A word from the RALF (April 2022)
Fran McLaughlin had an idea after her husband returned from working in remote areas of NSW with their rural earthmoving business. Fran’s husband alarmingly described the accessibility constraints of these remote areas accessing fresh produce delivered in terms of distance, for example. ‘Feed the Bush’ idea was born. Fran got to researching what suitable systems might be available to make fresh produce more accessible to rural communities that could provide a sustainable alternative to broadacre cropping for interested stakeholders.
They had been researching intensive horticulture production systems and anticipate they’ve found a vertical farming system that could sustainably deliver fresh produce and change people’s mindset on accessing fresh produce. Vertical farming systems grow plants under wholly or partially controlled environmental conditions to allow crops to be grown throughout the year. Vertical systems utilise artificial control of light, temperature, moisture, and carbon dioxide concentrations.
‘Feed the Bush’ concept will use an intensive horticulture system called the InvertiCube to grow sustainable produce. The 1.5 m x 1.5 m cubes are kept indoors, use 95% less water than broadacre cropping, require no chemicals or pesticides and are controlled completely via an iPad. In addition, they provide an optimum growing environment that can reduce the growing cycle to up to 35 days. “Our idea is to establish this concept, create a blueprint of the business model and commercialise it right across the country. Using the InvertiCube system, we could potentially harvest 10 crops of lettuce in a year, whereas traditionally a grower would get two or three crops per annum if they’re lucky,” Fran explains.
InvertiCube’s are very affordable, take up very little space, are easily scalable and provide innovative opportunities for farmers to diversify just how they produce a crop, or create an additional income stream. “There’s over 100 crops that we could grow in this system. Everything from various fruit and vegetables to micro herbs and indigenous plants,” Fran explains.
This is an opportunity here for Aboriginal communities to be developing sustainable agricultural businesses growing indigenous plants and joining the rapidly expanding indigenous food market supply chain.
Further capabilities of the InvertiCubes are they can also produce fresh fodder for livestock, helping to drought prepare farmers and increase carrying capacity.
Fran will be seeking to align ‘Feed the Bush’ with collaborative partnerships with stakeholders such as local supermarkets (particularly those who support local and regional producers), community groups, childcare centres and schools, community gardens and local councils to showcase the opportunities for jobs, better health and wellbeing, and access to fresh food.
This innovative idea has been supported by AgriFutures Australia, with Fran announced as one of seven recipients of the inaugural AgriFutures Rural Women’s Acceleration Grant learning and development bursary. The learning and development bursary (not cash) of up to $7,000 is for professional development to enable recipients to bring their idea, cause or vision to life. Being announced as an AgriFutures Rural Women’s Acceleration Grant recipient has given Fran the boost she needed to turn her idea into a reality.
Find more information on the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Acceleration Grant here.
This article was written by Tammy Galvin. Tammy is the Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator (RALF) for the Riverina region. Her role supports farmers, industry and community groups (including Landcare Groups) to adopt new and innovative sustainable agriculture practices.