Wednesday, 14 June 2017

What is Sustainable Food?

There are lots of definitions of the term sustainability. Add the term to the word "food" and you get just as many definitions and arguments. Recently though, I came across a book  in my local library, which I have reread twice and renewed as much as I'm allowed, that I think sets it out pretty clearly with no fancy words or ambiguity. 

Beaut little bananas and a great book!

In his thought-provoking and practical book, Sustainable FoodMichael Mobbs argues that sustainable food is "local, homegrown and you can walk to get it". I don't think a trolley laden with supermarket fare is likely to meet those criteria! What I do think though is that his definition is "food for thought" in terms of evaluating how we currently source our food and what to work towards to make our food supply as sustainable as possible. So, when thinking about the food we eat here, at our place, in suburbia ... 

Lovely Lollo Rosso lettuce growing in our garden.


Our garden grows food. Just outside my back door, running the entire length of our back ramp, is a productive veggie patch. Along the back fence there's a mandarin tree that's just finished fruiting, a passionfruit vine, a new native raspberry, three half wine barrels full of colourful flowers and veg and a tank garden filled with random seedlings that I'm experimenting with. At the bottom of the back garden there's an avocado tree that's growing well and that I hope will supply us with some fruit this year (it dropped them all last year). Running rampant over part of our backyard lawn at the moment is an out-of-control volunteer pumpkin vine with, so far, two maturing pumpkins on it.  Needless to say, we are mowing a wide arc around it at the moment. In amongst all this are herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano.

Tuscan Kale & Beetroot with Calendula in our veggie patch.

Our garden doesn't supply all our food, it doesn't supply all our fruit and veggies either. I can usually include something we've grown in the main meals of the day especially in the milder seasons of our year. (It becomes a real challenge in our Summers' scorching heat.) There are no backyard chickens (much to my dismay) to provide eggs as I'm pretty sure they'd become local food for the local pythons! So, from where do we source the food we can't/don't grow?


Growing food in your own garden or on your balcony is as local as it gets. After that, it's the food in your neighbourhood. Until a short while ago, we used to swap food regularly with a lovely next door neighbour and amazing gardener. Baskets of his produce would appear on our doorstep often and we responded in kind with offerings from our garden and our kitchen. This dear gardener has moved away now, down South to milder climes and more regular rainfall. I miss his generosity, his gardening knowledge and encouragement.

A bunch of bananas from a friend's garden.

A few of our nearby friends grow food too and occasionally, when we have excess, we swap. Mulberries from one dear friend's tree, bananas from another and limes from the bloke down the hill and round the corner. I always bring home fresh fruit after a visit with friends who live up in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and generously share their amazing produce.

A beautiful pumpkin from the little local market shop.

There are farmers' markets close by on Sundays and I visit a little organic market shop, just a ten minute drive from here, that stocks fruit & veg predominately from small farms and cottage producers. There's local honey and breads there too. I find their produce is usually of good quality so I often check their prices. I try to support this little local business because, without the community's support, it will close and then there will be less choice in our area.

Walk to Get It

In under a minute I can walk out my back door, down our back ramp and start picking from the veggie patch. I often walk around my garden munching on whatever is ripe! That's the shortest trip I make to source food. There is a small, well-stocked grocery shop and local bakery that is a twenty minute walk away along our bike path. Great for essentials like milk and bread if we run out. Besides that, and the occasional lime or passionfruit I find overhanging fences on my daily walk, I have to drive to get the rest.

Snow peas growing near the end of our back ramp.

All this matters because, as Michael Mobbs emphasises in his book, "The way we grow, transport and waste food from faraway farms, supermarkets and shops is the second highest cause of climate pollution after coal fired power stations". It's commonly accepted now (I hope) that climate pollution and climate change is a real problem for all of us. In comparison to coal fired power stations, making decisions about the food we eat feels a whole lot simpler!

Do I still buy some of our food from a supermarket? Yes, though not all of it and next to no fruit and veg. I have gradually reduced our supermarket shop over time, little by little, as I've found and made alternatives. We eat much less processed food and that has made a difference I think. Are there other things we could do? Yes, of course. We could expand what we grow here, we could garden on our verge and encourage our neighbours to do that too so that we could all share (Have you heard about Buderim's amazing Urban Food Street?). We could join a local box scheme that sources fruit/veg from farmers on the outskirts of our city. There would be no oranges from half way round the world in those boxes! When you grow some of your own and support local farmers and producers it can make a difference. 

Have you made changes to the way you source your food? If so, what prompted you to do so? 




  1. We have stopped eating process food, once you get into it, it becomes much easier. We are also eating food in season, so no strawberries through the winter months, which also stops us buying food heavy with food miles. We also eat meat free once or twice a week, meat is a resource heave food. We do not go to large supermarkets often, all these little changes help

    1. Hi, Marlene. I think eating seasonally really leads to an appreciation of fruit/veg that are not available all year round. That taste of year's first strawberry or ripe manadarin is one to savour and the taste makes it the wait worthwhile. Meg:)

  2. Fantastic post Meg. We grow as much as we can. Being new to veggie growing we don't produce everything however like you most days there is something in our meals from the yard. At the moment it is the herbs. Very soon and fingers crossed we will have broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage. Once a month we visit our local Farmer's Market and stock up on meat and fresh produce. The remainder of our fresh produce comes from a small business in our area who mainly stock organically grown produce and as local as possible. My trolley at the supermarket has diminished a lot over the past few years and I don't purchase any meat or fresh produce at the supermarkets.
    I also used to use an App about mindful eating amongst other things. It was really interesting and great for the kids to listen to as well. It made you think about what you were eating and the processes and miles it had to travel to get to your plate. Very thought provoking. It not only made the kids think but me too.
    If eating out which is rare we have two great local cafes. One grows their own produce behind the shop and that is what they serve. The other sources all of their fresh produce, meat and coffee from small local businesses only. Grass fed meat, organically and locally grown fruit and veg, fair trade coffee.
    I think we really need to be more aware of just so many things.

    1. It's great that you've made a start on veggie growing, Kylie. Your homegrown veg is going to taste extra good! And you have your chickens now too (I'm envious...I grew up with chooks!)
      I don't buy meat from the supermarket either, I buy it from the organic/chemical free butcher just opposite. I take extra care with what I choose, often the cheaper cuts and mince which I can stretch out substantially in meals. They have a loyalty program and I take advantage of my $20 off every now and then to buy a whole roasting chicken. I also offset cost of meat by making vegetarian meals regularly. Meg:)

  3. Good morning Meg,
    Happy Wednesday! We shop from the local markets for most of our fresh fruit, veggie and meat now, and just get a few items from the supermarket just up the road. I love the idea of local and knowing where the produce is from, it doesn't always work this way though. I have struggled for a long time with my garden, I have a few successes but unfortunately I have more failures due to pests and disease, especially during our stupid hot summers. I try to only buy what we need for the week to eliminate waste, using absolutely everything up before shopping again.
    Have a wonderful day.

    1. Hi, Fiona. I actually thought of you on Saturday when I was in at the Northey Street City Farm Nursery and saw a few Pomegranate saplings! It can be disheartening when failures in the garden happen, so makes it doubly important to celebrate your those Pomegranates! It is a truly wonderful thing that you eliminate waste in the way you do because that's an important part of the whole sustainability picture. Here we compost our food scraps or feed them to our worms. We've been doing that for a long time now and it significantly reduces our household waste. In his book, Michael Mobbs grows food at his place in a very small garden. Perhaps you might find some ideas there if you can get hold of a copy. Meg:)

  4. I just checked out that book at our library but they only have the author's other book Sustainable House unfortunately. A great post, Meg.

    1. It's unfortunate that they don't have a copy, Chel, because I think it's a great book. Sustainable House is Michael Mobb's first book, written after he renovated his inner city Sydney home to be sustainable. He was able to design changes in such a way that he was able to disconnect his home from mains water, sewerage and eventually power. His energy bills are about $300 per year! I wish I'd found that book before we built our home here! Meg:)

  5. Sounds like a great book to have.

    1. I very rarely buy books anymore, Kathy, but this is one that I think would make a great addition to someone's library. I borrowed it from the local library and was so glad to have come across it. Meg:)

  6. We really poured a lot more effort into our fruit and veg garden, when we tired of the excuse nothing grows. Every year we achieve a little more production. We get local honey, and support a few local shops - but I have to confess, going to a supermarket is often a lot easier.

    This is another excuse I've not liked entertaining, so I probably need to look at buying in bulk, and finding ways to store it. All good things to contemplate, so thanks for the reminder.

    1. Hi, Chris. I am trying to make our fruit/veg garden more resilient in Summer here so I can grow a bit more. There's really only a trickle of veg coming out of the garden in Summer. I've been looking at Morag Gamble's blog, Our Permaculture Life, and have a little list of plants to try and source and grow that are hardy in Summer. I recently found a Cranberry Hibiscus (up at Green Harvest in Maleny) and have planted that, I got a Brazilian Spinach too, from a cutting at the city farm, but it's not doing well...I think I have to try again in a different spot with that one. Always experimenting! Meg:)

  7. This is a helpful post to me Meg, as I am learning more ways to be sustainable.

    I am always happy to read how others are doing things, there is always something new to learn.

    I am enjoying Morag's blog and videos too, she has a great way of passing on her knowledge.


    1. I love reading about what others do too because there's always something new to try or a different way of doing something. I like connecting with like-minded people and learning from them. Meg:)