The day started bright and early as per usual. My parents would be surprised to know that I have been waking up at 6:30 on my own each day. After breakfast we packed our luggage and made our way to the bus to head over to Hay. Hay, located in New South Wales, Australia is sandwiched between Sydney and Adelaide. It was built alongside the Murrumbidgee River which apart of the Murray-Darling river system. Originally inhabited by the Nari Nari Aborigines. Later in 1829 Charles Sturt passed through the area during his exploration of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. The town was named after Sir John Hay, a local pastoralist and Member of Parliament. Hay is one of Australia’s leading producers in wool, cotton, sheep meat, many fruits and vegetable, and beef. For this reason Hay is apart of the Farmer to Farmer program. This ensures the quality of the agriculture and livestock is met at great standards and is able to exported all around the world, especially North Asia and the Middle East. However along the way we were fortunate enough to make two stops. The first stop was to the Varapodio Olive Estate located in a city called Buronga.
Varapodio Olive Estate
The Varapodio Olive Estate located just beyond the Murray River. The name of the estate, Varapodio, is named after a small Italian town in the province of Reggio in southern Calabria. It is a family owned and operated Olive grove, just over the Murray River in Buronga. The Olive oils from the estate are much esteemed along with their other products, including olive oil ice cream. For those interested in trying to make this ice cream themselves should follow this link! There are 5 different types of olive plants as well as 15oo old style olive trees. With the crisp autumn air, around the low 60’s (Fahrenheit), we made our way to our first site visit.
As a dietetics major this site visit was a real treat! I learned many new facts about olive oil as well as sustainability. To begin with the Varapodio Olive Estate contains 2,200 olive trees on the farm. Each olive tree requires 100 liters of water per week (Donna). This number is relatively low compared to 300 liters required for citrus trees. Which allows olive farming to be considered more sustainable compared to citrus farming (Donna). The farm uses drip irrigation to fertilize their crops. This means that there is a pipeline that delivers water directly to the root of the plant. In addition fertilizer is added to this pipeline, in the process known as fertigation (Donna). Olive trees take four years to start producing fruit. In addition Olive trees are a biannual crop, which means that one year will have a large yield while the other will have a smaller one (Donna). What the Varapodio estate does is cut leaves and keep them in a hot house for 4 years until it is mature enough to start producing (Donna). The Varapodio farm is unique compared to other countries on how they produce olive s. Unlike Italy and Greece, they purposefully keep the trees short for more sunlight penetration (Donna). Whereas in Italy and Greece the trees grow tall this makes it difficult for the labor to collect the ripe olives (Dianne). The olives are then placed in a machine, which has a fan circulating on the inside to blow out the debris which is not olives (Donna). The olives are then placed in a machine hand piper, afterward the pit, pulp, and oil is separated using a churner which is separated into each section (Donna). Each section has a different speed which it rotates at (Donna). Technically olive oil can be churned at 32 degrees Celsius to be considered cold extracted; yet at the Varapodio estate they only heat it up to 20 degrees (Donna). The machine can efficiently extract 95% of the oil (Donna). The Varapodio Olive Estate owner Joe believes in being as sustainable as possible so the remaining 5% gets turned into soap, fertilizers, and mulch (Joe). Not all olive farms follow the same principles of clean food and sustainability that Joe does. Some olive farms take the non-processed oil and reprocesses it by mixing in canola and vegetable oil (Donna). First press olive oil is the oil which has not been processed, and is considered extra virgin oil. Virgin oil must contain only between 0.8%-1% triglyceride fatty acid. Anything that has more than 1% is considered rancid. From a nutritional stand point extra virgin first press oil is the most healthy and nutritional. For more information on the benefits of olive oil follow the website ! Once the olive oil is made it must be stored in metal drums with air tight lids to prevent oxygenation.
As I mentioned in my pre-departure blog, the Varapodio Olive Estate is internationally renowned for their fine olive oil, in a blind taste test against from judges all over the world competing with countries such as Italy and Greece (Joe). My mother will be glad to know that I picked her up a bottle of their award-winning olive oil as well as a delicious dressing that they make! They do not just make plain oils. For example they make a lemon augmented olive oil which they chop up pieces of lemon and allow it to get processed with the olives (Joe). Afterward we got to enjoy a taste test of the wonderful oils and other products they make such as dressings. In addition to oils and soaps they make they also sell locally grown foods, which they serve in their quaint restaurant. By supporting local farms and businesses it creates a sustainable environment because the carbon footprint is reduced drastically from not having to transport the ingredients from all over the country or even the world by using planes and boats. It also supports the local economy by keeping the businesses relevant (Joe). Finally on a social perspective it keeps the community closer together because they are able to interact with the people producing their food. Also from a nutritional standpoint there is less processing and additives to the foods, hence the risk of chronic disease reduces.
All in all it was a tasty treat to learn more about the farm and how they employ sustainable methods. As a future dietitian and olive oil consumer it was wonderful to learn about where my food comes from. Also it was a pleasure to get to talk to Joe about his views on sustainability and farming. It seems that Joe and Donna are genuinely concerned about trying to make their farm as sustainable as possible by planting crops which do not require too much water. In addition they do not export their product. In order to obtain their olive oils as well as other products, the public can go to the Varapodio Farm website to order online. This reduces shipping costs and the farms carbon footprint (Joe).
Australian Inland Botanical Garden – Aboriginal Resource Trail
The 50 million year old river, the Murray river, surrounded by a semi-arid woodland ecosystem which includes ancient Mallee eucalypts some of which first grew 2000 years before Europeans reached Australia is a popular destination. This is Australia’s first irrigation settlement, founded by Canadian brothers William and Benjamin Chaffey in 1880. Horticulture scientists came up with the idea of a local, regional, botanic gardens over 50 years ago. In the 1980s, former Mildura mayor Councillor Kay Gambetta, convinced the city council to support their idea. The AIBG is the unique among Australian botanic gardens in displaying plants from around the world by their continent, country or region of origin. Over the years the beauty of the gardens and the unique climate of the region has attracted tourists along with scientists to the site.
Before our next stop to the Australian Inland Botanical Gardens. We ate a delicious meal, assembled by Flick, when we first arrived. Afterward we were given a tour of the gardens. We first learned that the garden was opened in 1991. With limited funding from the city council, the operation runs mostly on volunteers. The botanical gardens were started by local scientists 22 years who wished to create a botanical garden in the area (Wendy). All the plants were planted 20 years old. The first venue we were shown was the sheering room. The room is unique due to its architecture. The buildings were constructed in the early 1860’s from different stations and ranches. One building in particular which stood out employed the method of drop logging, which allows the building to be constructed sans nails and screws (Wendy). I thought that was really interesting. Australia used to produce the largest amount of wood, it no longer does (Wendy). The wool produced by the sheep was top quality; however the sheep caused a problem to the land. The reason it was a problem was because the sheep began to graze the land which increased the salinity of the soil. In order to counter this issue salt tolerant plants were planted (Wendy).
The first the garden was funded was by the local council and that money was deposited into the rose garden (Wendy). The group had a fun time exploring the garden and selecting their favorite rose. Afterward we began to explore the other gardens. Unlike most botanical gardens these gardens are divided by continent and not species and genus, due to the fact that they have such a diversity of plants (Wendy). Being in a desert it is interesting to see how many species of plants can be grown. The gardens are lined with Murray Pine, which is unique because there are not too many local pine species. In addition to it being local it termite resistant (Wendy). The Olive Mallee tree in particular was blocked off. This particular tree is 2,500 years old. Mallee means the tree has multiple layers of bark to allow it to be more fire resistant. In the event of a bush fire the top layer of bark burns. Once the bark has burned the tree will be covered in green sprouting to form a new layer (Wendy).
The visit concluded with us walking down the Aboriginal Resource Trail. I learned many interesting facts about the aboriginal people and some native plants. For instance the aboriginals would leave behind shell midden. Meaning they would leave behind the shells of the animals they had eaten so that the next tribe would see the food that was eaten and try not to eat those same animals to conserve the population of that species (Wendy). This provided a sustainable and simple method of preserving the population of the species. I also learned about some interesting plants the aboriginals used for food. One plant in particular that stood out was the Quandong plant. This plant produces a vitamin C rich fruit (Wendy). This visit was a fun way to walk around and learn about some native species. The fun natured guide was also a plus! This visit was a great reminder about the strong sustainability model which the environmental factor of the sustainability is the most important.
The people are the next important, and then economy. In this case the botanical gardens are saving the species, but in the process people from all backgrounds and age unite to preserve these gardens. By working on the gardens the volunteers get exercise, which allows them to be more healthy. By creating a great garden the local economy gets stimulated because there is more tourism.
Both site visits were centered around the theme of trying to make a seemingly non sustainable practice as sustainable as possible. For example olive trees tend to grow in environments where there is more rainfall. Where as in New South Wales there is not as much rain as there would be in Italy for instance. However Joe and Donna counter this by using drip irrigation. Also by not exporting his goods as well as utilizing 100% of the olives, he reduces his carbon footprint significantly. Similarly growing a garden is difficult in the middle of a desert however the garden is filled with local species as well as species which help improve the salinity of the soil.
Today also emphasized how sustainability is not only about the environment, the social and economical aspect are very important. The fact that in both sites there is a sense of place identity established when one visits the farm or gardens. With the olive estate the locals get a chance to interact with the farmer and understand where their food comes from, hence they will be more aware of choosing the right kind of olive oil or even substituting butter or margarine with olive oil more often. As mentioned earlier the health benefits this will provide can significantly reduce chronic disease which allows populations to be more healthy. Also by introducing olives to Australia it allows ones diet to be more diverse, and I am a firm believer that being open to new foods is directly related to being open to different cultures and being more open-minded in general. There are many social benefits from the inland botanical garden as well such as there is more diversity in plant species. Similar to my theory on food, when one learns about different countries plants they become more fascinated and want to travel there or are at least more accepting of the other cultures. Not to mention there is a definite aesthetics to flowers and plants. When people visit the garden they tend to be more one with nature hence they would like to preserve it.
Lastly the economy gets boosted. In the case of Varapodio Olive Estate all the products are local as well they are sold locally so the economy gets stimulated and small business have a chance to thrive. The town also does not have to spend money on importing olive oil, when they can get great quality oil in their own hometown. The tourism aspect in both sites generates revenue which can be pumped back into the local economy. All in all both sites are trying to be as sustainable as possible.
We embarked on a three-hour journey to Hay, where we finally had internet! Despite learning about the sustainability of Hay we only spent the night there. All in all it was a great day and I loved learning something new about Australian culture and sustainability each day!
“Mildura Weather.” Weather.com. N.p., n.d. Web. May-June 2013.
“Australian Inland Botanic Gardens |.” Australian Inland Botanic Gardens. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2013.
Joe and Donna Scopelliti, Farmer and current manager of Varapodio Olive Estate; May 21, 2013
Wendy, Education Officer of Australian Inland Botanical garden; May 21, 2o13