Political journalist Gabrielle Chan swapped her Canberra parliament house press pass for a pair of muddy gumboots in 1996, when she married Harden sheep and wheat farmer, Richard.
While still writing for Guardian Australia, she’s also penned two books: Rusted Off: The Divide Between Canberra and the Neglected Class, and now, Why You Should Give a F–k About Farming.
In a quick Q and A, Gabrielle talks about the farming realities she’s witnessed and researched during her 25 years living in the area.
Rusted Off: The Divide Between Canberra and the Neglected Class, and now, Why You Should Give a F–k About Farming?
This latest book came out of my thinking on the tectonic shifts in economic, environmental and social systems that will have an effect on farming. These are trends I picked up.
The only way farmers currently get a pay rise is to make cheap food cheaper. At the same time, expectations are rising that all land managers look after the environment.
As a result of the first two trends, eaters must understand that land and food production ownership is changing away from small to mid sized family farms towards global companies and corporatised families and that will further hollow out communities.
There are no right and wrong answers here. But whatever Australia lands on, it needs more interconnected government policy to ensure land and human communities get healthier rather than sicker.
Was this title as locally-inspired as Rusted Off?
It was inspired by some of the trends I have seen in local farming but also from the trends I have seen from my rural reporting generally. That was particularly the case in the water debate and the changes I have written about along the river system and the angst in the Murray Darling system.
What responsibilities do consumers have?
I think both farmers and consumers have responsibilities to consider the broader picture.
Consumers - or eaters as I call them - who want food produced in a certain way need to think about the costs of growing food. Are they prepared to pay for the full costs of a food growing, where the farmer, the labour and the environment are adequately compensated for the true costs of the lamb or the bread?
Farmers need to bear in mind that their actions can have impacts far beyond the boundary fences. Climate change is essentially the globalisation of earth systems and so a new contract needs to be considered. If eaters, governments and private companies are prepared to pay for all the costs in producing food, the farmer might have to rethink their job description. They may no longer be just a food and fibre producer. In the future, they may be part food producer - part ranger - part energy producer.
How would you like to see a national food strategy be part of Australian government policy and acting in society?
A national food strategy would determine Australia’s food resilience into the future, taking into account increasingly hybrid threats. As we saw in 2020-21, massive bushfires were followed by floods, overlaid with a pandemic. This caused food shortages in the distribution chain. Australia is accustomed to natural disasters but work done in 2012 by public governance expert Stephen Bartos warned us the big threats will be crossing over and combining. So considering all the elements and gathering expertise from agriculture, environment, food safety, advanced manufacturing, trade and so on will be required to think through how we insure ourselves against future shocks.
Why You Should Give a F–k About Farming, by Gabrielle Chan, was released on 31 August, 2021.
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