Friday, December 3, 2010

Wild Weeds & Waste

A fly lands on the face of the artist behind Casula's Weedy Connection Tour but he is unperturbed as he ploughs through a list of dangers to native Australian wildlife caused by the application of Roundup. I try not to look too distracted as Diego Bonetto explains the cultural connections and employment of local weeds throughout history. It's not that I don't find all this information incredibly fascinating because I do. It's just that at this very present moment, there's a mysterious bug bite on my arm just below my elbow that is swelling to epic proportions.

Leading our intimate group around a small storage building to a spot where the fence line ends, the eucalypt trees part and the rushing river swells; Bonetto points to a common weed - edible plantain, enlightening us to its medicinal uses in Aboriginal culture.

Farther along, we pass through a field of wild fennel growing by the river bend. The bowing fronds brush against my hot skin with a feather-light touch. It's hot, it's muggy and the bloody flies are all over the place but standing here surrounded by overgrown weeds, it feels incredibly peaceful. It feels right. We're a million miles away from civilisation in a tiny pocket of Mother Nature's abode that has not yet fallen to the paradigm of human design.

Costa Georgiadis believes that the prevalence of convenience food is the bane of our existence. We're polluting the air when we drive to the shops, polluting the environment with non-recyclable packaging and slowly killing the earth by throwing away millions of dollars worth of food each year.

Researchers predict that 40 years from now, Australia will need to increase food production by a whopping 70%! With our increasing population, finite land and resources; it presents as a huge task to broaden the spectrum and adapt unconventional farming methods to urban landscapes.

Glen Op echoes a niggling thought in his presentation: 'Eating Liverpool' at The Garden Day, held at Casula Powerhouse Art Centre. "There's a lot of potential for us to grow food" he says, and a quick glimpse at Google Earth curbs any questions. Most people use their front and back yards to grow the occasional tree and a crapload of grass. We don't use grass and we sure as hell can't eat it so why aren't we growing our own food and taking advantage of the vast expanses of arable land around us?

By relying on big supermarket chains that care more about profit and quantity than quality, we're buying the short end of the stick. Our affluent society has become so engrossed with materialism and so far removed from the our origins. Sure my neighbour has a super expensive car and my cool friends all have the iPhone 4.2 but living this way is not sustainable. We're stripping the Earth of everything and giving only a minute portion back.

Costa challenges us with the problem of poo. Its more endearing term in the field is humanure and, with proper composting and decomposition, can safely return rich organic matter to the soil where it is needed to replenish all the nutrients that are extracted by the plants and animals that we eat. "Nearly a third of all household drinking water in the US is used to flush toilets" writes Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook. Costa's challenge is for us to devise a better way to manage our sewerage. Since 2008 Thames Water have been burning poop and methane derived from poo to generate electricity to offset their bill at the sewerage treatment plant. Sydney Water captures methane and ships treated 'biosolids' to farms around the Western Slopes of NSW. The website lists 3 simple ways to "help improve the quality of biosolids. These include:

· don't wash paint, pesticides, medicines or other chemicals down the sink or toilet. Put them in the bin or take them to a chemical collection point 

· use low phosphorous or phosphorous-free detergents and pesticides, and only use the recommended amount of detergent for your washing machine and dishwasher

· don't pour grease, oil or milk down the sink.

By improving the quality of waste entering the wastewater, you ultimately improve what returns to the environment after treatment."

Although any steps towards sustainability are positive, I don't believe that it's enough to call it a victory for the human race any time soon. Perhaps when every household has one of these nifty machines in the garage next to the solar-powered hot water system and Google Earth reveals more food than grass, then maybe I'll change my mind.

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