Thought going organic was as easy as growing your own? Hear this:

Dr Jason Reynolds is a senior Lecturer in Biogeochemistry at the University of Western Sydney and was a "Food Warrior" at last Saturday's FOOD FIGHT event. Jason conducts research in the areas of aqueous geochemistry, protocell formation and the geochemical fingerprint of climate change. What does this have to do with food security? People can move toward food security through sustainable food practice including growing your own pesticide-free fruit, vegetables and herbs. But what if we told you that the soil in your own backyard might prevent you from doing so? Jason enlightens us on the truth about our soil and going organic.

The mighty amaranth is a whole grain. It was a major food crop of the Aztecs, and some have estimated amaranth was domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. Image source: henryehooper.wordpress.co

The mighty amaranth is a whole grain. It was a major food crop of the Aztecs, and some have estimated amaranth was domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. Image source: henryehooper.wordpress.co

 

Hi Jason, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Help us understand: what makes something organic?

This is something that provides much discussion and many divided opinions especially as the term ‘organic’ can be applied to many different things. By definition, organic food should be considered as grown ‘naturally’ and is free of synthetic additives and artificial fertilisers. Some people may take that further to limit genetically modified organisms as well, and this certainly is a matter for debate. You and I can implement these practices in our own backyards and community gardens with the aim of providing ourselves with healthy food that does not impact the surrounding environment. 


And why is it important for us to eat and buy organic? How does this affect food security?

It is a very important issue and one which we all need to be aware. Organic food choices not only ensure we maintain healthy contaminant free diets but they help ensure a broad range of ecological and environmental benefits including animal welfare, preservation of soil, water, and even efficient energy use. These principles link closely with food security as we are improving our nutritional intake, decreasing land degradation and soil fertility decline, and decreasing our reliance on food production inputs. The way I think of it, we are taking ownership of the issue by lifting our standards of food production - think globally, act locally.


But you found out that our soil is not so unadulterated

Well, we have investigated soils from backyard vegetable gardens, community gardens, and peri-urban agricultural areas in Australia and through Europe. As you would expect, increasing costs of food and ever-expanding urban development has resulted in an increase in urban farming practices. These practices are tempered by increasing concerns over potential contaminants existing within the surrounding environment and within the soils themselves. Contamination ranging from historical land pollution in inner Sydney to increased urban development of our peri-urban agricultural areas impacts our soils, which ultimately may impact the fruits and vegetables we source from these areas. And we are not just talking about heavy metals, we are interested in the behaviour of pesticides, insecticides, and even plastics in our soils. 

The grains in your cereal this morning were probably grown in the soils around Tamworth, the sugar in your coffee may have come from the soils along the Tweed River, and your steak dinner tonight may have grown on the rich soils in the New England region


Yikes! We want to help. How can an individual make a difference to the state of our soil?

Soil by itself can take thousands of years develop. We should look to protect our broad-scale agricultural areas including the mighty Liverpool Plains in central western NSW. Locally, we should support our local environmental organisations and look to apply the principles of organic farming to our own patch of land. And of course, you should consider supporting the Soil Science Society of Australia, some great research is being undertaken in this space.

When and how did you first get interested in the chemical makeup of our soil?

It first started as a child when I could not understand how carrots grew in dirt. It wasn’t until I studied at university that I realised how much we truly do not understand about soils. Soils truly are an amazing interface of biology and chemistry that have supported humans in so many ways. 


Why was being involved in the FOOD FIGHT so important to you?

Being involved in the FOOD FIGHT is really about raising people’s awareness that majority of their food is deeply connected to the soils around them. The grains in your cereal this morning were probably grown in the soils around Tamworth, the sugar in your coffee may have come from the soils along the Tweed River, and your steak dinner tonight may have grown on the rich soils in the New England region. If you are like me, perhaps you have even sourced some of your food from your own backyard. The FOOD FIGHT to me is a celebration of soils as a remarkable resource. 
 
Do you grow your own fruit & veg?

Absolutely, I grow as much as I can at home and work with community garden projects including Earthcare in the Hawkesbury region. There are few things better than appreciating nature and watching something grow before your eyes. 


In your opinion, what is the king of all vegetables?

At the moment I am fascinated my amaranths and the history of their use. 
 
As a Western Sydney local, please tell us, where are some of your favourite places to eat in Liverpool?

You can often find me at Ristretto & Co looking for a caffeine boost. 

Thanks for local tips and for sharing your soil wisdom with us, Jason. And thank you from C3West, the MCA and Liverpool City Council for supporting the fight against food security.