RegenerAte Wangaratta

What if we could eat our way to prosperity?

There’s no doubt that local food producers are under constant pressure – from the climate and the rising costs of production, to the expense of getting their products to market. However, what would happen if our community changed the way we bought food and made a real effort to buy it locally? What if the money we spent on food each week, stayed in our community? What if we paid local farmers instead of multinational companies?

I’m proposing a regenerative agricultural[1] initiative, called RegenerAte Wang (RAW). As far as I am concerned it’s the only way to ensure a future where we live sustainably off our rural land.

Regenerative farming is the way of the future - and this isn’t because it’s some cool, new-wave fad - rather it’s a necessity. We’ve been using the old, ‘tried-and-true’ European farming methods on our ancient land for far too long. What’s more we’ve taken more than our fair share. If you’ve read (or heard of) the enlightening books, Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (who should be Australian of the Year BTW) and Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massey, then you’ll know that our First People have lived and farmed Australia for centuries. Just as our climate has changed, so too must the way we manage our land.

I’m inspired by farmers such as Donovan and Melissa Jacka at Tolpuddle Goats who’ve decided to farm their land sustainably. Their plan is that in thirty years when they hand over their land it will be in better shape then when they receveided it. They are planning to work their paddocks in sizes that allow a three month rest, after the goats have grazed on them for four weeks. They are setting 20 acres (or a sixth) of their land for a forrest. They’re planting living haystacks of tree fodder. When these trees grow taproots that head down to the water table they’ll be able to survive two or three-year dry cycles (not droughts). These trees also provide feed for the goats when the grasses have completed their cycle – goats need to eat a diversity of food. Eating tree fodder reduces pressure on the grassland and with 100% cover 100% of the time the Jackas farm is ready for the future.

Donovan and Melissa’s actions mean that the grassland around the Jacka farm is becoming more resilient. It also means their land is more likely to hold water when it rains. Because the land is no longer bare, rainwater is can seep into it, rather than just running off and causing flooding. This approach to farming is good for the land, is productive, and it protects community assets as well as the government’s infrastructures downstream.

Imagine if our council provided support and encouragement for regenerative farming practices. Yep, it would probably cost money to achieve, but think about it – so did the clean-up and repairs after the recent Everton floods. I reckon it’s a fair price to pay to build our local farmers’ skills so they can adapt to the land and mitigate the risks our region will face.

Let’s become a rural centre for indigenous grasses and plants. Let’s farm indigenous foods: yams; warrigal greens; wild rice and native grasses or Australian native plant foods including fruits like muntries, finger limes and desert limes. Now what about trees that thrive in our warm climate such as carob. Have you seen the two very mature carob trees in Ovens Street adjacent to the King George Gardens? They’re ready to harvest - so go and pick a pod to taste! Now that I have you addicted to carob – go find the other 13 trees in Wangaratta!

Oh – while we’re at it, let’s grow some hemp! Let’s grow a stack of it and retrofit our woollen mills to turn out hemp clothing and byproducts. What’s more, we can make heaps of other products with hemp that you mightn’t believe possible. Me, I’ll be into the food that comes from hemp - seeds, oil, butter and flour, beer, hamburgers, and hotdogs.

OK, by now you might be thinking I’m on something – but no – here’s the list, at this website:

But wait, there’s more! Did I tell you that while I was on holiday I bought a couple of shirts which are made from hemp (as well as a couple of pairs of undies made from bamboo – they’re seriously comfy! Is that TMI)?

I see mini farms everywhere. RegenerAte Wang is about turning all our open spaces into food production – basically turning our town into a big community farm. Go on, grow food on your nature strip ( or farm your back lane, railway easement, park or playground. The City of Yarra in Melbourne even have a job role called Urban Agriculture Co-ordinator for all the people who want to start a community growing space. Once you start to think about where you can grow food, you won’t be able to stop.

Do you see a pattern here? It’s all about sustainability and it’s the little things we do. Changes in behavior become changes in the way we live and bring benefits that mean we, our town, and our community thrive.

Join me in calling on Wangaratta Council to drop a cool $100K into RegenerAte Wangaratta.

In the meantime, I’d love you to tell me three things you’re changing in your home, this month, to become sustainable.