We’re midway through a series exploring the countless benefits associated with regenerative agriculture and the importance of shopping local. This week we’re broadening our scope and looking at the bigger ramifications of our food choices. We’re chatting to local farmer Hannah Greenshields from The Food Farm in Yarramalong Valley.
Seeing images of empty supermarket shelves across the nation in 2020 was the first bout of food insecurity that many of us have experienced in our lifetime. The collective, widespread anxiety of not being able to source our usual staples was palpable – many panicked and travelled far and wide to stock their pantry; others ordered sourdough starter online for a short-lived crack at making bread at home.
On paper, Australia is a nation with reasonable food security. We export 70%-80% of what we produce to other countries, so what went wrong in 2020 and are we at risk of further food insecurity?
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks of an already highly centralised food growing, processing and distribution system. But what is even more centralised is the fact that the majority of Australian farmers rely on importing most of their fertiliser to grow their crops and pasture.
Australia imports 95% of its urea from overseas markets. The price of this fertiliser and many other synthetic fertilisers has grown by up to 300% with no sign of going down.
Compounding this, the increasing degradation of soil means farmers are having to put more and more of this synthetic fertiliser on their land every year to get their crops up. Not so long ago, the recommendation for a typical application of NPK fertiliser to a wheat crop was around 100kg a hectare; now, it’s over 200kg a hectare.
We face an interesting challenge – with the prices of fertiliser and other inputs significantly increasing to grow the crops as well as the dose required to grow those crops increasing, the likelihood of further food security issues such as price increases and a reduction in the amount grown is inevitable.
Finding another way
As young farmers, this vulnerability to a very volatile and unpredictable market required to grow food further cements our need to be as self-reliant as we possibly can be to grow healthy, nourishing food for ourselves and our community.
Regenerative farming has been the perfect fit for us – by improving the soil via increasing the organic matter and microbial activity, the soil has become close to self-sufficient in producing abundant amounts of pasture to feed the animals we raise. And with no need for expensive synthetic fertiliser, we have the wonderful building blocks for a resilient and secure food system.
If you’ve been reading Georgia’s articles here for a while, you’ll understand that there are quite a few of us regenerative farmers here on the Central Coast. The Central Coast, whilst known for its beaches, is lucky enough to host some of the best farmland in the country. With almost drought-proof rainfall averages and mild temperatures, we have the opportunity to play a crucial role in growing the food to nourish ourselves and our close to 6 million neighbours within an hour’s drive of us.
It’s a wonderful position to be in, but the Central Coast is not without its challenges as a farming region.
Food and farming challenges for the Central Coast
According to a regional report by Central Coast Council, it is estimated that 90% of food production on the Central Coast will be gone by 2031 due to the encroach of urbanisation. We have already seen a 45% decrease in poultry meat production in our area from 2001 figures, representing a $10.5m loss to the local economy. Urban encroachment is also pushing the prices of local farmland higher, making it difficult for non-generational farmers to get a foot in the door and the industry as a whole having a succession problem with the average age of farmers over 60 years old.
We have managed to overcome this issue as first generation farmers by leasing a network of farms throughout the Yarramalong Valley to breed and grow our cattle, chicken and eggs.
Ideas to become more food secure in your household
- Learn to grow your own food. Even the smallest of backyards or balconies can grow food! Start with herbs and greens, and experiment from there.
- Join a community garden. There’s lots of wonderful community gardens which will put you in touch with likeminded people also passionate about growing food.
- Connect with your local Central Coast regenerative farmers. There’s plenty of us here growing meat, chicken, veggies and fruit right on your doorstep. We are resilient when it comes to fluctuating markets and always do our best to make sure our legendary customers have everything they need when food is not on the shelves in the supermarkets.
- Spread the word about your local farmers and that it’s important to you that the valuable farmland is protected from urbanisation in your local area.
More about The Food Farm
Hannah Greenshields and Tim Eyes are first generation regenerative farmers growing grass-fed, grass-finished beef, pasture-raised organic chicken and pasture-raised organic eggs throughout the Yarramalong Valley. You can find their products at Carriageworks market in Redfern, Gosford Farmers market or via home delivery each week to most of NSW. Visit their website, here.
Georgia is a clinically trained nutritionist, wholefoods chef, columnist and mum. She’s been featured in Body & Soul and had TV appearances on ABC Breakfast and Studio 10 for her unique approach to food and health. She’s known for reinventing traditional foods for the modern kitchen and was instrumental in a radical new approach to sports nutrition with a program for the NRL Parramatta Eels, kickstarting their ascent on the ladder in recent years. Find out more at stirringchange.com.