May 30

Today started bright and early for the group, leaving our hostel at 7:30 am. We then had a two and half hour drive to our first activity at Mallyon’s on the Murray, an organic solar powered farm and Bush Café owned by Nick and Rita Builder. Once there we had a lovely morning cup of tea and coffee with scones, jam, and cream in the Bush Café which is run by Rita. All the food made in the café is homemade and 80% of the produce is organic grown on the property. Afterwards Nick talk to us about the history of the property. The café we were sitting was built in the 1840s which is old for Australian buildings. In the 1980s Nick’s father bought the property and spent five years to repair and clean it up.

Since the property is so far from the electric grid, getting electricity would have been difficult and expensive, thus they decided to invest in solar panels. Back when they started installing them in 1990s, it was new technology in Australia. They started  with just 4, 60-watt panels . With this system, they could power the TV, refrigerator, and freezer. As you can imagine, this was not enough power, so by 2000 they had invested in 51 panels, 37 80-watt and 14 60-watt panels. This allows them to run everything they need for both their household and the business.  By doing this they are using sustainable energy that does not have a negative impact on the environment. The energy collected from the solar panels is then stored in batteries. If it is cloudy for a few consecutive days, Nick needs to use a generated to recharge the batteries. The batteries have a 10 year life-span while the panels have a 30 year life-span. Nick also has a solar powered pump to get water from the Murray River. This pump is very efficient in collecting water and the amount of energy used. Not only that, the pump stops once the storage tank is full sot that it is not withdrawing unnecessary water. In addition to using solar panels to run a diesel pump for the main agriculture, Nick uses cooking oil. Between all of these practices, Nick is able to run his farm carbon neutral.

Nick’s talk didn’t just end there, he went on to talk about the agriculture on the farm. When Nick and Rita decided to start the farm they didn’t want to useany chemicals so they went organic. To become certified organic farm take three years. Nick’s farm is both NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia) and BFA (Biological Farmers Of Australia) certified organic. He first started with growing vegetables until the fruit trees had grown. Nick then showed us how he grows his vegetables. His method of growing is to minimize land while maximizing the land use. For instance, he trains cucumbers to grow straight up by using strings.  Nick believes that this way of agriculture is the way of a sustainable future. By maximizing the land use, we can use less natural resources and thus preserve it for future generations.

Being on a farm, water is one of the most important factors for Nick. For irrigation, Nick uses 600 kiloliters of water for two crops a year. This water is pumped from the Murrary River (as mentioned earlier). To  water his crops he uses a drip irrigation method. This method is able to directly apply the water to the roots and become more efficient than traditional sprinkling method. The drip irrigation has reduced the water usage by 50% because the environment is so hot and dry that most of the water would evaporate in open channels of water and in the air before it could reach the roots. By using the water more efficiently, this is yet another way in which Nick’s farm is running sustainably.

To maintain the farm, Nick is the only worker however he is involved with the program WWOOF (willing workers on organic farms also know as World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The extra workers provide labor in exchange for room and board. The WWOOF program allows Nick to be economically sustainable. Nick is able to earn enough to live comfortably and the workers get all the necessaries of life, shelter and food. This is an overall great experience to get around Australia and see the country side. I even think some of the students are considering on becoming WWOOFers.

After learning so much about sustainable organic farming, we headed back to the Bush Café to enjoy a homemade two course lunch with tea and coffee.

The last stop for the day was to Calperum Station to have a talk with the ecologist Peter Kale and to have an overnight stay there. The Calperum State is part of a 243,00 hectares (about 600,000 acres) of preserved  land.  The station operates different programs to conserve, restore and to recovery the river land environment.  We learned about the programs to protect the Malleefowl and the Black-eared Miner. One of the biggest factor effecting the Malleefowl are the invasive species: the fox.  It has been know to dig up the eggs of the Malleefowl’s which are buried in large mounds on the ground.  They have been baiting the foxes to remove them. Even though the fox population has decrease, it will take time fro the Malleefowl population to recovery. This is mainly due to the females not producing eggs unless the right condensations are meet.  Another invasive specie that they are trying to reduce is the rabbit. After they were introduction their population boomed. They were eating all the vegetation and making the soil so barren that the sand was just blowing away.

One other specie that is having a negative effect to the ecosystem are the kangaroos. Just like the rabbits, they are eating most of the vegetation. The major concern on managing the foxes, rabbits, and kangaroos is the social concerns. Some people feel that no animal should be killed even if they are affecting the balance of the ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem is one that is sustainableand in balance. If there is a balance of kangaroos, vegetation, and the ecosystem can survive for many generations to enjoy the natural habitat.

Our evening ended with Flick fixing a delicious Indian dinner. We then all relaxed while playing cards, basket ball, sitting around the campfire, and learning how to do a TimTam slam. After the long day, we all curled up and enjoyed having a quiet night’s rest.

–Catherine

Juan, Alexa, and Anna enjoying their tea and scones!

The cucumber plant has learned to grow straight up!

Solar panels used to power the organic farm.

The group intrigued with Nick’s farm.

Being served by our professors and tour guide Flick.

Responses

  1. Your journey has been ineresting and full of information, I’am learining so much! The study abroad is a great learning experience in how otheres adapt/relate to their environment. So, do the Austrailians learn to be substainable out of necessity or are they just progressive in their thinking, being proactive instead of reactive? Enjoy your day mates!!

    • I believe there is a mix between the two. Some of the people we talk to seem to do it out of necessity. However, once they’ve done it for that purpose they seem to take pride in what they are doing and want to continue to spread the proressive thinking. All in all it’s a great way of thinking that is definitely creating a positive environment for everyone around them.

      • Like Ben said, they definitely need to be doing what they are doing to conserve water and energy. I do think that it is a reactive action, however, because as we saw at the water treatment plant, the Murray-Darling River is hardly able to supply the country anymore because of how it has been misused in the past. So yes, they need to do this and they are doing great at it, but they also are being reactive to damages people have caused in the past. The way the cities and government make the people aware of the water crisis and how they are protecting the water also helps keep the people informed about the importance of conservation here. As a country, the citizens realize that if they do not keep up with their progress, they will be implementing expensive desalination plants and importing water from other countries in order to survive.

  2. I’ve found that Australians are typically a lot more knowledgeable about sustainability/environmental concerns in general. Several of us have met people at pubs, restaurants, and hotels that are educated and interested in areas such as energy use/production and were more than willing to talk about our topics with us. Part of the reason for this is Australia’s unique isolated position in the world and there need to conserve resources. The other side of this is the Australian government’s active role in educating their citizens as to the importance of sustainability. Every city we’ve been in so far have had signs and billboards that educate the people about the need to become more sustainable and the responsibility everybody shares to promote conservation and smart energy use.

  3. In addition to what John said, they also start teaching about environmental responsibility and sustainability early. At the primary school we went to, the kids knew a lot about recylcing and taking care of the earth. The school was very good about providing recylcing bins and enforcing that they were used.

    • Talking to Nick was super interesting and education was one of his main focuses. He seemed concerned that children (and adults) had little idea of where their food came from. He talked to me about the benefits of Community Supported Agriculture and Food Co-ops as opposed to arge super markets. He said that both of these got the consumer in contact with the farmer who grew their food. This is important as it encourages a healthy relationship between food, farmer, and consumer in which all benefit. The consumer is willing to pay the farmer more for healthy food that in the end promotes thier own healthy lifestyle.

  4. This was definitely one of my favorite days on the trip so far. It is fantastic what Nick and Rita are doing to run a sustainable home, farm and restaurant. Drip irrigation seems to be used at a lot of the farms and wineries we visit and for good reason. Results like Nick’s where he used 50% less water are common when switching to drip irrigation from flood or furrow. Saving so much water is not only good for the environment but is good for the farmer financially. According to an article I read, drip irrigation systems are so efficient at reducing water costs and raising yields that they often pay for themselves within the first year (Brown, 2008).

  5. I absolutely LOVED going to Nick and Ritas place. Not only are they wonderful people (and related to Flick), but they are able to almost completely able to lead a fully sustainable life in every sense of the word. Any way you could think of, they try to save as much energy as possible in growing crops, running their cafe, and making the most out of their lives. It struck a cord with me when nick said the only thing that was holding him back from further improving was money. I feel like with people like the Builders, more government efforts shouold be made to for people making a genuine effort to use less energy and save what resources we have left. I feel like so many people in the US are trend crazy, and are more green in todays world because its the cool thing to do, much like a lot of things. Australia has been forced to be more sustainable due to their global position, making them a pioneer in sustainable innovations.

  6. That was a cool night sleeping at Calperum Station. The stars were incredibly clear and the moon was so bright that we had shadows. I found it very interesting to hear about the different species that are active in the area and what the staff needs to do to control certain populations so that others can thrive.

    It was also very interesting getting locked out of our building and trying to figure out how to get back in. I was hoping that we would have to break in but before it got too out of hand Flick showed up with the key. And Andrew told us that he was 100% sure that he was going to sleep outside and he ended up in bed before half of us. Waking up with a huge spider as our 5th roommate was a great way to start the day.

  7. To add to the blog, Nick told us an idea for the future in urban areas. I talked about building a tall cylinder shaped building that would have living space and room for crops to grow in it. This way people could live there, work there, and have a source of food, all in one building. This building would use solar energy, wind energy, and collect rain water which would be good for growing the crops inside and also supplying energy to the building.

  8. As Catherine was saying about the Calperum Station, rabbits are a big problem. Peter Kale said that one rabbit per ha(2.471 acres) is enough to wipe out tree regeneration. So what they do to control the rabbit population along with other animals, is put out oats for the animals to get used to being fed and then after a while they lace the oats with a poison called 1080. Its sounds kind of harsh but it is neccessary for the ecosystem to be sustainable as a whole.


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