to COVID-19 risk.
The overriding need for ORICoop is to display social responsibility and enact the Ethic of Care for People, both those volunteering and the affected farmers. The idea of spending time around other people practicing social distancing on farm volunteer weekends, cooking and eating dinners together and close proximity is too complex and risky for all. And really… no contact affects much of the intention and purpose of our volunteer projects. We are really sorry. Both to the hundreds of keen volunteers, but mostly to the bushfire affected farmers, that were all looking forward to hosting these projects, and seeing works done in their road to recovery.
Thanks to the many good folk that helped promote these events and we’ll be back in touch with some alternative dates in the springtime. Thanks especially to Penny & Amy, for all their work in pre-planning and promotion of these events.
We are all in this together. Thank a farmer for your next meal! Share this blog with your friends – we are stronger together.
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.
Certified organic fodder due to arrive Christmas Eve!
When we launched the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal two weeks ago, our aim was to raise $14,000 to purchase and transport a B-double load (approx. 50 tonnes) of certified organic fodder to farms in need in NSW.
Since then, thanks to the momentum our supporters have created through the support of this appeal, we’ve had an amazing 120 tonnes of certified organic fodder donated by generous organic producers in Victoria – worth over $60,000! And thanks to the fodder being donated, we’ve also secured $40,000 worth of transport subsidies through the NSW Govt Rural Assistance Authority. This means for every $1 dollar donated – it has created $15 directly to these farmers!
The first of six truck loads of fodder will be delivered to organic & biodynamic farms just in time for Christmas, next Tuesday!
This will help keep stock alive and businesses afloat over the next few months at the following farms:
You’re helping to save these farms – thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
Your donation will go so much further than we could have anticipated when we launched this appeal. As summer rolls on, this means that we’ll be able to provide further support to more farmers affected by drought and bushfires, as needs arise.
You can share details of our Appeal with your local organic retailer or grocer with this flyer, please encourage them to support us!
A reflection from Heidi, of Marrook Farm. A Certified Biodynamic Dairy in NSW, near Taree.
Our situation currently is that we have been in drought for the last three years with increasing severity. In many previous years we have been self-sufficient in feed, making silage for winter feed. However due to the ongoing drought, we have had to bring three large loads of hay from Victoria. Currently, we are contemplating another load as feed in the pasture is minimal from the drought. We are lucky to have running water, unlike others nearby.
At present the Bulga Plateau, where we live, is surrounded by fires. Since the fire went through our neighbouring village, Bobin, just a few Friday’s ago, we had spent days in preparation, keeping the cows near the dairy and feeding more hay than we would normally have been. That Friday, the power and all phone communications went out. We have a generator at the dairy and factory so continue to milk twice a day. The phones came back on Thursday last week, which helps. We were not able to send out our truck with the week’s milk production due to the fire situation, and the danger to the drivers and trucks. Luckily, yesterday, due to the great help of friends and a vehicle going ahead to clear trees off the road we were able to send the truck out, so all our products will have a week less use by than usual. Last week I made fetta rather than yoghurt, as we had no space in the cool room to store any more and our workers have left the mountain due to the fire situation. Today I have made kefir as usual hoping to get orders out next Monday.
The closest the fire has come is one kilometre away from us two days ago. So we were on high alert, especially as we also have a 93 year old neighbour staying with us as his sons fight the fires. Thankfully there was a lot of water bombing and crews on the ground, and they held it at the road. Most days it is a waiting game and the situation changes with the wind. They are hoping to have the power restored by Thursday this week, which would astound me, as it is very rugged terrain they have to traverse, and they have lost a lot of poles. We are communicating by intermittent mobile phone mainly and a satellite NBN. UHF radius with neighbours was a great help
People must understand that farmers are feeling exhausted from the intense drought situation in NE NSW, and adding a fire to this will be financially & environmentally catastrophic for years to come.
** Support Organic & Biodynamic Farmers, donate to the Campaign HERE. Buy local. Support farmers that are resilient and surviving one of the toughest droughts in history.