10 June 2021

How one nappy can create positive change

It started with a folded pile of fluffy, white nappies. We remembered our mothers folding them for our siblings, back when disposables were new technology but not normalised yet. We considered the cost and the rubbish pile that would result from all the disposable nappies our baby would need, compared to our pile of fluffy white fabric squares. 

The parenting books warned us not to be martyrs about washing nappies, that we had bigger things to worry about and that the environmental harm probably wasn’t that big anyway. We researched and de-bunked this pretty quickly. New mums at the mothers group raised eyebrows. The health nurse worried that it’d be too much work. We set aside the free sample disposable nappy the hospital sent us home with and did what felt right. We hung those cloth nappies on the washing line, in the sunshine, all beaming and fresh, and knew we were on the right track.


One day, a work colleague handed us a big bag of baby clothes for our growing babe. Amongst the hand knits and grow suits was a nappy cover. I googled the name on the label and discovered the world of modern cloth nappies. Next came the parenting forums - such a great support in those isolated early-parenting days. Before long, we’d found a circle of supportive families who shared clothes, nappies, cups of tea and stories of other ways of doing things. Friends who also researched and questioned things, acknowledged (and sometimes rejected) what had become normalised in the industrial shift away from ecological processes. We felt encouraged to look into the home-birth and water birth we’d felt discouraged from last time. And so our next two babies were born at home, in water. Then we decided the industrial education model wasn’t right for our kids, and we embraced unschooling.

We realise now that we’d begun a lifelong process of research, analysis, taking responsibility for ourselves and doing what feels right for our children and the planet they’re going to inherit. We studied permaculture and realised we’d been implementing the permaculture principles in our home for some time. From there, waste-free living was a no-brainer. It felt straight forward and simple. To this day, we can’t imagine why it took us so long to arrive at living waste-free, but we’re glad we did as we can see that reducing our waste encapsulates climate solutions. Waste is an indicator of the work to do on climate.

Now, making choices that challenge norms seems much less daunting. We’ve avoided the waste of tens of thousands of disposable nappies. We’ve diverted tonnes of waste from landfill, avoided recycling waste, dispensed with education waste and transport emissions (all those trips commuting to kinder became long mornings at home and walks around the neighbourhood). We’ve converted our suburban lawn-filled backyard to food growing plants, and we’ve made ripples beyond our own home, encouraging others to make choices for positive impact. We’ve also normalised this way of thinking and feeling, and the practices that come with it, for our kids. 

Sometimes that one simple choice you make is just the beginning. It’s where you learn the value of following your own head and heart; exercising your decision-making muscle. It might seem benign, but it just might change the direction of your life, and your impact on the planet, for the better. Then the next time a choice presents itself, to do what’s right for the planet and the people you love, you can dive right in. 

With our own simple beginnings in mind, we’ve decided to join our friend Erin, The Rogue Ginger, in requesting our council introduce a rebate on cloth nappies and reusable menstrual products, for local residents. This has the potential to reduce at least 4% of landfill waste generated in our municipality, and clean up kerbside recycling streams. Once food and organic waste composting is implemented later this year, that percentage will rise. A rebate will mean babies born in our area won’t leave a legacy of waste, contaminating the soil where they live, for generations. It’ll also be much more affordable for more people to access reusable options, which will save the council and residents money in the longer term.  It’ll mean a clean, fresh start for all of us. Who can tell the positive ripples of change that will happen beyond that.

As for that pile of nappies of ours, we can report that 18 years later, they’re still in circulation, dusting and cleaning up spills, mopping the floor, cleaning up muddy puppy paws. As each cloth gradually wears out, we place it in the compost, or as sheet mulch in the garden and it finds a new use as worm food, enriching our soil and leaving a positive impact in more ways than one.

5 March 2021

Zucchini, Chocolate + Olive Oil Cake

Weve been knee-deep in zucchinis for a while now. The glut began before the tomatoes ripened, and it continues to surprise us with over-sized veggies most days. It’s a nice problem to have.
Only about half of us actually like eating zucchini on it’s own, so to stay on top of the glut, we’ve been experimenting with zucchini kasundi recipes - we’ve not found a total favourite yet, but have a couple that will clear your sinuses if you’re brave! And we’ve returned to old favourites like pickled zucchinis, spiced zucchini soup (fabulous with fresh bread on autumn evenings, and a great glut-buster), and our favourite, zucchini chocolate cake. 

This is our go-to zucchini chocolate cake recipe. Its a quick mix recipe that makes a large amount of cake to share for a group, or to supply hungry kids with snacks for up to a week (it may depend on how hungry!). The cake keeps moist in an air-tight container on the bench for a few days, or can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen if longer storage is needed.

The olive oil adds depth of flavour that prevents the cake from being overly sweet. If you prefer a milder flavour, another vegetable or seed oil like sunflower oil might be a good replacement. The cake is dairy free and can be made gluten free with the alternative mentioned below. We haven’t tried an egg replacement so it’s not vegan, but let us know if you find a method that works for you! You can also add your favourite nuts or seeds to the cake, and ice it if you like.

Like all our recipes, we recommend you experiment and have fun finding what works best for you! 

2 cups (250g) plain flour
1.5 cups organic raw sugar (coconut sugar or rapadura also work, but can change the texture slightly).
3/4 cup cocoa powder (or raw cacao) 
3 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon bicarb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups grated zucchini, firmly packed

1. Preheat oven to 180°C
2. Grease and flour a lamington tin.
3. Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, bicarb, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl, then stir.
4. Add the eggs and oil to the bowl, and mix well.
5. Add the zucchini and mix together evenly.
6. Pour into the prepared lamington tin.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for one hour. 
8. Cool the cake and slice it into squares. 

Gluten free version: Use a gluten-free flour mix and add one extra egg. 

5 February 2021

Marvellous Mulberries :: Our favourite cordial recipe

Our very favourite garden tree is our mulberry. It's the biggest in the food forest, planted 9 or so years ago, over Tiny Owlet's placenta. It grows generous amounts of fruit, provides cooling shade, juice for ink-making, leaves for tea and silk worm fodder, and a stunning autumn display as it's leaves turn yellow where the sun lands on them. Actually, all the plants in our perennial food forest are wonderful. They’re super low maintenance, and feed us huge amounts of food each year. We’re so glad we planted them when we did. If you’re strapped for time, but have some space in your garden for perennial food plants, throw some in and feed your family (friends and neighbours), for years to come. It’s well worth the investment. But back to the mulberry.
Last year, we made the mistake of not throwing a net over our mulberry tree. The tree had grown so much in the year prior, it outgrew the nets we had, and we naively thought there would be enough fruit for us and the blackbirds to share. We didn’t pick a single ripe mulberry.

So, this year we were prepared. And the extra rain we’ve had meant mulberries as far as the eye can see. The laden tree’s heavy branches are sweeping the ground, and every leaf has berries waiting underneath to be picked. Unfortunately the combination of wind, rain and heavy fruit mean the tree is almost lying horizontal at this point. It won't be the same beautiful upright tree, and the food forest is somewhat changed, but that's the adventure of gardening and tending to an ever-changing ecosystem. We’ve still been sneaking out to the garden to scoff and slurp on juicy mulberries all month - bright magenta juice staining our fingers and toes... And, of course, we've been putting some aside for winter.

Bottled mulberries for the cupboards for winter guzzling. Fresh berries and mulberry cordial to enjoy right now. We'll make some cordial into jelly and some fruit into jam. We've been playing with mulberry cordial recipes for a few years now, and here's our ultra-simple favourite. We make a habit of simplifying things, because we find we're more likely to find time for an easy recipe we can remember by heart. Mulberry Cordial

1kg mulberries 1L water 750g sugar 2 lemons 1. Place the mulberries in a large saucepan, with the water and sugar. 2. Add the zest and juice of the lemons 3. Place the pot over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. 4. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, continuing to stir when you remember. 5. Line a large bowl or jug with a fine mesh bag, cheesecloth or strainer while you wait for the pot to simmer. 6. Remove from the heat and pour into the mesh bag/strainer/cloth lined bowl.

7. Allow the liquid to drain from the fruit pulp. We like to use a mesh bag and suspend it from a kitchen cupboard handle over the bowl. Set the fruit pulp aside. 8. Use a funnel to pour the cordial into clean bottles. Sterilise the bottles first if you're going to store the cordial for a while. 9. Seal with lids and move to the fridge when cool if you're planning to enjoy the cordial over the next couple of weeks. Pasteurise the full bottles in a large pot of boiling water if you plan to store them for up to 12 months.

Enjoy your cordial mixed 1:4 parts water. Mulberry fizz is lovely if you have a Sodastream, and mulberry mixes well with alcoholic drinks, too. Use the fruit pulp (and lemon zest) in your favourite crumble, pie or muffin recipe. It's delicious added to an apple base filling. Alternatively, freeze it for smoothies or nice-cream, or for baking another day. 

Happiest Mulberry season! 

~ Lauren. xx

17 January 2021

Ode to a worm farm :: How to make a pet poo worm farm

If there’s something we didn’t expect pet ownership would make us grateful for, it’s poo. Growing up, there was always lots of it - dog poo, cat poo, picked up before school, tied up in two plastic shopping bins, and flung into the bin for rubbish day. It was taken away so we didn’t need to think about it, or smell it anymore. When we both moved out of home and adopted pets, we continued the same daily tradition of double-bagged poo-flinging, into the stinky bin, and away. 

But then we started living waste-free, and we stopped shopping at supermarkets, so there were no smelly bins, no plastic bags, and no more away. So along came our worm farm, and the piles of poo (just poo), and the re-used brown paper bags we use to pick the poo up on dog walks, land in there. Our worm friends turn all those stinky piles into incredible compost - black gold for our fruit trees. There’s absolutely no smell. And very minimal need for us to do anything other than dig out the amazing compost, tickling the worms out of it as we go, once a year or so. 

This is what’s normal for our kids now. A life where everything is a valuable resource, and we take responsibility for what happens to it, right here, where we are. A life where we’re all part of an interconnected system, even our pets (both dogs and worms). And that’s a lesson that will last our kids their whole lives. 

How to set up a pet poo worm farm*

It is possible to use the waste pets create as a resource in your garden. You can convert their poo to compost in a dedicated worm farm and use the compost to feed ornamental plants and fruit trees (we’d keep it away from veggies and edible herbs so as to avoid any immediate toxins). A worm farm can fit in a garden, a courtyard or on a small balcony, and when working well will produce no smell. Just luscious compost for your garden.  

A container to keep your worms in. Some ideas include an old bath, Styrofoam boxes, an old bin or barrel, old car tyres, a purpose-built box or a kit from your local nursery.
A piece of mesh to cover any holes and keep the worms in. Fly screen or shade cloth are ideal.
Some bedding material. Some ideas include mushroom compost, garden soil, coconut fibre or garden compost, or lightly dampened shredded paper (this is ideal if you’re planning on composting pet poo).
Worm food. For composting pet poo, don’t feed them other food along with the poo as they’ll just eat the food and ignore the poo (who wouldn’t!). If you want a regular worm farm for your veggie scraps instead of poo, make sure to stay away from citrus and onions. Worms love soft food scraps, hair clippings, crushed egg shells, vacuum cleaner dust, coffee grounds, tea bags, sawdust, soaked cardboard and shredded paper.
Worms! You’ll need about 1000 worms specifically bred for farming. Look for tiger worms or red or blue wrigglers. Common garden worms are great for soil improvement, but not so effective in a worm farm.

If you’re creating a layered box system to collect worm tea, you’ll need something watertight for your bottom layer. In a bath, you might choose to place a bucket under the drain hole. If you’re using a Styrofoam box, place a watertight one on the bottom. Grab the box or container where your worms will be housed and make sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage. Place it on your watertight, tea-collecting bottom layer, if you have one.

Place mesh over the holes. If you’re using a bath, cover the plughole.

Place your worm bedding material in the box or container.

Add your worms to the middle of the box. If you’re using a bath, place them at one end.

Add some poo for the worms to eat. Use your worm farm when you’re cleaning up your kitty-litter tray or dog poo, in conjunction with carbon matter like shredded paper or recycled paper kitty litter. We collect dog poo in re-used paper bags when we take the dogs for a walk, and this feeds the worms well. Try and keep a good balance between the carbon and nitrogen based matter in your worm farm, as you'd do when making compost. If you’re using a bath, just feed the worms up the end where the worms were placed.

Make sure not to overfeed your worms. Start with a small amount of food and watch to see how quickly they can break it down. Keep an eye on them as you add more.
Don’t feed pet poo to your worms if you’ve recently wormed your pets – worming medication may kill your worm farm! Technically the medication should be benign when it leaves your dog, but if you want to be sure, leave it for a few days before adding it to your worm farm. 

Place a doubled-up sheet of dampened newspaper on top of your worm farm to retain moisture and keep your worms comfy. Then pop a cover on your worm farm – a layer of hessian, or the lid your kit came with will work.

In a few weeks you’ll be able to collect worm tea to feed your garden! Stick to ornamentals and fruit trees if your worms are eating pet poo.

As your worm farm fills up, you’ll be able to place another box or layer on top and fill it with bedding and food for your worms to migrate to. If you’re using a bath, start feeding the worms at the other end of the bath and they’ll move along to their new feeding place.

Harvest the beautifully broken-down compost from the previous nesting/feeding box and use it on the garden. If you have cats, you might like to bury it under some soil and mulch to keep native wildlife safe, while making valuable nutrients available to your plants and out of landfill or waterways. Happy farming!

*This is an excerpt from our book 'A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living', published in 2019 by Plum. You'll still find it at most good bookshops and libraries, or signed copies in our shop

6 April 2020

25 Ways to Holiday at Home

This post appears in response to this week's theme for our #52climatesolutions series on Instagram. You can pop over there for more information on how holidaying at home can be a useful skill to learn for the future. 

It may seem a little strange to be sharing this list while none of us really have much choice but to be at home. Those of us who are fortunate to have a home, that is. We’re in the midst of a stressful situation that’s shifting our priorities, bringing forward anxieties and rewiring our brains and how we see ourselves moving forward. Business is anything but usual. Giving ourselves a little space to just be where we are and appreciate our surroundings (like we do on holidays), may be just the ticket. Particularly if you’re self isolating with kids (never was there a clearer oxymoron). Shifting to learning at home full-time isn’t easy, so focusing on spending time together and strengthening relationships can be very important. Perhaps the school holidays came just at the right time. 

When this period of time is behind us, will we go back to our old ways? Will we ignore the impacts travel has on the environment and holiday like there’s no tomorrow? Perhaps we’ll take some lessons from our period of time at home and holiday at home intentionally again. Whatever you choose in the future, here are some suggestions for now. We hope they help:
  • Camp out - in the backyard or your lounge room. Pitch a tent and sleep under the stars, or under twinkle lights by your tv. We can’t guarantee you a good night’s sleep but your kids (and pets) will love you all the more for it. 
  • Cook with fire - if you have a wood heater or space for a little outdoor campfire, toast some marshmallows, bake some damper, enjoy the warmth and gaze into the coals. 
  • Stargaze - If you have a backyard or a balcony, a little stargazing can be a wonderful way to connect with nature, and observe what’s happening around you. If you’re in the city and can’t see the stars to clearly, perhaps try an app like Sky Safari, or a sky map to help you work out where the constellations are. 
  • Nature walk in your street - what seasonal changes are you noticing? What sounds and scents? Try taking some photos and draw from them when you get home. For extra fun, go after dark, with torches and spot nocturnal wildlife. 
  • Start a holiday diary - perhaps a nature journal, or just daily observations of the world around you. 
  • Move your furniture around - Swap bedrooms, look at your home and how you use it, in different ways. A change is as good as a holiday!
  • Give your bedroom a deep clean - Change the sheets (there’s nothing better!) and put a chocolate on the pillow if you like!
  • Bring the outdoors in - Plant some pots up with herbs, indoor plants or flowers that make you happy, provide food or freshen the air a little. 
  • Send postcards or letters to the friends you’re missing - Tell them what you’ve been up to. There’s something special about receiving a note in the mail. 
  • Send a gift - whether it's a bunch of flowers or a favourite book you’ve been reading, find a small and local business to support and have them send a gift on your behalf, if you’re not able to attend the post office in person.
  • Learn a new skill - Learn to bake bread, knit, grow food, play an instrument. Emerge from your holiday at home with a skill you can share with your friends and family when you see them next. 
  • Find out about a different culture - learn the history, language and perhaps try the foods of the place you’d like to learn about. 
  • Visit museums, galleries and zoos, virtually - webcams and virtual tours are happening now in facilities all over the world. Go exploring and learn all the things! 
  • Write to a pen pal - reach out to people in other parts of the world and look for a pen pal (perhaps through friends of friends or someone you know online?). Send them a lovely message telling them about what it’s like where you are, and ask them to describe their day-to-day. There’s solidarity and connection to be found in the written word! 
  • Learn the history of where you live -  Find out about First Nations people, the geological formations, famous landmarks, favourite buildings. 
  • Read all the books! There’s never been a better time to catch up on the books you’ve been meaning to read. If you don’t have an unread stack and prefer not to buy books, you might try borrowing ebooks and audio books through your local library. Some subscription services are offering freebies now too. 
  • Splurge on a take-away meal - give yourself the night off and support a local hospitality business who makes great food. Many are struggling right now and have opened up take away and delivery meal options. Look for restaurants who cook using local ingredients and ask about compostable packaging! 
  • Eat local food - be a locavore and experience what your local diet really tastes like, whether it’s bought, foraged or both.
  • Go dancing - well, maybe just in your lounge room, but have a dance party and truly let your hair down. 
  • Initiate new routines - perhaps you’ve been meaning to maintain a sourdough starter and bake regularly, do a little yoga or walk each day, or you’ve been meaning to reduce your family’s waste output? Now’s a good time to start incorporating new things into your daily rhythm so they’ll be second nature when life’s feeling more normal. 
  • Get some sunshine - If you have a little sunny space to sit or stretch out, take time to rest in it and enjoy the sun's warmth and a bit of Vitamin D.
  • Catch up on watching old movies - or nature documentaries you haven’t had time for. You’ll have a family of film buffs and nature lovers in no time.
  • Play games - board games, card games, do the crossword.
  • Take a nap - The sign of any restful holiday. Nanas of the world will agree!
  • Slow down - Remember how to slow down and take each day at a time. Be gentle with yourself. These are unusual and uncertain times we're living through. Know that while you stay home, you're currently supporting front line workers and the broader community, and significantly reducing the impact your family has on our changing climate. 

And when the hardest of this is behind us… holidays at home might include visiting local museums, galleries, ecosystems, restaurants, and hotels. You might try camping not too far from home or bushwalking somewhere you’ve never been before. Support your local businesses, keep carbon emissions low, and your local community resilient.  

27 February 2020

80 Life Skills for Kids to Learn

We've spoken before about how the way we've educated our children over the years (at their request!),  has shifted to incorporate more of the practical. The life skills they'll need in the future, whatever that future might look like. Skills for resilience so they can care for themselves and their community. We're also educating them for the present, so that they can contribute to household life, but also so they have the skills they need to help avert climate change right now.

Over a year ago, we all sat down together and wrote up a list of skills we wanted our kids to have, or that they wanted to have, and some us adults  needed to work on ourselves - because we reckon learning and sharing skills is important for everyone, and there's always more to learn!

Our list has columns for each of us to tick off as we get to doing each task, or mastering each skill. There were 80 skills listed originally, and the kids have added more as they've thought of them. The list is now pinned to the fridge, and we've slowly ticked of skills as we've completed them after the list was hung - so there are some skills us adults have learned in pre-list days, but we're not ticking them off until we've done them again since hanging the list. It's proving motivating for all of us, and interesting to see how many are covered in our day-to-day. And it's been lots of fun learning and sharing skills!

After a few requests on our Instagram last week, we've shared our list, with blank columns for family members, here. You might like to use it for a base list for your own family, adding and removing skills as you like. Let us know how you go!

12 July 2019

How To Start a Community Food Co-op

Plastic Free July is rolling along along, and we've been chatting with people about their experiences with it, and waste-free living in general. As always, there are a few issues that come to light, and we'll be sharing our tips for a couple of the big ones shortly (budget, time...). But for a great many people, the main issue in reducing household waste is easy access to package-free foods. In the greater Hobart area, we have a high number of bulk food options, ranging from small supermarkets to dedicated wholefoods stores where everything is available package-free. Although where we live we're technically in a food desert, we're very fortunate to be a short bus ride away from some amazing resources, and have access to homegrown foods through the community garden and local sharing network. But what do you do if you live even further away from shops and food outlets? You need to find creative ways to bring food closer to your community.

We were fortunate to visit the Bruny Island Food Co-op at the beginning of winter. We were invited to talk to their members about waste-free living and have a look around, and what we saw was more than a little inspiring. Bruny Island (lunawanna-allonah) sits on the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, with a population of 600 residents and tens of thousands of visitors each year. It only has a couple of small shops for basic groceries, and seasonal food producers and cafes that appeal mostly to the tourist demographic. It's accessible via ferry from mainland Tasmania and most residents need to shop for fresh food off the island.

Our friend, Liz, noticed a shortage of access to good food in the Bruny Island community and helped establish a food co-op there. The co-op is run in the community hall each month and you can buy most of the basics and some special luxuries there, without packaging! They're able to keep costs fairly low, helping more people in the community access package-free food. Alongside the co-op, they run skill shares and workshops and a space for members to swap and share food, with future plans and ideas for strengthening this inspiring community hub. We asked Liz about her experience with establishing a community food co-op and she has very generously shared her thoughts with us below. If you're living somewhat remotely, perhaps there's some inspiration here to help you build a co-op of your own. 

How did the idea to start a food co-op come about?

After doing the Spiral Garden Seedlings Permaculture eCourse, I really started to think about the waste we were producing in the kitchen. I'd always thought of ourselves as buying little processed/packaged food, but when I checked our bins I was surprised at how many of the plastic bags could be avoided if we bought in bulk. So I joined a food co-op off the island which was not too far away, and started buying lots of food from a bulk wholefoods store also off the island. When talking with a couple of friends in a cafe on Bruny Island one day, we were envisaging how great a food co-op could be on Bruny Island. What we didn't realise is that a local couple on the next table were listening to us dreaming and before they left the cafe, they came over to wish us luck and offered us a very generous donation to get started!

Was it easy to find support in the community?

Yes, we put a post on the community Facebook page asking for expressions of interest and got a handful of people who were interested to come along to our first meeting, where we just brainstormed ideas and what people wanted. We then set up a Facebook page asking people what they wanted to order and put an ad for the first meeting in the community news. As we didn't have any money we couldn't buy products up front to sell, so we had to take orders and try and make sure that a bulk product was already sold out before we even bought it. The most difficult part of it all was finding a location to hold meetings. While this could have been at someone's house, we had a vision of what we wanted to achieve and it was more like a shop and none of us had the space for that at home.

How many members are involved?

We have about 70 names on our email list, over 150 members on our Facebook page, and about 50 paid members. We have been open about 3 years and over that time the numbers have been steadily growing. The tricky thing is trying to find an opening time that suits as many people as possible, so while we have the numbers who support us, not everyone turns up to every meeting. When we first started there were 3 of us running it, but over time that has reduced to 2 with a couple of people who are often free to help us as needed. We are now at the stage were we need to think about asking volunteers for their help in a more formal way. We are thinking of having "active members" who volunteer their time for reduced prices. However we need to think carefully before implementing anything as we have been advised that managing volunteers is often more time consuming that just doing it ourselves!!!

How often do you meet in the community hall?

We meet once a month - the last Tuesday of every month from 2 - 5pm. At the beginning of the year we were open from 3 - 5pm, but this was just too busy - being open 1 more hour just eases the pressure when lots of people arrive at the same time! We are happy to open more often if we think we will be supported, and this is something we are working on at the moment.

Does the co-op have a formalised structure? Memberships?

When we first started we needed to have a bank account and the only way we could do that was to become a Not for Profit incorporated business. So that's what we did. I guess we are really running it a bit like a small business. Membership is $20 per year, per household and for that members get products at good prices, non-members pay 20% more. Members are also able to bring their excess fruit and veg or jams, pickles, bread, cakes etc etc to swap or sell. We also hold workshops and members pay $5, non-members $10. The money for the workshops goes to the speakers (80%). This is to encourage members of the community to come forward to run a workshop, We think of the workshops as more of a skill share kind of thing - I don't like the idea of "teaching" each other, more sharing what we know. We really want to encourage community involvement and think of co-op as a community hub as opposed to just being a place to buy food. Nicola Hubbard and I work together behind the scenes to organise the workshops, products etc and for that we are now able to get paid a nominal fee - it is a lot less than the work we do, but it's a start!

Did it require much financial investment to get off the ground?

We had nothing but the $400 donation, which we used to buy our first products. Over the 3 years we have made enough to gradually buy buckets, scoops, a very expensive set of scales, a POS system, a computer and insurance. 

How much time does running to co-op take each week?

Now that we are organised and in a routine, it doesn't really take much. At the end of each meeting we have a rough idea of what we need more of for the next meeting, so it's a matter of putting in an order, updating the POS and product list and going to pick it up. We also sent out a monthly email with our workshop details for the following month and our latest product list. We put an ad in the local rag and that's about all. The most time-consuming part is the banking - we are happy for people to pay via a bank transfer as we don't have a card payment system yet, so we have to go through the sales and check them off as the money gets deposited then message anyone who has forgotten - this is a bit time consuming. We estimate that we spend about 10 hours a month between the two of us, then of course there's the time that co-op is open, but we think of that as the fun part!

How have you decided on the product range?

We're always open to new product ideas. Initially we just bought what we wanted as we knew that if we were left with it, we could buy it ourselves!!!! As time went on, people have suggested products they would like. The difficult part is keeping it simple. We are not in a position to have heaps and heaps of products yet and we have to keep in mind how long things like nuts stay fresh as we're only open once a month. We did get products from a variety of suppliers but that proved time consuming - more ordering, more time picking up etc, so now we mainly buy food from one supplier with a big range and a just a couple of other places occasionally. We aim for package free bulk foods, as local as possible and if possible organic. 

How has having access to food in this way impacted on the community?

Initially most of our members were people who were already thinking about waste and organic healthy food etc etc, but over the 3 years the range of types of people who are joining is widening, as they hear about the co-op so come to take a peep.. As both of us (organisers) work at the local school, and the hall is opposite, we are able to reach a broad range of people through the school newsletter. 
There has recently been some discussion on Bruny Island as to how to move forward within the community with the number of tourists etc. and one of the ideas is for the community hall to become a bit of a hub. We are trying to set that in motion by opening co-op at the same time as the community library, and the online access centre and encouraging people to pop in for a cuppa, bring the kids and say hi - building a bit of community spirit! 

Any lessons learnt or anything you'd do differently?

It is a commitment, but it is something that we both love, so that's no problem. I think if we had thought too much about it, we might never have started it as it can be quite daunting at times, so I guess my advice at this stage would be that if you are thinking of setting up something like this, to just do it! Buying a POS system has been a huge time saver (before that we were using an excel sheet and neither of us could understand excel!) and I'm glad we started properly from the beginning with our own bank account etc, rather than using our own bank accounts, then getting in difficulty with tax etc. As I mentioned before we need to really look at the way we run the co-op now as a business - we might find that we wish we had set it up differently, I'll let you know! Also, we never borrowed money or got into any debt etc, so actually there's no pressure - if it doesn't work, we can stop!!!! But for now that's the last thing we want to do.


Are you tackling Plastic Free July this year? How are you travelling with it so far?

We'll be talking in a few places in Hobart and Melbourne throughout the next month. You can find all dates for talks and workshops updated regularly, here.

We talk about food co-ops and other solutions for making waste-free living possible, and communities stronger, in our book 'A Family Guide to Waste-free Living', published by Plum. Signed copies are available in our shop, or you can find it in all good bookshops. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, you should have luck finding it at Book Depository, or in eBook format, available here. 

~ Lauren. x