It is all interconnected by louise morris

Troublemaker growing things

Troublemaker growing things

If you’d told me five years ago I was going to be growing edible insects from farm, food and brew leftovers in regional Tasmania. I wouldn’t have laughed at you. I would have carefully backed away and headed for the exit.

Leap forward a few years, to June 2018 when I launched Rebel Food Tasmania as part of the Dark MOFO festival. I am an insect farmer.

Rebel Food Tasmania is the first and only edible insect farm in the state, and nationally from what we know, where the micro herds are raised on leftovers from commercial kitchens, farms, vineyards and microbreweries. 

It’s been a massive learning curve and adventure. At times a bit of a lonely adventure. There are no other farmers I can drop round to chat with about how their micro herds are faring. It’s the simple questions that I often want to ask. How are they managing to stop their woodies from attempting to climb every surface they can get their antennae around? Why are the darkling beetles eggs taking sooo long to hatch…will they hatch? Are they noticing the crickets are a a bit slower off the mark depending on the seasons? Why is it that at certain stages of life crickets prefer one food over another? Do they find themselves enchanted with the singing of the male crickets (surely it’s not just me)?

What made me decide to become an entopreneur? It was an accidental path of discovery about Tasmania’s food waste, and the stark reality of how much our food and agriculture systems impact our natural world and are contributing to climate change. Not to mention they taste damned good, and are a nutritionally dense whole food.

Growing things makes me happy. Doing new things, challenging convention and pushing myself out of my comfort zone stops my easily bored streak coming through.  Which are generally good character traits if you’re about to try something no-one else around you is doing. Not so good for doing those admin chores though. 

I have been called a troublemaker more than once. I like to take it as a compliment. My background is varied ranging from an unfinished law degree, a finished double major in Journalism, Politics and International Studies. A stint studying at the Australian Film and Television Radio Institute (AFTR). Working as a vet nurse, forest campaigner across four states (that’s how I came to Tassie), being sued multiple times by Tasmanian logging corporations (hello Gunns 20), paid and voluntary climate campaigner, markets campaigner, Campaigns Advisor to the Leader of a federal political party, coordinator of Getup election campaigns, and sustainability & social media/marketing consultant.

Now I’m an insect farmer. A completely logical career path, if you stand back and squint at it in just the right way.

Variety is the spice of life as they say, but it has to be spice with purpose. It was while working as a Campaigns Advisor I came across the amount of farm and food waste that does not make it to plates or market in Tasmania. The amount was stunning. What was even more astounding was the utility of what may not pass muster for human consumption, but is still good for things like…oh, I dunno, feeding insects. 

Feedstock that could be part of creating high value and nourishing food source for people, using a local food economy approach. Using food waste including kitchen scraps, carrots and tubers that would normally be bulldozed, used coffee grounds, stale breads and brew and vineyard waste. There is a world of seasonal and constant feed options to grow high quality edible insects. There is the added bonus that insect frass (the polite word for poo) is a great addition to compost.

The options for growing and developing a new agriculture business in Tasmania was, and is,  pretty intoxicating. The logistics of how to do this are a little more sobering. It’s not like embarking on becoming a market gardener where I can talk to the others in the state doing the same thing. This was a first, and i’m breaking new ground - pretty much by myself.

The information on what infrastructure and systems were needed was sparse. I spent more time trawling the internet than I care to remember. Particularly when looking at how to start a farm that is using waste food streams. A farming system that is not recreating industrial food system problems, and really is sustainable from the energy used to power the systems (yay renewable energy), what to use as insect housing, and which insects were most suitable for Tasmania, and our biosecurity regulations, were all foundation questions. Questions I have to keep revisiting as I learn, scale up and work on edible insect food products.

This is how I settled on the three main insect species being farmed. The crowd pleasing cricket, the more well know mealworm, and then there is a surprise package of the woodie. Visually the woodies are a bit of an obstacle for first time eaters. Once people taste that umami fifth element, they are won over. I am their head cheerleader as a taste addition to a dish, and frankly they are fascinating animals.

Being the only insect farmer in the village of Tasmania, and the only one in Australia focused on growing within a local food system approach it can be a bit of a vacuum of information and feedback. That said, it’s an adventure I’m glad i began, and will keep on beginning again every day - for as long as I can. 

What sustains me on a personal level is talking with other farmers, chefs, foodies and activists about the difference we can make by rethinking how we do food. It’s about food systems. How we grow food, eat food and think about it’s role in building soil, health, local economies and community. It is one of the things that can bring us together, and food shapes culture. For us to change systems and take the ‘suss’ out of ‘sustainable’ we need to rethink our modes of production, trade and eating. 

Insect farms will not feed the world, or single handedly change the world. Building resilient and rejuvenating local food systems as part of a vibrant ecological framework will. Tasmania is uniquely placed to lead by example in turning around our industrial revolution ideas of agriculture. We have the opportunity to develop a rejuvenation revolution era of nourishing our natural world, social world and in turn us. It is all interconnected.




Ferment on this by Jess Miller

Miso tastes bloody awesome and is pretty darn good for you too, it’s all about the ferment. Fermenting is so hot right now.

The other thing that is always hot in my book is collaboration, it makes things work…mostly. 

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It also makes things more fun when you can throw ideas around, watch someone with skills and toys you don’t have throw their creative flair into the mix and see what bubbles to the top. The food scene in Tasmania is ripe with great people who have chosen to live here because we have the space and a growing culture of collaboration to do things a bit differently. 

So where am i going with this whole ferment and collaboration? Insect garums.

Late last year I was invited to a food innovators briefing at Enterprise Tasmania presented by two people I’m lucky to have as collaborators and mentors in Dr Tom Lewis (RDS Partners) and Kim Seagram (Stillwater Restaurant, Abel Gin Tas Black Cow Bistro *overachiever). They are steering FermenTasmania and the Northern Tasmania food hub project. I turned up knowing the content would be brilliant, but not sure who else would be in the room. Fully expecting that awkward networking around the drinks table doing introductions.

Thankfully awkward is not how the evening went. Tom and Kim hosted the event like pros and introduced folks to each other with a stirling overviews of what we were all up to. It is from that introduction I started talking with Meagan and Chris DeBonno of Meru Miso about what happens when you ferment insects. Which led to how could we get some trials going where i supply the bugs and add the culture, the 3-6 months of brewing time and the tech to try out Tasmania’s first insect garum.

Insect garam is not a stock standard kitchen habit just yet. Or something that frequents the menu of Tasmanian restaurants, just yet. Lars Williams of the NOMA Nordic Food Lab fame started experimenting with it and sharing his results in 2009 using grasshoppers. HIs recipe and tasting notes are worth checking both online and in the sumptuously laid out ‘On Eating Insects. Essays, stories and recipes’ from the NOMA chefs. 

Seriously the pics are next level and their politics and practical myth busting about insects being the food source that can feed and save the world are timely. I digress; bringing it back to Tasmania, and collaborations. 

After a few conversations with Chris about our joint lack of practical knowledge in creating insect garums we went off and did a bit of research. I did a bit of bespoke insect rearing for garum goodies, and then in late December 2017 delivered a couple of kilos of mealworms and wood roaches to begin the trials. No crickets in this consignment as we had a feature event earlier in the month which had us down to breeding stock. Early this year we can start the cricket garum trials.

Where does this story lead? Not that far at this point, as it takes 3-6 months to allow the fermenting to do its work. To gauge how the ferments are going and then by June/July we will have matured samples to see if the umami is righ, and if the garum is go.

Who knows, by end of this year we could have Tasmanian insect garum as a feature of the Meru Miso range. There’s a bit of learning and tweaking to do before that point though.

Onwards and upwards with finding new ways to create foods #TassieStyle

Words are not just letters strung together; they are vessels for love and fight, heart ache, wisdom, and profound joy by Jess Miller

Words are not just letters strung together; they are vessels for love and fight, heart ache, wisdom, and profound joy,” Devita Davison.

Devita Davison from Detroit Food Labs 

Devita Davison from Detroit Food Labs 

The love for her community and work radiates from Devita Davison as she talks ofthe power that food has as a tool to bring about a just society and economy.

Devita is the Executive Director of FoodLab Detroit, a not-for-profit organisation that represents a diverse community of food businesses and allies working to make good food a sustainable reality for all Detroiters. Devita works with more than 140 food businesses facilitating resources, mentoring, high-quality workshops, field-trips and networking opportunities — all with the goal of cultivating, connecting and catalyzing good food businesses.

Devita spent a few days in Launceston as part of her November tour of Australia talking about the Detroit Food Lab mission to cultivate, connect and catalyse people within a local food economy.

I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the one day Food Justice in the Suburbs workshop Devita ran at the UTAS campus. With the added bonus of being offered the chance to share the stage with Devita that evening as part of a panel entitled ‘Feeding change: Creating a culture of food innovation and entrepreneurship in Launceston…I said yes of course.

Globally, food justice advocates are focusing more of their resources not on changing national level food policies, but rather the development of new and more sustainable practices at the grassroots level. Borne not only from frustration at the lack of vision and progress from government sectors. Rather the realisation that things will only change when we collaborate and lead the way at the grassroots level.

This just do it ethos is underpinned by the knowing that it can often be better to seek forgiveness, than ask permission. To do it the other way around can stifle a great project or new idea.

The possibilities and opportunities that locally grown food, and local food businesses have built in Detroit after the collapse of its manufacturing industry was at the heart of all the stories Devita shared. How some of the most blight stricken neighbourhoods, where people stayed inside for frear of crime and the stores shut when the jobs disappeared were powerful.

Stories of how one woman built a vegetable garden to bring people out of their isolation. A garden that reminded people they could grow their own food, while also growing a sense of pride in their suburb. From that little things, big things grew.

Youth run garden and arts spaces. Micro enterprises where kids sold their produce locally, and learnt how to run a business and feed their community.

So many one-woman businesses, yes more often than not it was women, that took a great idea, a recipe and were catalysts for changing what the local community dreamed of achieving. Providing for their family both in resources, and by example.

As Devita showed, it is her skills in story telling (she is the daughter and granddaughter of a preachers), her marketing qualifications and her strong love of her Detroit home that power her to help facilitate these entrepreneurs and community builders. People who understand that food is the tool to building a just food system. A food system that is resilient to change with a community that is building a new future for itself.

A strong community that knows its value.

In Devita’s own words a bit more about FoodLab Detroit:

FoodLab started in January 2011 with a handful of good food entrepreneurs gathered around a kitchen table to talk about how they could support each other and contribute to Detroit’s growing good food movement. Since then, the group has grown in reach and intention. In its first year, FoodLab members hosted a series of gatherings on how to develop their fledgling businesses along good-food principles. In August 2011, five volunteers began to plan FoodLab’s first bootcamp, “Building Your Good Food Business” (now called BASE).

They saw need for a course that provided practical business tools and embraced good-food values. They also wanted to reach out to more entrepreneurs of colour and strengthen relationships with allies. The response to the series was powerful. It was a space where “foodies” (mostly young, mostly white, often new to Detroit) learned alongside generational Detroit residents and food activists (mostly older, mostly people of colour).

Participants built new relationships, strengthened practical business skills, and deepened their understanding of triple-bottom-line business design. They found joy in belonging to a community that put relationships and the planet first, and also understood the day-to-day demands of starting and running a food business.

 

 

 

 

Rebel Food Tasmania and Good Life Permaculture parlay by Jess Miller

I recently sat down with long time friend Hannah Maloney who with her partner Anton are Good Life Permaculture, to answer a few questions for her blog. We discussed where we were at with Rebel Food Tasmania, and our insect growing and vision for the coming years.

Hannah was one of the people I sounded out a couple of years ago when I was hatching the concept of growing insects for human food in Tasmania. Particularly her thoughts on food waste opportunities, how this could be a viable addition to our community and food systems...and just to see what she reckoned. She is pretty savvy and worth listening to.

Hannah Maloney, Good Life Permaculture

Hannah Maloney, Good Life Permaculture

Pasted below is part of the interview. To see the full version of the chat check out the full blog here . Good Life Permaculture have great advice for designing and growing nourishing food gardens, food systems and bees. Yes, they also have bee hives!

...

Who is Rebel Food and what are you up to?

Rebel Food Tasmania is a new enterprise farming insects as human food. We’re doing things our way and a bit out of the ordinary as we’re working to a local food economy vision. We grow small herds in small spaces that we hope will have a big impact on food, reducing food waste, provide a new business in regional Tasmania, and bring a new premium product to the Tasmanian food scene.

Farming insects isn’t a new thing. Right now insect products are being sold in supermarkets in Europe, the USA and are starting to take hold in Australia. And of course, let's not forget that 80% of the global population eats insects as a normal part of their diet. We are in the minority overlooking this source of nourishment.

This past year we’ve been taking a fair bit of time to test our theories, learning from our mistakes and testing our insect end products with people who have expertise in nutrition, taste and what works out in the world. It's a big adventure, and so far we have been overwhelmed by the interest of other people and businesses who are interested in putting bugs on the menu.

When it comes to protein production, how is farming insects better for our landscapes than farming larger livestock?

There is a lot of media going around about insects being the super sustainable protein source of the future. The ability to farm these little critters in small spaces with minimal water, and on food waste is an amazing opportunity. 

That said we are also very mindful that what is used to power the temperature control systems is a major component of the energy and financial sustainability equation. It also needs to be named upfront that vertical farming systems can become intensive farming systems if done just for money, which does not do any favours to the animals being raised.

This includes using fairly run of the mill feed sources, such as commercial chicken feed and other highly processed commercial cereal mixes to get them fat and fried as quickly as possible. This flies in the face of producing a nourishing or sustainable insect food, so we're doing it our way - with fresh food, a bit of extra time and attention to learnings.

Part of the reason for doing a long period of research and development is to make sure we can actually grow and breed insects from farm waste, in temperature controlled systems that are viable and run on renewable energy, and that we are sure of both the quality of the insects on the plate, and that insect farming in Tasmania is actually a viable addition to the Local Food Economy. 

Pinhead crickets 

Pinhead crickets 

What insects are you farming and which one's your favourite to eat at the moment?

The primary focus is on the domestic cricket (Acheta domesticus), for a flour product that can be included into foodstuffs in the longer term, and also to supply some early adopter restaurants in here Tasmania and Sydney for bespoke bugs on their menu.

To add a bit of interest and variety, mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and wood roaches (Parcoblatta pensylvanica) are also being grown because, well - why not?! Not to mention they all taste pretty great.

As part of the research and development period, we are fact checking whether it's true that the insects take on some of the flavour profiles of what they have been eating. Short answer, yes they do. 

During pumpkin season and the apple season there was a detectable sweeter edge. Wine marc (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomace) was an absolute winner for plumper, sweeter crickets (maybe a bit drunk too, who knows) while coffee grounds with mustard leaf is still a reliable foundation feed for giving a spicy edge. Not to mention carrots and root vegetables, they love the carrots as a moisture and food source. 

In terms of cooking them up: I'm really enjoying whole crickets as part of dishes, and doing a lot of cricket flour inclusions into baked goods. I'm loving the cooking experiments with mealworms as they have a slight cheesy end taste to them which rounds off dishes beautifully. The surprise of the cooking experiments has been using woodies, they are umami (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umami) powerhouses. A little bit goes a very long way.

 When can people start buying your product?

We're looking to be on menus at select Tasmanian and Sydney restaurants early 2018 with bespoke insects grown for their needs. We will be doing targeted events where the importance of flavour and how the insects are grown is part of the story, while scaling up our systems to be making clean, green Tasmanian grown cricket flour as a key ingredient people can incorporate into their everyday dishes.

 Early Adopters

We have some early adopters on the mainland and here in Tasmania including Meru Miso who are trialling fermenting our insects, Quartermasters Arms who have used all three of our insects species in pop up events and  some of our state’s best restaurants ready to incorporate insects into their menu - as soon as we are public and launched. It's all a bit exciting, and a bit overwhelming!

For full interview go to http://goodlifepermaculture.com.au/blog/

New York - not as cool as you'd think, but probably much more food resilient than you'd expect. by Jess Miller

 

Brooklyn Fare. As you enter this joint, you're met by a feint, wallet-opening fragrance of  'smug'. It's a sensory overload of all-of-the-good-things and its quite possible that anything you buy in this joint will make you smarter, faster, healthier, skinner, probiotically-brilliant and just generally a more effervescent and better person. Right...

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The "stuff you need"?

Or is it the stuff they want you to feel like you need? 

That is of course if you manage to make a decision on WTF to actually buy. 

If you're like me. It's a special kind of hell. Where everything seems wholesome, and so well-curated that my obsessive label-reading compulsion becomes not as Michael Pollen suggests, 'a process of ditching the thing that has the thing that you can't pronounce', but an intellectual (and emotional) journey.

I left buying an apple and some of the best licorice ever - at the checkout, mostly because I felt guilty (and I bcs I fucking love licorice). 

I spent a good 45 minutes perusing/interrogating the snack food aisle. 

Are 'Chickepeatos' better than Brooklyn Kale Chips? (which frankly look like a punishment to eat), is 'Pirate Booty' with 0g of transfat from local rice and corn ok? Or is the corn and rice actually GMO from the other side of the world?

What's the difference between Sweet Corn Chips and normal ones? Does the 'organic' apply to the beet aspect of the chip, or the whole grain part of it? But most importantly, is Luke's Organic Superfood Sweet Potato, Hemp Seed and Buckwheat Multigrain and Seed Chip - actually the snack food for the guilty Mum or devised especially for  stoners, and if so - why not just come out and say that?

When Brooklyn Fare says it carried the "Stuff You Need" - do you really, or is it the stuff the want you to feel like you need. 

Finally, there's a 3-star Michelin Restaurant hidden in the middle of this joint - but where? And what exactly warrants the USD $700 dinner price tag?

Oh, dear - Brooklyn it-just-ain't Fare. It's a spectacle. 

I assumed that in this epicentre of choice and food porn that I'd have no trouble finding Chirps, cricket flour and EXO bars - but I was wrong. 

The blank look from staff (and even the store manager) when I asked for 'cricket' or insect-based food at Brooklyn Fare, was not through fault of a thick Australian accent. After repeating the process of: optimistic-search (obsessively) - awkward questions - ask the buyer/manager - and rejection at not one, but SIX of New York's leading health/wholefood retailers (even having googled 'cricket flour/protein/snack stockists') I realised that in the heartland of hipster New York, eating insects is not yet a 'thing'. 

Shit. Bugger-bugger. Shit. 

So what does this mean for a nascent insect-producing start-up based in Tasmania? 

Well two things:

1. New York is not the epicentre of new food, and we need to accept and get over that 'Merica is always ahead of us in terms of food trends, and 

2. The conversation about the future of food needs to and is, fortunately changing. 

Very separate (or so I thought) in my quest to be vindicated through buying insect-based food from a NYC retailer, was in fact a series of conversations with the NYC Mayor's Department about food logistics and resilience. 

 

We have Hurricane Sandy to thank for this. 

New York City, at the behest of the Mayor's Department and their involvement with the Rockefeller's Resilient Cities Program (RC 100), NYC have an evidence-based food security policy. It's not for fun, but instead as a result of an in-depth study into what happens when local food systems are disrupted by a major climate-induced disaster - Hurricane Sandy.

This disaster prompted the enquiry and understanding of how New York City (the five boroughs home to approx 8.5 million people) works as a food economy. It covers logistics, types of food, health, distribution and prompts important questions about how to feed a very significant number of people in the the increasingly likely event that food distribution and supply chains are disrupted, decimated or destroyed.

The short of it is that, when unexpected disruptions to food infrastructure happen (the closing of traffic routes, distribution bases being flooded by water, and supermarkets closed for days on end) - the threat is real, and new thinking about food security is required. 

And sure, the crappiest of crap food has an incredibly long shelf life. But unless you want for your people to live on Doritos and Hershey bars when shit hits the fan, we need to seriously think about how how cities can be supplied with healthy protein in an increasingly unpredictable and climate constrained world. 

We need to address the pros and cons of supplying insect-based protein to the mainstream, not as a fad that Brooklyn Fare customers are cool with, but instead as a legitimate response to future food demands. 

Is insect-based protein a silver bullet? Hell no. But it is 100% something that needs to be thought about, and now. 

Like New York, Sydney sees 'urban agriculture' as a nice-to-have, a kind of Disneyland food phenomenon. The idea of a city producing any significant quantity of food to feed its masses is easily an readily dismissed - 'Cities are not in the agricultural business' is a bureaucratic excuse I've heard too many times. But I have trouble believing it. The excuse is that largely due to the value of the land required for agricultural or future food production - why on earth would you dedicate 3-storeys or prime commercial real estate to growing food when you can lease it out as office space, and get what you need from Newark, Upstate New York or in the case of Sydney the Hawkesbury or Hunter Valley?

It's a rational, property value-based argument. 

 For now.

But it is one based on a range of assumptions that are, and will be increasingly challenged by climate unpredictability and disruption that we as humans, have no control of. It's a dangerous naivety. And as a good gambler can appreciate, if you diversify the risk, you diminish the chances of losing big. 

Rebel Food Tasmania is about making eating food that comes from insects cool, delicious and normal - no doubt. But in equal measure, we recognise the fragility of the current food system: is it hyper-industrialised, dominated by a handful of big inflexible companies, cares little for the actual delivery of nutrients that people need to be healthy, relies on slave-labour, is fetished by TV chefs, and  can be completely decimated by something like a shitty hurricane, drought, terrorist event, disease, corruption, and any other 'unknowns'. Our food system puts all the eggs in once basket (pun etc. etc.) but it's just silly. 

So it wasn't at Brooklyn Fare or the other 6 or so 'cool' health food shops that we need to take our cues from. 

Instead it is the slightly geeky bureaucrats who have overseen the studies and done the work and who understand the very un-sexy logistics of food supply systems, and whose voices and opinions need to be heard. 

When I broached the subject of alternative protein supply to the RC100 food policy staff from the NYC Mayors Office, I did so with the same temerity as I did with the 6th health food shop buyer. I expected the same 'come again?' attitude and need to slowly and clearly explain what it was I was talking about. 

PlaNYC, New York Cities response to food insecurity as bought about by Hurricane Sandy. 

PlaNYC, New York Cities response to food insecurity as bought about by Hurricane Sandy. 

But there was no need. They got it. And to my pleasant surprise they said that it was a real comfort to know that we, here in Australia and in Tasmania (which i had to confirm was in fact part of Australia and cold), were not just thinking but doing something about this. "Wow - you guys are streets ahead of us", they said. "Finally someone is thinking about nutrients, not food supply" - they said. 

And we are. Not because its a faddish trend, or silver bullet, but because we acknowledge and understand enough about the fragility and danger of a food supply chain that is immoveable and illogical in the face of an unpredictable future. We also recognise the immense opportunity that Tasmanian food systems offer in terms of quality of supply, protection against threats, and the already established culture of courage in food exploration - and a massive need for jobs. 

Eating food that is largely comprised of insect protein, may at this point of time  not found in a hipster supermarket aisle in Brooklyn. But it will be. And we need to get used to the idea, and recognise the opportunity that this affords. 

In the wake of global disruption to a food system that is so, so fragile we have to get over ourselves and petty inclinations and have the culinary imagination, creativity and self-belief that we all deserve to eat food that is good for us, farmed in a way that is resilient, fair to people and to our land and that can withstand a future that is unpredictable. 

Rebel Food Tasmania is at the heart of this. It is decidedly un-Brooklyn. It is pragmatic, considered, realistic and courageous. And in the spirit of taking a bet on something that may just in fact deliver a 'triple-word-score': jobs, food security, and a more sensitive food production system.  

Edible insect farmer hopes to grow Australia's industry without hype or 'ick factor' by Jess Miller

Louise recently spoke to Helen Shield from ABC Radio Hobart about the realities of the health and taste benefits of eating insects, and why she is on of the new breed of insect farmers who have set up Insect Protein Association of Australia, the industry body for insect farmers. You can read the article in full here 

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