Sep
01
2014

So You Think You Can Farm?

Starting a business is not for the faint hearted, but starting a farming business? Pursuing this idea is not just on a whole other level, it is in its own stratosphere. Especially with a management team that has no background in commercial farming whatsoever, except perhaps my father-in-law-to-be Paul, who hasn’t farmed commercially per se, but who has a keen interest in agriculture or rather, permaculture, has ‘hobby’ farmed and has at least made a few attempts in his life journey to find real alternatives to a troubled system which has brought him to many a regional community.

And this is exactly why Ben and I decided to move to rural Queensland, to embark on a permaculture farm and organic food venture with Paul. Armed with buckets of enthusiasm, simple values and a yearning for something ‘real’, our pursuit of The Good Life means actively working on ‘being part of the solution and not part of the problem’. This means:

  • a near self-sufficient lifestyle independent of the water and electricity companies;
  • growing our own food, including the humane treatment and free range raising and slaughter of animals (Ben and Paul are not vegetarians unlike myself);
  • building a permaculture farm and food forest;
  • buying less to reduce environmental waste;
  • buying local should we need to;
  • attempting to earn an honest living from working the land;
  • developing a business model that neither exploits the environment or the workers in it;
  • creating nutritious organic fermented food products for market in response to the mass production of poor ‘food’ options currently available; and
  • time for leisure and to be able to pursue our own hobbies such as reading, writing, involvement in causes we believe in and even playing dress ups for a blog if that tickles the fancy (as it does mine!)

With the average age of a farmer being 60+ years and in an industry that is notoriously back breaking as well as spirit breaking, even for farming families, a ‘realist’ may call us perhaps a tad naïve. We aren’t oblivious to the challenges ahead of us. In fact, we know the entire idea is a big undertaking. A massive one in fact. But as with most things in life worth pursuing, we understand our journey won’t be easy. But it will be worth it, whatever the outcome.

Vintage lace dress: Dear Gladys Vintage Boutique / RM Williams boots: eBay / Prada sunglasses: My own / Photographer: Ben McGuire

Aug
17
2014

The Paradox of Eco Fashion

Many of my favourite things start with the letter ‘f’. There’s food: organic and biodynamic of course. There’s fun: there’s too many activities to list here. There are flowers: my first choice are orchids followed by dahlias, carnations and peonies. And then there’s fashion: always sustainable, always ethical.

And as an individual who appreciates beauty in all its forms, I have developed a harmless daily activity of flicking through artistic and inspiring Instagram photos uploaded by the various sustainable ‘eco fashion’ brands and e-tailers that I follow. But then a niggling thought hit me several weeks ago that has been bothering me since it entered my mind. That particular thought bugged me so much that it culminated into the act of writing this particular blog post.

The thought was this: exactly just how eco is eco fashion? Viewing Instagram images of models in beautiful organic cotton garments is a more sustainable option yes – but cotton is an extremely water thirsty plant and being organic doesn’t make it less so. It is advertised as a better option, but I know it isn’t. Garments made from hemp and bamboo are much better options.

I also began to question the motives of some of the ‘eco’ bloggers and ‘eco fashion’ brands that I was following on social media. Upon flicking through countless images, I decided to ‘unfollow’ several because the constant marketing bombardment promoted a shopping philosophy that I fundamentally disagree with: one that encourages you to buy more. How can eco fashion be considered sustainable when it relies on the same capitalistic systems and marketing mechanisms that drive unsustainability in the first place? The truth is that the eco fashion industry still relies on unnecessary consumption as much as the fast fashion industry does.

And herein lies the problem that seems to have permanently wedged itself into the crevices of my brain.

Eco fashion and fast fashion are inextricably linked because the industries both rely on people’s unsustainable practice of mindless consumption. Now I’m not saying that eco fashion is as bad as fast fashion. If you were to purchase a garment, indeed an eco fashion choice is by far the better option – at least it attempts to address environmental issues, as well as social and economic issues. What I am merely saying is that eco fashion has its flaws. To really address the underlying causes of environmental destruction and resource depletion involves transforming the cultural buying habits of much of the Western and developing worlds from unrestrained consumption to one driven more by necessity.

True eco fashionistas understand this and adopt shopping habits that are on a ‘needs’ basis instead of a ‘wants’ basis. They are the ones who can see through ‘green washing’ propaganda. They are not afraid to point out that the greenest action people can take – is not to purchase anything at all!

Aug
05
2014

Don’t listen to the elitists – water IS a human right

Men’s shirt: My partner Ben’s / Boots: eBay / Jeans: My own / Photographer: Ben McGuire

Since returning to rural Queensland and living on a country property that is in the middle of experiencing  a drought (I’ve only recalled 3 rainy days in the last 2 months and it’s winter!), you begin to appreciate just how precious water is.  So of course, I find the ridiculous and elitist statements by Nestle Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe back in 2005 totally and utterly deplorable. In suggesting that water sources should be given a ‘market value’ and ‘privatised’ is not only inhumane, but downright abominable. And I don’t care how many of his PR spin doctors are trying hard to prove that that’s not what he meant. Of course they would try and turn it around – millions of dollars of profits are at stake when your chairman has a trigger happy mouth!

And let’s not forget that he also stated very clearly – on film and unedited unless his PR guys want to try and spin that in his favour too – that he does not believe that what nature provides is necessarily better. In fact, he states in the film that organic is not better and identifies with pro-genetically modified foods, stating that no one has become ill from eating GM foods EVER. As I recall, DDT was presumed safe. And so too was asbestos. Of course, only time will tell (and let’s face it, how objective ARE these lab tests anyhow?) The truth is that companies exist to make a profit. Not to be socially responsible. We have seen through history that people are dispensable when there’s even a hint of making a profit.

Truth be told, I had been worried about Nestle for a number of years. I actually have video footage taken on a holiday trip to Thailand several years ago with me and a bottle of water ‘produced’ by Nestle. In the film, I commented specifically on how weird it was to see the Nestle brand on the bottle of water. Since that time I learned that Nestle is the biggest manufacturer of bottled water depending on nearly 800 million people without access to clean and sanitary water to rely on their products. Sounds like a massive conflict of interest if you ask me.

It is clear even back then that I was worried about the multinationals and their insatiable appetite for profit. What often comes to mind when companies try to take ownership of everything provided by nature is the beautifully insightful film Avatar. The film’s clever social commentary, depicting the ego of people, the greed of companies and the lengths that they will go to all in the name of ‘profit’ is a perfect reflection of what is happening in our world today. You only need to have an inquiring mind and an open heart to realise this.

Nestle is now just another company amongst a list of other companies that I have already boycotted, along with the likes of BP and Coca-Cola Amatil. Luckily for me we are aiming for a country life that is close to being as fully self-sufficient as we can manage. And if Nestle or any other company is granted a crooked okay by the governments to privatise water, it is then only a matter of time before they will try and outlaw rain water tanks too. And if that happens, they’ll have to try and remove the tanks over my dead body.

Jul
21
2014

Mixing Organic Business With Raw Pleasure

When you think of a fashion blogger, the picture that comes to mind is likely to be of a girl dressed head to toe in this season’s fashion carrying her well-rehearsed pout, perfectly coiffed hair and highly impractical footwear, unashamedly taking selfies regardless of where she is and with whom.

This image that I describe is probably the reason I don’t go around calling myself a fashion blogger. For a start, I don’t fit the stereotype. I reject fast fashion preferring clothing of the sustainable and ethical kind and my ‘outfit of the day’ isn’t contrived. Secondly, I am not a show pony and loathe selfies. But most importantly, I don’t just write about fashion and style. My interests are much more varied in that I explore social, political and environmental issues on my blog as well. Thus it is more apt to call me an eco blogger.

And now I am taking this label one step further. Aside from moving back to regional Queensland, purchasing a 120 acre rural property north of Gympie that is entirely off the grid, has 30 varieties of edible plants and trees, its own quarry and surrounded by a state forest, I will be trying my hand to an activity that I would never have dreamed of, much less considered as a young girl: running an organic farm and raw food business.

Of course I’m not at the helm of this operation – before last week I had never even seen a cattle tick and only just learned that I have an extremely strong reaction, an almost allergic reaction, to midge bites! My partner Ben and my father in law Paul are leading the way and I am providing my assistance wherever possible, which at the moment has been mostly in the way of cooking, baking, cleaning and weeding. Mastering these skills will prove beneficial in the longer term when we eventually have wwoof-ers (for those of you who are not familiar with this term, it stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms) come to stay and work on the farm – I will be initially responsible for accommodation and meals. Having drawn up some vague timelines for the business, much of my skills in marketing and PR won’t be required until a year or so down the track once the farm has been established and the factory built and properly fitted. Which suits me just fine because between you and me, I’m really enjoying playing the role of Domestic Goddess and amateur MasterChef as I know the painstaking tasks of planting and harvesting is in my not too distant future.

Indeed another exciting journey undertaken by this risk-taking, optimistic Eco Warrior Princess. Stay tuned for the highlights, lowlights; the fun and frustrations; the successes and the learnings and of course, my take on country style, as we embark on a business venture and eco lifestyle that is truly aligned with who we are and what we care about.

Vintage jacket: The Mill Markets Daylesford / Men’s jumper: Salvos Gympie / Jeans, gumboots + sunglasses: My own / Photographer: Ben McGuire

May
25
2014

Ethical Fashion: Fashion with Depth

Vintage bag + jacket + scarf: Little Jimmy’s Girl / Jumper: Icebreaker / Sunglasses: My own / Photographer: Ben McGuire

 

As a writer, I take great pleasure in being alone with my thoughts, surrounded by magazines, newspapers and books (preferably paperback) and the anonymity of the written word.

So when I was asked to come out of hiding and host the Ethical Fashion Show for Moral Fairground’s Victorian Fair Trade Festival earlier this month, the daunting thought of having to stand up in front of a crowd with a microphone was reason enough to explore my unwanted feelings of vulnerability. However, being approached by a respected friend Megan O’Malley who values my input and passion helped me put things into perspective. I also thought how silly it would have been to decline an opportunity that would have helped the ethical fashion movement even further.

Drawing on my experiences in the high school debate team, university theatre club and armed with what people view as my ‘natural’ self-confidence, I hosted the runway shows (there were in fact two shows) and in the end was satisfied that I had given it my best and that the feedback was altogether positive. Guess it really does pay to know your stuff!

Some audience members approached me afterward and said they found my talk informative whilst others expressed their feelings of solidarity with what I had shared. So even though I have written prolifically about this subject, a post entitled ‘The Sustainable Fashion Industry‘ comes to mind, I thought it was a great chance to revisit the subject of ethical fashion on this blog.

What is ethical fashion?

For those of you who don’t know, ethical fashion is essentially an approach to creating clothing which prioritises people, maximises benefits to communities as well as minimising the impact on our natural environment. So when we describe something as ethical, we mean that it is morally right or morally acceptable. In other words, ethical fashion is fashion with a moral conscience.

Why purchase ethical fashion?

Here’s a statistic that may startle you. In just one year, Australians purchase about 1 billion new clothing garments. So on average, we are consuming about 43 clothing items each every year. What’s shocking is that we wear the clothes a few times and then we throw them out (or donate to an opportunity shop) and then go shopping for more. The companies churn out the clothing to meet our insatiable consumer demand and this unsustainable fashion cycle is what has now come to be known as fast fashion. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that many of these cheap clothes end up in landfills because we live in such a throw away society that we don’t place much value on cheap items because we know we can replace it with some other cheap item.

The reality of ‘fast fashion

Fast fashion is a vicious, materialistic, highly industrialised fashion cycle that also desensitises us to the suffering of the workers in it. The fast fashion industry exploits cheap labour because in order to keep prices low and still make a profit, companies need cheap labour.

Many of the people who make these cheap clothes are forced to work long hours of crippling labour for very little in return, in working conditions that are inhumane. It is little wonder that many of the people in underdeveloped countries are exploited for their labour. In my first year economics class my tutor asked us whether we felt that Nike was right in using cheap labour and child labour in South East Asia to manufacture their footwear and garments. Of course, the class was divided on this issue but even as an undergraduate, I expressed great concern about the exploitation of the desperate and vulnerable and even then questioned our ‘free market system’.

The subject of cheap labour in the garment industry aside, many people also don’t consider how fabrics are made or indeed how they are farmed. Denim for example is a popular fabric due to its versatility and comfort, but it relies on unsustainable farming of conventional cotton. Manufacturing denim causes widespread environmental issues such as releasing tons of wastewater; using vast amounts of dyes, bleaches and detergents that pollute our waterways, causes soil degradation and erosion due to the massive amounts of pesticides and other chemicals used to farm the cotton in which denim is made. And let’s not forget the exploitation of farm workers.

Where do you fit in?

As consumers (and humans more so!), we play a pivotal role in transforming the fashion industry. I challenge you to start asking questions about the origins of your clothing. I challenge you to get educated and get informed. To stop insisting on cheap garments that comes with a heavy human cost. And to use your spending power to create a healthier, fairer and more sustainable world.

To a certain extent we share the burden of responsibility with manufacturers and suppliers – but we can’t always rely on them to do the right thing. Essentially it is up to you and me.

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