<a href="http://www.gmagazine.com.au/blogs/richard#">Life in the Slow Food Lane</a>

Life in the Slow Food Lane

A look at the eco side of eating, with Richard Cornish

Embracing farmers

farmer in a field

Credit: iStockphoto + Carolyn Barry

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I grew up on a farm with soil so fertile we used to joke that if you planted toothpicks in it at night in the morning you'd have fence posts. We had to sell the farm to cover death duties in the 1980s. Now it's a hobby farm.

The bush has been cleared to make way for a garden and the recreational motorbikes roar over the earth that once produced food.

If I wanted to buy back the farm I'd have to come up with over $6 million - for just 60 hectares! I would have to make half a million dollars a year just to service the interest on a loan.

The phenomena of losing farmland to cities is happening across the nation. Some of our most fertile land surrounds our cities. Our British founding fathers chose sites that had fresh water and land to grow crops.

As our cities expand, our farming land disappears because it is more valuable for housing, industry or hobby farming. Our food has to travel further. It has to be grown in areas that less fertile and require more irrigation. Overall, it's a situation that is just not part of the national discussion.

Overseas people are voting with their wallets and are leading businesses and politicians by re-embracing their local farmers through farmer's markets, farm gate sales and pick your own.

In New York, the sector is worth $250 million annually with a steady rise in small businesses that support local farmers.

I spoke with David Mason, Leader Urban Agriculture with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries recently and he told me our city fringe farmland was under threat.

"Without community support Australian city fringe agriculture won't stand up. It will be priced out of the market. We will lose those farms that are near our cities," he said.

People can help protect their local farmers by attending the farmer's markets in our cities and buying directly from the farmers. People in regional areas should try to buy from road side stalls and farm gate shops.

David Mason said that his studies had shown that in the Northern Hemisphere people were buying from the farmer for several reasons. He said they believed the food was fresher, healthier and less expensive. The most interesting point was, however, that people were actually changing the way they spent their money to try to protect their farmers.

For more reading, check out www.urbanagricultureworldwide.com.