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.

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.





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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