What image do we want the world to see?

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This is my recent blog for The Australian Farmer

What do I see when I think about agriculture? I see people who love what they do. I see vibrant young people who want to thrive in business and life. I see so much potential to work together across sectors, across industries and across communities; to pool resources, pool thinking, and pool skills for the benefit of all.

Yet a recent international exposé  by a New York Times photojournalist depicts outback Australia in photos of wild dogs hung up in trees, dead animals, fires and alcohol, and in text that talks of suicide, drug addiction, desperation and loneliness. In our national press in times of drought I see photos of parched paddocks and skeletal animals. In floods, I see the bloated carcasses of drowned stock. I am constantly being bombarded by stories that perpetuate the aging farmer myth. What do we achieve by selling doom and gloom? Despair is so disempowering.

There is no denying that agriculture can be a complex and challenging industry but are these the only images we want the world to see?

There is so much more to Australian agriculture and Australian farmers. Yes, it can be a tough gig but when you get it right it’s so rewarding. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone.  Agriculture is a career for people who love wide open spaces, the satisfaction of a day well-spent, a physical tiredness and an inner satisfaction. It’s a career for those who love the challenge, who love the complexity of science and technology, who want to work with animals and love watching things grow. It’s a career for people who love getting up every day to watch the fruits of their labour fulfilled; the milk in the vat, the wool bales on the truck, the grain in the silo. It’s a lifestyle for people who love the genuineness of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the comradery of rural communities.

If we want to attract the best and the brightest minds we must give them a reason to choose agriculture over everything else. It is these people who will be the changemakers that will deliver the vibrant, profitable and dynamic future of agriculture that it deserves to have.

And when we have attracted those people we need them to tell their stories.

We need to tell our stories in concrete, real-life terms – not in the abstract.  And these stories need to be personal; there is no need for one person to be an advocate for whole of agriculture.

Who will listen to our stories? Our audience is everyone. It is the lawyer who pulls on a woollen jumper for a weekend walk. It is the doctor who recommends eating a healthier diet. It is the young Mum who wraps her newborn in soft cotton swaddling. Name me one person who does not eat or wear natural fibres. We need to engage with our audience in honest ways, to create trust and a platform for open discussion.

We need stories like Emma’s. Emma recently visited a primary school in Sydney to tell the students about her family’s sheep station in western NSW. She wanted the students to feel as emotionally connected to her farm and wool as she is and she knew the key to doing this was to share from the heart. She started by making sure every single child in the room knew her name, and invited other Emma’s to be her assistants.

Emma told the students that their school would fit 125,000 times into her farm and if each student had to look after her sheep they would all have close to 100 sheep in their backyard.

She told them about a typical year in her life from the mating of the rams and the ewes, to lambing, to ear tagging to health checks and how the sheep were painted yellow when they were jetted for lice. She told them about shearing and passed around samples of wool so every student got to feel and play with it and appreciate its qualities. She told them about the planning that went into looking after a large number of sheep. She told them it took two days to ride around the farm to check that all the sheep had water. She told them the most important rule on their farm was “never skip a water run day”.

Emma told the world on Instagram that her visit to the school was the best experience of her life.

Like Emma’s family agriculture has some big challenges and farmers are at the coal face. We can choose to focus on sharing our problems. But why take that road when it’s so much more empowering to show everyone farmers are part of the solution? And let’s show that the farmers can’t do it alone.  Let’s create a roadmap for collaboration and co-creation for the bright future we all deserve. Let’s invest in all the bright young minds like Emma who see agriculture as their future. This is the image we want the world to see.

 

 

Suicide – time to create a atmosphere of openness, not judgement

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I am reprinting this article “Surviving my mother suicide”  from the Medium Daily Digest. It truly moved me and resonated so deeply. Like Cas I too have far to much knowledge in this area. And for people who don’t, you have no right to judge.

…………………….

After Chester Bennington’s suicide, I have come across a series of posts and discussions on the topic on Facebook, and elsewhere, with people calling the act selfish while paying special attention to the children who have now been left behind to deal with the trauma.

 

Everyone is so quick to jump on the topic as if they knew the Linkin Park singer and his family; as if they knew his kids and how they felt. Even in writing this, I have no idea what type of person he was, how ill he was, what he was like as a person, or a father, but as someone who is the child of a parent who committed suicide I feel I can and should shed light on the child’s perspective — an area that’s not often talked about.

As a child of a parent who committed suicide; I can tell you that suicide is not a selfish act. It is in fact quite the opposite in the mind of the person who is suffering. They believe that taking their own life is doing their family, friends and communities a big favor because they see themselves as an unbearable burden. They believe that once they are gone from the picture, everyone’s lives will be easier, happier and better. This belief leaves them with massive guilt resulting in self-deprecation, thinking about what others are or might be going through in handling their illness. And yes, people who have suicidal ideation are suffering from mental illness. They do not ask to be struck with depression, anxiety, fear or psychosis, any more than a person with cancer has “asked” to be struck with that disease. Nor, is this their fault. Mental illness can and does strike people across all walks of life; the wealthy, the poor, the successful and the average.

It’s no secret that it is extremely difficult to live with and be around someone who has severe mental health issues.This was especially true in the time before the internet when you couldn’t turn to Google to help you figure it all out. Until my mother’s death, it was near impossible to understand her moods and behaviors, even with the experts intervening and all the resources at my disposal. She just couldn’t seem to stop the vicious mental battle with herself that she was fighting alone inside her head, and all the external consequences that resulted from it.

Yet, one thing, and maybe the only thing, that was always clear to me is that she loved my brother and I an indescribable amount. She would do anything in the world if she thought it would give us a better life, including committing the most extreme act of taking her own. Again, I never knew Chester, but I’m sure if he was a good dad, he would have felt the same, and his children would know that now too.

I won’t lie and say that not having to constantly worry about my mother isn’t a relief. It was hard and scary at times, especially after three or four failed attempts at suicide and wondering if this time would be it. Living with constant worry about someone you love is hard, and that goes for anything, whether it’s mental illness, eating disorders, addiction or something else that impacts someone’s ability to “live a normal life.”

What was harder though, was witnessing my mom struggle with being unable to be the parent she so desperately wanted to be for my brother and I. My mother was driven to get better, taking advantage of the best resources and doctors out there. Her determination, however, wasn’t enough. The illness overtook her and she lost the battle with her illness. She fought the disease affecting her mind every single day in an attempt to be happy and find the joys in what would appear on the outside to be a very happy life.

I have trouble reading the comments surrounding the “great life,” many people assume Chester had because of his fame, wealth, friends, family and so on that basically “went to waste.” This idea that someone should be happy because of all they may have is valid, for the person who does not suffer from mental illness, perhaps. For them, it just takes a shift in perspective to realize all of the amazing aspects of their life. Unfortunately, that’s generally not the case for someone with mental illness. No matter how hard they try they just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, or can’t hold onto it long enough to change the way they view the world, and their place in it.

Also, there’s so much talk about what it will be like now for Chester’s kids not to have their father in their life, but no one looks at the impact of having him in their lives. My mother’s constant struggle impacted me from a very early age as I mimicked her moods and behaviors, learning from her what was right or wrong, good or bad. When things that are good in life are perceived as bad, that becomes what’s normal. Her rationale for why she felt the way she did made sense to me because I didn’t know any better. It took many years to understand, that her thinking wasn’t normal.

Understand, I don’t think that having my mother absent from my life was better for me at all, and I’m not saying that for Chester’s kids either. I just want everyone to have a better understanding of what it means to survive a parent as a result of suicide. It is sad that my mother missed my graduation, and that she won’t be there for my wedding or my first child. It sucks that she will miss all the other major milestones in my life and all the little ones in between. But, as my mother’s daughter, I know if she truly believed she could continue to live the life she was living, she would have and would still be here

Facts about Suicide

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44, with around 3,000 people dying by suicide every year. That’s an average of eight people every day.1 For every suicide, there are tragic ripple effects for friends, families, colleagues and the broader community.

If someone you know seems to be struggling, reach out and connect with them. Showing that you care could make a huge difference in their life. If you are struggling yourself, you might feel better if you reach out for support, get treatment and start taking steps towards recovery. Source Beyond Blue 

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Cynthia Mahoney rolls out the Driving Your Life Well-being Workshop

Anyone who has meet the delightful and effervescent Cynthia Mahoney knows she has the well-being of rural and regional Australia at the heart of everything she does.

Cynthia Mahoney

Founder of Cynthia Mahoney and Associates, Cynthia is passionate about working with women to embrace their strengths, develop their life and leadership skills and live courageously. She believes that being our best selves and living purposefully creates a positive ripple effect that benefits our families, workplaces and communities. Through her business, Cynthia has created a way to combine her entrepreneurial spirit with her passion for developing people to be their best and her skills and talent in facilitation. Her journey of self-discovery, along with her empathy, authenticity and commitment to courage, growth and self-leadership, enable her to help people, teams and organisations make positive change and achieve professional and personal success.

Cynthia and Louise Thompson have designed a one-day workshop specifically for busy, professional women called ‘Driving Your Life Wellbeing’

thew workshop has been designed to create a space for busy women to step off the treadmill of life and work. For just one day invest in yourself and take some time out to reflect on what’s important.

Here is the blurb from the website found here

Identify how best to look after yourself and start making positive change to create the life you want for you and your family. We know that women enjoy connecting, listening and talking, so we designed a new workshop to introduce the Driving Your Life philosophy which balances what you like doing and what you need to do to reconnect with yourself: with your dreams, goals, confidence, courage, plans and actions.

During your Driving Your Life Well-Being day you’ll:

  •  Clarify what’s most important in your life right now
  •  Step back and reassess your goals in all areas of your life
  •  Identify how you can harness your strengths for success
  •  Learn tools and techniques to help you gain clarity and direction for focus and balance
  •  Benchmark your work-life balance, develop strategies to reduce your busyness and reclaim time for what’s important to you
  •  Gain, and share with others, tips and practical tools that you can implement right away
  •  Map out a courageous plan to drive your life

Join us at 9.15 for a 9.30am start and we’ll finish at 4.30pm. We’re searching for the right venue at the moment and will confirm with you closer to the date. Your ticket will include the refreshments and nourishment necessary to be revived and ready to leave with your revised map. Places are limited to create an interactive and supportive environment for all participants.

Watch the trailer here

We commenced hosting Driving Your Life workshops almost five years ago after listening to the repetitive concerns of people – irrespective of their occupation, age or gender – who wanted to set aside time to reflect, dream, create and take action to make positive change in their lives. We’ve worked with groups of people to guide them to mark out a course on their life map and put them in the driver’s seat of their life.

We’re thrilled to be now able to offer this customised one-day version of our Driving Your Life program, especially crafted for busy women.

Get your tickets here 

 

My third grade hamstring tear – ham off the bone update

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Kiama Harbour #lovewhereIive – the perfect place to inspire rehabilitation 

In my Third Grade Hamstring Tear Blog Part One found here I promised to blog the progress of my conservative treatment post the divorce of my right leg hamstrings and the bone (ischial tuberosity) they are attached to. As the literature shows there is little documented about conservative treatment for third grade hamstrings tears with most authors preferring and recommending operative treatment in both acute and chronic cases so I am doing my best to help rectify this.

There is almost no evidence in the literature about non-operative treatment of complete proximal hamstring ruptures in elderly patients. Source 

Bit of background

The hamstring group comprises three muscles – biceps femoris, semi-tendonosus and semimembranosus. The muscles function as movers and stabilizers of the hip and knee The action of these muscles is to bend the knee and extend the hip, especially on faster running.  They also  help to get from a crouched position to an erect position. This refers to movements like getting up from a chair or in sprinting, where the front leg in starting position has to bear the effect or the start. This makes the hamstrings extremely important muscles if it comes to walking and running.

Hamstring tears are divided into the following categories

  • First degree strain is damage to a few muscle fibres
  • Second degree strain is damage to a more extensive number of muscle fibres
  • Third degree strain is a complete rupture of the muscle itself

A Grade 3  is deemed to be rare and serious and ranges from more than half of the fibres ruptured to complete rupture of the muscle.  It causes massive swelling and pain. The function of the hamstring muscle can’t be performed anymore and the muscle shows great weakness. 

OK so mine is a complete rupture embarrassingly caused by falling over in Pitt St in Sydney.

Pitt St

 

The scene of “ham off the bone” event 

I have a very high pain threshold and I think what happened next was I went into shock. I just sort of lay there. I was in gym gear ( I was going for a run but hadn’t started ) Onlookers assumed I was dehydrated and everyone was running around trying find water. This nice man asked me if I would like a hand to get up and I said Yes Please in this tiny little voice.  It wasn’t that painful I just felt weird so I decided I would continue. I walked a block and realised I was living in fantasy world to think I was going to start jogging. It was a bit painful behind the knee, so I iced there which was a waste of time as the injury was under my buttock. I went to an all day workshop the next day which required going up and down steps for meals.  I can assure you I was taking baby steps. The next day I had a heap of things to do in Sydney and baby stepped my way through and then drove two hours home.

It wasn’t getting any better and I decided to consult Dr Google. Even though I wasn’t in a lot of pain and there was no bruising my self diagnosis was either a second or third grade hamstring tear.The doctor agreed and when the radiographer rushed out and got the radiologist to come in and look at what was on her screen I knew it was serious.

Lynne Strong Hamstring MRI

This is a snapshot from my MRI – all that white stuff is not good

Hamstring repair

Surgery repair is usually very successful for athletes but conservative treatment is preferable  for those of us who fall into the “aged” category  

Conservative treatment means I will always have a third grade hamstring tear. So if conservative treatment was the healing of choice I said enough is enough I am going to this properly. It had been one thing after another with my health in the previous six months. First there was the ocular ulcer ( now that’s painful)  and cellulitis in my leg. I wont bore you with the rest. One thing about third grade hamstring tears their rarity excites specialists. Despite having a distal retraction of more than 2 cm ( how far the hamstring had moved from the bone) it was decided for people my “age” conservative treatment was the first choice of action.

What have I done and how am I tracking 

I have done all the right things and I am star patient ( even if I do say so myself).

First I consulted a sport physician and orthopaedic specialist whose area of expertise include hamstrings. I have seen an osteopath and a podiatrist to check my gait. I am   currently seeing a physiotherapist one day a week who is doing dry needling  which I can assure you doesn’t hurt but when a nerve accidentally comes in the equation wow is that a funny feeling. I visit a gym and see a rehabilitation specialist personal trainer. I have been doing this four times a week for four months. My routine includes weights, recumbent bike, functional trainer, fit ball exercises, balance exercises, planks and bridges (specialist loves these). I now have my own program under supervision.

Today I walked ( baby steps, no steep hills and no pathways or roads with a cambre)  for an hour, did weight training and balance exercises for one hour and a one hour Chillax* class.

My biggest setback has been the onset of neurpoathic pain. It was really nasty for a while. The pain was bad enough without the ants walking all over you sensation. The specialist prescribed Lyrica. It aint side-effect free but it appears to be helping so I am putting up with the side-effects. I still have trouble sitting for extended periods of time and the dry needling seems to be helping with that. If I hit a roadblock the next step will be Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment

Diet

Diet has played an important role in my recovery. I have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude to supplying my body with the nutrients needed to maintain optimal health and recover from my injury. I am eating a high protein diet to ensure my body gets the essential amino acids to help my satellite cells and new muscle fibers create the protein needed for repair and rebuilding. The experts say the best sources of protein are meat (beef, lamb, fish, chicken et al), dairy products and eggs; second to those are legumes, nuts and high protein vegetables like peas, broccoli and spinach. On a regime like mine it is hard to get all the protein I need from whole foods so I have added whey protein powder to my diet

whey Powder.jpg  Adding whey protein powder to my diet ensures my body gets the essential amino acids to help my satellite cells and new muscle fibers create the protein needed for repair and rebuilding 

Taking in sufficient dietary amino acids, including essential amino acids, ensures your satellite cells and new muscle fibers can create the protein needed for repair and rebuilding. In addition, the branched-chain amino acids – isoleucine, leucine and valine – found in milk products can play a role in making the process more efficient. These amino acids can enhance protein synthesis within your muscles, particularly when you consume them with a carbohydrate.    

A typical breakfast pre-exercise would be cottage cheese and fruit and 20 grams of protein powder dissolved in a glass of water, another 20 grams of protein powder drink post the gym and just before I go to bed. I love cottage cheese which features heavily in my diet as do vegetables, eggs, other dairy products and salmon  .

Often after my walk I will drop into the Hungry Monkey

Hungry Monkey (9) Adore the Veggie Juice

Hungry Monkey (1)

Scrambled Eggs and Avocado and Haloumi – wonder woman food 

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Once in a while I treat myself to the Blueberry Pancakes  

As mentioned above without surgery I will always have a third grade hamstring tear but if my rehabilitation continues at this level I should be able to walk and hike without hamstring pain.  Whether the neuropathic pain  continues is anyone’s guess at this stage

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The road to recovery is one plank at a time 

Footnote*

A Chillax class is designed to help you chill out and relax using stretch, relaxation and breathing techniques.  It is designed to de-stress and unwind

 

My third grade hamstring injury – a right pain in the butt

Its now four months since my right leg hamstrings and the bone they were attached to decided they would like to divorce and get some distance between each other. Now in a way I don’t blame the hamstrings, fancy been attached to something called a ischial tuberosity.

Third grade hamstring tear

Third grade hamstring tears are classified as both ‘rare and serious’. Dr Google was an invaluable source of information and advice  when I found myself both  ‘rare and serious’

Grade 3 Hamstring Tear

A grade 3 hamstring tear is a severe injury involving a tear to half or all of the hamstring muscle. You may need crutches to walk and will feel severe pain and weakness in the muscle. Swelling will be noticeable immediately and bruising will usually appear within 24 hours.

Diagnostic MRI may also be used to specifically identify the grade of hamstring tear and its exact location. Source 

You can imagine I wasn’t too thrilled when Dr Google kept assuring me major surgery was on the horizon. This type of injury normally happens to people who enjoy extreme sports like Mick Fanning or Alberto Tomba  or Alisa Camplin and these people do need surgery if they have any hope of getting back to the sport they love.

 

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Hamstring happily married to Ischial Tuberosity  

Hamstring tear

Hamstring and Ischial Tuberosity Divorced aka Ham off the Bone aka Proximal Hamstring Avulsion 

Having a proximal hamstring avulsion with more that 2 mm of displacement the literature wasn’t very positive for me

If a proximal hamstring avulsion has more than 2 mm of displacement, a surgical consultation for reattachment is recommended. Early surgical repair can yield superior results over both conservative treatment and delayed surgical repair of proximal hamstring avulsions.

The recovery process following surgical repair can take from 6 to 12 months or longer, depending on the severity of the initial injury and required surgical intervention.

As I said it’s a rare injury and not too many orthopaedic surgeons touch it. So I was very grateful to the bloggers who directed me to OrthoSport Victoria where I saw the adorable Brian Devitt and very lucky to have sports physician Dr Paul Bloomfield (who works with David Wood) visiting a town near me fairly regularly.

Because of my “age” (I so hate it when I get classified as elderly. Don’t they know 60 is the new 40) both the surgeon and the physician recommended conservative treatment (that’s the medical term for wait and see)

The reason being

‘The surgery involves an incision that is either vertical or horizontal under the gluteal fold.  After identification and neurolysis of the sciatic nerve, transosseous tendon reinsertion to the pelvis is performed with three or four metal or resorbable suture anchors.’

All this means they cut you open under your bum cheek and apparently healing is dodgy in this area for “elderly” people and they are not crazy about surgery so close to the sciatic nerve Hamstring surgey.jpg.

However there is almost no information available for people like me on what the road to recovery looks like with conservative treatment and as its rare not too many medical professionals have been involved in the rehab process. I have been very lucky to have have wonderful medical support and conservative treatment may just work for me.

So this is Part One of my story to share my road to recovery journey with other “elderly” people and the not so elderly who choose the road less travelled.

and the road to recovery is one plank at a time

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Flaming Udders what will men think of next

Hairy men taking advantage of the laser tag/laser hair removal combo package.

I get asked lots of questions about dairy farming and farming practices and I must admit this one made me stop and think and take a step back.

Do dairy farmers in Australia “flame udders”  and the question was accompanied by a 2005 ABC article I have reprinted below’ Vet urges farmers to flame cows udders

Now as I said this article is very old and I have never heard of this practice before .

What concerned me most was comparing a cows udder to a finger. I think it would have been a lot more convincing if the vet had said “This practice is so benign I would use it to remove hair from my genitals”

Waxing and laser hair removal isn’t a walk in the park but I would run a mile if some-one suggested removing hair on any part of my body with propane torch no matter how cool the flame was.

Vet Urges Farmers to Flame Cows Udders

Posted 22 Mar 2005, 5:15pm

Australian dairy farmers are being encouraged to take a lead from the United States, and use a propane flame to remove the hair from a cow’s udder.

American vet Dr David Reid has outlined the process to a dairy conference in Melbourne, as a way of preventing infections on teats.

He says using a gas jet is easier than the traditional method of clipping the cow’s hair.

“We just essentially just flame the hair right off the udder,” he said.

“It doesn’t hurt the cow, it’s like if you’re a little kid you and you’ve ever sat at the Christmas table and moved your finger above the flame of an orange candle, it’s the same deal – it doesn’t burn your finger if you keep it moving.”

The process is explained in more depth here

What is flameclipping (flaming)?

Using flame to singe hair from udders is a fairly new practice that has been developed to replace electric clipping. Flame-clipping is similar to singeing the hair off your arm. You don’t burn your arm because of the quick, short exposure to the flame. With flame-clipping, hair on the cow’s udder is removed with a propane torch using a cool flame. The flame is passed quickly under the udder to singe the hair off. It must be done correctly to remove hair thoroughly without burning the skin on the udder or teats.  Flame clipping can be done in the milking parlor or in the larger feeding area. It takes only a few seconds per cow and should be done every 4 to 5 weeks.

Looking forward to some-one telling me I have over-reacted

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My post has created some interest and a reader has sent me this again courtesy of the ABC

Spence Denny is brave, very brave

We’ve sent him to be frozen, we’ve made him take dancing lessons and today, we sent our roving reporter Spence Denny to the beauticians to get waxed.

It’s not just for our amusement.

A little bit of pain can go a long way towards helping make wishes come true.

It’s all part of a ripping campaign called Wax for a Wish, which encourages women to tear strips off the hairiest guy they know.

On 24 and 25 June, the Make A Wish Foundation is challenging blokes around Australia to be brave and wince through a few moments of wax-induced pain to help raise money for children and teenagers battling life-threatening medical conditions.

But it also makes for hilarious radio. Download the MP3 here 

 

Australia getting larger and larger – study shows a healthy diet should be a key priority for the country’s policymakers.

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Source The Age

Food sustainability is about culture, education, health, equity and respect for the planet we live in.

Eat better, eat less, food for all. Source 

Always on the search for new and thought provoking content on responsible production and consumption  and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that feature in The Archibull Prize and Kreative Koalas  I was pretty stoked to come across the Food Sustainability Index website See here 

The Food Sustainability Index (FSI) has been created by the Economist Intelligence Unit in partnership with Barilla Centre  for Food and Nutrition (BCFN). The FSI is a tool designed to highlight international policies and best practices relating to global paradoxes and to the main SDGs for food, climate change, sustainable cities, responsible production and consumption, health, gender equality, education and infrastructure.

This study is composed of a white paper, a city monitor, infographics and a digital hub – all tools intended to further expand data relating to the 25 countries and the 16 cities which were at the centre of our research.

It’s a tool for all stakeholders which can be used to promote better awareness for all involved in the food supply chain.

The aim is to  promote sustainable practices and to rebalance the fundamental links between food, people and the Planet.

so how does Australia fair

Overall we are 8th on the list

Overall

Where do we star -Australia scores strongly on food waste and loss (ranked 2nd in the index)

Overall percentages

BUT  nutritional challenges have been identified as a particular issue for us. We rank 16th in the nutritional challenges pillar, well below other developed countries such as France, Japan and South Korea.

Australia profile

You can access all the graphs here  and you wont need a magnifying glass to see them

There is also a fascinating blog about us titled Australia’s Food Bowls which I have reprinted below

Australia has a reputation for good weather, healthy lifestyles, fresh food and a high quality of living—not least in its biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. However, growing urban sprawl around both cities, and associated high rents for agricultural land, are putting increased pressure on local farmers.1,2 If left unchecked, this process could have negative implications for the quality of life of the cities’ inhabitants.

Agricultural land around Sydney currently produces around one-fifth of its food,3while that around Melbourne can produce up to 41% of its needs. However, two recent studies—Sydney’s Food Futuresand Melbourne’s Food Futures5—found that this could change dramatically if current trends are not reversed.

The studies produce stark estimates of what current policies would lead to. For Sydney, these include that the area would lose 90% of its fresh vegetable production and 60% of its total food production, and that the Sydney Basin would only be able to meet 6% of the food needs of the area’s residents, from 20% currently. In the case of Melbourne, the study predicts that the area would only be able to accommodate 18% of the city’s food needs by 2050.

Sydney Opera HouseThe scale of the decline projected by the studies is quite dramatic. Although the food could be sourced elsewhere, this would mean transporting it over greater distances and sacrificing freshness. At the heart of this lies the issue of food sustainability, which is addressed in the 2016 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition.

Local issues, national priorities

The three pillars of the FSI—sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and food loss and waste—all link to the debate about the future of agricultural production in Australia. Overall, the country came 8th out of the 25 countries measured in the FSI. This is one of the lowest rankings for a developed state, suggesting room for improvement.

Even though Australia scores strongly on food waste and loss (ranked 2nd in the index), nutritional challenges are identified as a particular issue for the country. Australia ranks 16th in the nutritional challenges pillar, well below other developed countries such as France, Japan and South Korea. This suggests that a focus on a healthy diet is a key priority for the country’s policymakers. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has warned about growing rates of obesity in the country,6with current figures indicating that 63% of adults are either overweight or obese.7

Ensuring a large amount of operational agricultural land close to major urban centres such as Sydney and Melbourne would help to tackle this issue. If urban sprawl continues to claim agricultural land and the share of the city’s overall food needs supplied by local producers continues to decline, the amount that residents need to pay to eat a balanced, nutritious diet is likely to increase. Producing food close to market reduces transport costs and negates the risk that higher energy prices will push up food prices. So-called “food deserts”—areas where there are very limited options for purchasing fresh food—are already reported to be quite common in Sydney, notably in the west of the city.8 In these areas, health problems related to a lack of fresh vegetables and fruit, such as type 2 diabetes, are more common.

Nutritional centres

Guaranteeing a stable supply of fresh goods close to major population centres is also central to curbing food loss levels (defined as the mass of food production intended for human consumption that is lost during the production, post-harvest and processing stages). Although Australia is a strong performer on this measure in the FSI, pushing agricultural production further away from population centres could change this. SeaFood that has to be transported over greater distances is liable to suffer a higher rate of loss. This is particularly the case for perishable goods. If grown close to market, the loss from these products can be reduced.9 In addition, transporting goods over greater distances means higher carbon emissions.

Getting ahead

All is certainly not lost. The Sydney’s Food Futures project argues that there is still time for policymakers to protect agricultural land close to the city and asserts that there are plenty of viable measures that policymakers could put in place to support this.10 Moreover, the study finds that sustainable strategies to integrate food production with other essential services could actually lead to an increase in food production in the area and create jobs for local people.

However, this will require a concerted effort from government. A key point of reference for policymakers could be the Milan Urban Policy Food Pact, signed by 138 cities in 2015 (including Melbourne, but not Sydney). The outcome is a plan aimed at reducing food waste, encouraging healthy eating and ensuring the sustainable purchase of food in an urban context.

More broadly, these issues are relevant to Australia’s commitment under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015.11 Six of the 17 SDGs deal specifically with issues related to food. In particular, SDG 3 (“to ensure health and well-being for all, at every stage of life”), SDG 12 (“to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”) and SDG 15 (“to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems”) all have directly relevant implications for the urban sprawl and loss of agricultural land around major population centres. Source