Category Archives: guest blog

Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth

Profound, complex, anecdotal, Call of the Reed Warbler, wants to change the world; it could be the most important book you will ever read.

– Bill Gammage, author of The Biggest Estate on Earth

Charles Massy’s previous bestselling book, Breaking The Sheep’s Back, exposed the $10 billion collapse of the wool industry. This time he turns his forensic eye on how we farm and grow food.

Call of the Reed Warbler is an urgent call to arms – the urgency stemming from the fact that Earth and its supporting systems is slipping into a totally new, dangerous and human-caused epoch – the Anthropocene. But there is hope, and this ground-breaking book focusses on a new regenerative agriculture and consequently a rejuvenated Earth. It tells the story of extraordinary and tangible solutions to this first-time ever, human caused crisis.

This is a marvellous book, full of wonder and wisdom, and both visionary and deeply practical. A magnificent achievement.

– Professor Tom Griffiths, ANU

Call of the Reed Warbler will change the way we think of how we farm and grow food. Author and radical farmer Charles Massy explores transformative and regenerative agriculture and the vital connection between our soil and our health. It is a story of how a grassroots revolution – a true underground insurgency – can save the planet, help turn climate change around, and build healthy people and healthy communities, pivoting significantly on our relationship with growing and consuming food.

Using his personal experience as a touchstone – from an unknowing, chemical-using farmer with dead soils to a radical ecologist farmer carefully regenerating a 2000-hectare property to a state of natural health – Charles Massy tells the real story behind industrial agriculture and the global profit-obsessed corporations driving it. He shows – through evocative stories – how innovative farmers are finding a new way and interweaves his own local landscape, its seasons and biological richness.

According to Massy, we need a revolution as human health and our communities, and the very survival of the planet depend on it. For farmer, backyard gardener, food buyer, health worker, policy maker and public leaders alike, Call of the Reed Warbler offers a tangible path forward for the future of our food supply, our Australian landscape and our earth. It comprises a powerful and moving paean of hope.

Its gentle yet compelling voice, its depth of feeling and honesty, its sense of purpose and vision, is sure to make it an Australian classic.

– Books+Publishing

Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles MassyCome to the Canberra launch of Call of the Reed Warbler:
6pm, Tuesday 3 October at the National Library of Australia.
Book online at bit.ly/ReedwarblerNLA

ABOUT THE AUTHOR –
CHARLES MASSY,
ARLASH FOUNDING MEMBER

Charles Massy gained a Bachelor of Science (Zoology, Human Ecology) at ANU (1976), before going farming for 35 years, developing the prominent Merino sheep stud ‘Severn Park’. Concern at ongoing land degradation and humanity’s sustainability challenge led him to return to ANU in 2009 to undertake a PhD in Human Ecology. Charles was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his service as Chair and Director of a number of research organisations and statutory wool boards. He has also served on national and international review panels in sheep and wool research and development and genomics. Charles has authored several books on the Australian sheep industry, the most recent being the widely acclaimed Breaking the Sheep’s Back (UQP, 2011).

Pulling the Planet Back from the Brink, One Farm at a Time

This article is by ARLASH member, Charlie Massy, and was published by the Rockefeller Foundation on 5 May 2016. Read the original article here: https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/blog/pulling-the-planet-back-from-the-brink-one-farm-at-a-time/

I am a farmer with forty years of hard-won experience. I have made my share of mistakes, mainly because I thought our landscapes were bulletproof and our resources were super-resilient. Like many, I eventually learned that modern, industrial-scale agriculture is grossly unsustainable. In fact, it is the key force in the massive destabilization of our planet’s ecological balance. But I have also more recently learned that agriculture can become the key force in restoring Earth’s ecological order.

“Agriculture is the largest land-user on earth, the largest chunk of the globe’s GDP, the largest employer of its citizens, and the main source of food and income for most of the world’s poor.”

Agriculture is the largest land-user on earth, the largest chunk of the globe’s GDP, the largest employer of its citizens, and the main source of food and income for most of the world’s poor. Agriculture is also pushing the planet across the threshold of sustainability in several areas—greenhouse gas emissions, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss—and testing the limits in other areas as well, most notably water.

As a result, many scientists now contend that planet Earth has already entered what is being called the Anthropocene era, so named because, for the first time in the planet’s history, one species—we humans—are now in a position to determine the destiny of most life on Earth, including ourselves. But we have the power to steer the world toward a more desirable destination, and that work can start on the farm.

As a farmer, I have spent the last few years making transformative changes to my own thinking and agricultural practices. I have realized it is possible to grow food and fiber in ways that restore rather than merely deplete the land. I have embraced what is sometimes called “regenerative agriculture,” which has the potential to truly address the crises of the Anthropocene era.

Our 4,500-acre farm in Australia nestles on the tough, high temperate Monaro tablelands of southern New South Wales: a land of hard frosts, big horizons, eucalypt woodlands, and golden grass. Here, my shift from conventional to regenerative agriculture has had startling effects, both ecologically and economically. Through trapping more rain, we grow more diverse vegetation. Our sheep and cattle—and our bank balance—are healthier. Grasshopper plagues are no more, yet other biodiversity has exploded: from mushrooms (fungi), to birds, insects, earthworms, marsupials—and wondrous spiders.

Recently, I have studied how other farmers are applying this approach in Australia, Africa, and North and South America. The results, as on our farm, have been remarkable: Healthy landscape function was restored, production increased, biodiversity rebounded, climate change factors were ameliorated, and vastly healthier food was produced.

“It’s not so much our technology, but what we believe, that will determine our fate.”

In 2010, environmental historian Tim Flannery wrote in his book Here on Earth, “While we humans may be built by our genes, our civilizations are built from ideas,” and therefore, “it’s not so much our technology, but what we believe, that will determine our fate.”

History supports Flannery’s contention, particularly in regard to agriculture and ideas. Most of the great civilizations and dynasties of the past—in India, Mesopotamia, China, around the Mediterranean, and in South and Meso-America—overwhelmed their natural resources through poor soil, water, and landscape management, and their societies collapsed.

All evidence today points to the potential for an even more spectacular crash-and-burn scenario.

Our civilization will ultimately survive—or not—based on whether we heed Flannery’s vision. It is our beliefs that will determine our fate. And there’s reason to believe a new cohort of ecological agriculturalists can alter the course of our civilization with new ideas and practices. They understand that we must embrace a new way of feeding the world, or there won’t be any people left to feed.


Dr. Charles Massy was an Academic Resident at Bellagio in November 2015.

Local Food Benefits on The Conversation

Let’s reap the economic benefits of local food over big farming

AUTHOR
Nicholas Rose
Research Fellow at Deakin University

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT
Nicholas Rose works for the Food Alliance. He is also affiliated with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and the Food Connect Foundation.

While Australia’s national food and agriculture debate centres on boosting production and increasing exports, our local food industry is being neglected. That’s a shame because countries such as the United States and Canada, which have explicitly prioritised local food, are now reaping the economic benefits.

A few weeks ago, the federal government decided to scrap the A$1.5 million Community Food Grants program.

This meant that 364 community gardens, farmers’ markets, food rescue organisations, community kitchens and other groups – more than 200 of whom had already been approved for grants up to A$20,000 – were informed that the program would be wound up and no funds disbursed due to the “tight fiscal environment”.

The grants were originally part of the now-defunct National Food Plan, a key Labor initiative launched in May 2013.

The food bowl myth

It has been said that a “dining boom” awaits our farmers and food manufacturers, brought about by the swelling ranks of the Asian middle classes who are demanding our agricultural commodities.

This is the thinking that informs the federal government’s White Paper on Agriculture, which is calling for submissions until April 17.

But its primary motivation has nothing to do with “feeding the world”, although that provides an ideological fig-leaf. Rather, bipartisan food and agricultural policy in this country is above all about meeting corporate hunger for profit.

What is lost in this myopic drive for growth and profit are the many other dimensions and functions of our food and agricultural systems, including local food systems.

The United States: local food makes economic sense

Overseas, things are done a little differently.

For more than 20 years, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made tens of millions of dollars available in grants and low-interest loans to the local food sector. Here are some of the results of the return on this public investment:

The numbers of farmers’ markets in the US rose from 340 in 1970 to 8144 in 2013.

In 1997-8 there were two farm-to-school programs; now there are over 2000 ; and 46 states have either enacted or proposed legislation to support farm-to-school programs in their jurisdiction.

Over 200 Food Hubs now exist across the country from under ten a few years ago, providing distribution and marketing solutions at scale for many farmers and businesses.

Total local food sales reached US$4.8 billion in 2008/9, with US$1.2 billion being direct-to-consumer sales.

The USDA’s own economists explain the solid economic case:

“Fruit and vegetable farms selling into local and regional markets employ 13 full-time workers per US$1 million in revenue earned… In comparison, fruit and vegetable farms not engaged in local food sales employed three full-time workers per US$1 million in revenue.”

This translates into local food economy job-creation rates being three times higher than national and/or global food economies.
In terms of the multiplier effect, studies suggest that the percentage of money spent in local businesses that is retained in the local economy is typically more than 50%, compared with only 15-30% of money spent in non-local businesses.

In Illinois, according to a 2009 local food report, a 20% increase in local food production will generate US$20 billion to US$30 billion of new economic activity, resulting in thousands of new jobs.

Applying the same logic across all Australian states (with a total combined annual spend on food of US$158 billion, compared with US$48 billion in Illinois) would mean that the same 20% shift to local food in Australia would lead to at least A$50 billion of new economic activity, with consequent major job-creation and local business impacts.

Compare that figure with food imports, which in 2010 reached A$10.6 billion, a near-tripling since 1991.

I haven’t even touched on the non-economic benefits of local food: the increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, the reduced environmental impact, and the enhanced social capital.

Canada: local food and the law

It’s for all these reasons that Canada is following the same path. The Local Food Act passed the Ontario Provincial legislature last year with unanimous, bipartisan support.

In Ontario, and throughout much of Canada, local food is non-contentious. Every political party supports it, as does Walmart Canada, Cisco and other multinational food service providers, hospitals, schools, chefs, farmers and local communities.

It’s no longer a political issue: it’s just good, common sense. As the preamble to the Act acknowledges:

“The variety of food produced, harvested and made in Ontario reflects the diversity of its people. This variety is something to be celebrated, cherished and supported. Strong local and regional food systems deliver economic benefits and build strong communities”.
The Local Food Act mandates the Minister of Agriculture and Food to set goals or targets with respect to:

  • Improving food literacy in respect of local food
  • Encouraging increased use of local food by public sector organisations
  • Increasing access to local food

The Local Food Act also creates a 25% tax credit for farmers who donate produce to local food banks, directly improving their bottom line while getting more good food to those who need it. With food relief agencies in Australia experiencing unprecedented levels of demand, this is also a major opportunity and need.

Another plank of the Canadian strategy is a dedicated Local Food Fund, worth up to C$30 million over three years to support innovative projects that enhance the purchase of local food and contribute to economic development.

Expanding local food

In Australia, local government has begun to analyse the benefits of a bigger local food industry. Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula Shire found in preliminary modelling that expanding its local food industry by 5% would bring in A$15 million and create nearly 200 jobs.

This is an invitation to any politician or political party with the courage to expand this thinking to state and national scale. It doesn’t have to be either exports or just local food: it can be both. If the US and Canada can do it, so can we.

There’s never been a better time.

This article was originally posted on The Conversation, 20 March 2014, 2.48pm AEST.