The wisdom to know the difference. CERES farm open day.

Monday, November 14th, 2016 at 9:00 am

Twenty-five years ago Premier Jeff Kennett took power in Victoria and with it he also took 90% of CERES’ funding.  Overnight teachers lost jobs, education programs were cut, a hard gloom descended over the park. After years of growing a living classroom from an old tip site, years of working bees, years of scraping funds together, years of building trust with schools, suddenly the boulder was back at the bottom of the mountain with less momentum than ever to get it rolling back up again. For a fledgling community group losing so much could have easily been the end. They’d given it a good shot, nobody could have blamed them if they walked away and got on with their lives……But they didn’t.

Instead, like a roomful of recovering alcoholics or cliche-hardened AFL footy players, the CERES members concluded that although what the government had done was brutal and unfair all they could do was focus on the things they could control. And through the gloom and the anger in that room somehow they saw it; somehow they saw it wasn’t the government or the lost money that made CERES.  CERES was the people sitting around them and it was people sitting around them who could save CERES.

What happened next set CERES on its course to this day.  The CERES members resolved that instead of relying on government money CERES would pay its way by providing education, plants and food for its community.  It created social businesses and ran them in a way that was as instructive as the environmental lessons taught to the ever-growing groups of school kids coming to the site.  It took many years but the social enterprises thrived, growing to provide 95% of CERES’ income today, employing over 150 people and supporting many other local businesses.

It’s often takes a terrible shock or some kind, a loss that brings us to our lowest, to our weakest, to the point that sparks us into the greatest change; the kind of surprising change that seems impossible even when we are at our strongest.  Last week, 25 years after Premier Jeff Kennett almost closed it down, CERES won the People’s Choice Award for the Premier’s Sustainability Awards. Power to the people.

Read more… 

Follow the Cabbage Green Road.

Monday, October 3rd, 2016 at 4:02 pm

Sauerkraut, formerly what eccentric Northern European uncles ate with their rye bread, blue vein and pickled herring, has in recent years become the unlikely hero of a gut-challenged generation.  Feting the famous fermented cabbage dish Fair Food is holding Krautsourcing Day; a Melbourne-wide kraut-making celebration next Saturday Oct 8th.

Now to the uninitiated fermenting a cabbage can present like one of those mysterious food skills such as cheese making or sourdough baking. There’s a magical element that requires communing with higher food powers. But like all transformational food journeys there comes a point where you just have to take a leap of faith or several leaps of faith.To find some sauerkraut leaping-in inspiration I talked to somebody who has travelled the cabbage green road many, many times – Georgie from Soul Strength Ferments in Anglesea.

Like so many people who find their way into the realm of ferments Georgie came to sauerkraut through a health crisis.

Every meal, I used to get bloated and eating was difficult for me. My  poor mental and gut health got me exploring and it just opened up a whole world of people, doing this stuff, trying to help themselves.  These days I eat sauerkraut with every meal and I find it makes foods easier to digest and has let me become a lot more creative with food.

What was it that drew you to sauerkraut?

Just everything I was into at the time; gardening, permaculture, food, health – sauerkraut seemed to tick all the boxes. It’s not just a food, it’s a world inside a jar.  And it has also helped create a connection here in Anglesea which I can’t describe – all of a sudden I’ve become part of a community. 

Over the years Georgie had worked in many Melbourne food business, including her parent’s famous bakery, Keith’s Pies in Richmond but never felt she belonged.  That was until a nervous move to Anglesea with partner, Johnny, changed everything.

Before I started Soul Strength I was quite isolated, I had no roots. The people here (in Anglesea) really want to support you, they want you to succeed.  Before my first market it was terrifying, I was saying I’m not ready, I’m not ready.  But people here hold you up, they just wont let you fail.

These days Georgie is a regular at markets down the Great Ocean Road and also sells into a couple of Melbourne stores.  The batches of sauerkraut have become bigger and bigger and Georgie’s Mum and Dad are returning the favour of her years helping out in the family bakery by coming down to help cut cabbage.

There was just so much cabbage that Dad rang the current owner of Keith’s Pies and he gave us a Robocoup food processor to help out. 

To make great sauerkraut Georgie says go with your intuition –

All flavours can make great kraut – try to incorporate herbs and spices you know your body needs. The other thing is you have to wait and you never know quite what you’re going get.

Sauerkraut’s been good to Georgie but it’s just a starting point.  After experiencing a few cabbage shortages Georgie and Johnny are looking to buy land to grow their own. It’s the next leap of faith; putting down a few more roots in her new home town.

You can find Georgie’s sauerkraut here and you can find the more info on Krautsourcing Day here.  If you want to get into contact email Monique on (that’s her making sauerkraut in the pic above).

More newsletter … 

Cinnamon – our flavour of the week. Communing with cabbage.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Some weeks the world lets you know you’re doing alright. Last Thursday it happened to our CEO Cinnamon Evans who took home the inaugural Mike Hill Environmental Sustainability Award in recognition of her 20 years of service at CERES.  That nod of recognition will be reinforced a little bit more this Thursday when Cinnamon speaks at the Global Social Economy Forum aka GSEF2016 in Montreal.

It isn’t, however, always awards and international speaking engagements for Cinnamon, in fact it hardly ever is. When you head up a beloved Melbourne institution like CERES, a place so many feel a sense of ownership over, the usual CEO fare is more of a balancing act working to keep community, partners, staff and board happy, informed, included.  And when this doesn’t happen the person they seek out is Cinnamon.

Twenty years ago when Cinnamon came to CERES to work as a teacher in the schools program (that’s Cinn above in the early 2000’s with kids and goats) her ability to organise and bring order to previously chaotic “systems” quickly became legendary, even spawning a verb “to cinnamonise” i.e. to organise to an extreme level.

It was this ability to manage the seemingly unmanageable that lead Cinn to the CEO’s role.  Taking over right in the middle of CERES’ own GFC moment Cinnamon had every right to run for the nearest exit – braver and saner souls surely would have.  But Cinnamon refused to give up on CERES and for 5 stressful years she dragged CERES out of a deep financial hole and back into the black. So this week Cinn, as you walk the city streets with a plate of Montreal’s best poutine, CERES and all those who sail in her take our hats off and salute you.

The pic above is Cinnamon Evans with CERES super-volunteer, Vic Cardamone at the Moreland Awards last week.

More on Krautsourcing … 

If we could be like Mike….

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016 at 12:56 pm

At a fledgling CERES site in 1984, aided by a crew of unemployed locals, Mike Hill started Australia’s first curbside recycling scheme.  Letter-boxing the neighbourhood Mike asked residents to put their newspapers, bottles and tin cans out on the nature strip in a bag.  And so people tentatively began “taking out the recycling”.  The next day Mike and the crew would collect it, bring it back to the now CERES Energy Park and sort it before it went to commercial recyclers. The community embraced the idea as did the Brunswick Council who saw the benefits and took over the scheme.  Other councils around Melbourne and Australia caught on and the rest as they say…….

Some people rail and rage at what comes through their TV news, social media feeds, talk-back radios. Some respond by clicking online petitions, writing letters to politicians or going on protest marches. And then there are the rare ones who go deep, get in and under, year after year turning up at public consultations, writing submissions, going to interminable committee meetings, gathering allies, standing for office and finally if there is no joy – just starting something themselves to make something happen.  Mike Hill was one of these people.

After CERES Mike became a councillor, then a mayor at Brunswick and Moreland Councils, he founded the Moreland Energy Foundation, the Victorian Local Government Association (VLGA), was a board member with the EPA, chair of ECOBuy, Keep Australia Beautiful Council, The Natural Resources League, vice chair of Sustainability Victoria and all the while an accidental award winning developer at Westwyck eco-housing development.  For decades he’s kept turning up, usually on his bike, and the list of things he’s done and the number of people he’s guided, influenced, helped seems impossible.

The first stories I heard about Mike Hill was how as Mayor of Brunswick he had once impounded all the Optus vehicles for not asking permission to attach their cables to poles owned by the people of Brunswick and how later he’d successfully fought to keep roosters in the backyards of Moreland.  He was not afraid to jump in during a crisis but it was his ability to nurture partnerships and build networks like the Victorian Local Government Association that saw him bring local and state governments together to make large scale environmental changes not just to our everyday lives but to our consciousness as well.

There are some things now we just take for granted; council recycling services, domestic solar energy, bike paths, backyard chickens, rainwater tanks.  But not long ago these things were considered fringe, impractical, hippyish (the last two were, until quite recently, illegal). Through his energy, vision and influence so many of these things that make our city so progressive, so wonderfully liveable have been made possible. So this week when you roll your recycling out to the curb take a moment to thank Mike.

Mike Hill died at home last week. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, especially partner, Lorna Pitt (pictured below), who has also been involved with CERES for many years.  His funeral service and celebration of his life and contribution to the community will be held in the Coburg Town Hall this Tuesday at 11am.

Have a great week


Opium, Billy Tea and Tamil Feasting

Monday, July 18th, 2016 at 9:42 am

So about 200 years ago the British public started getting a taste for tea – it helped clothing factory workers on long shifts stay awake and not get sucked into the steam powered machinery. The Brits bought their tea from the Chinese who had discovered it along with most everything else thousands of years previously.  The Chinese fairly reasonably wanted to be paid in gold or silver for their tea.   The Brits weren’t keen on this payment method and offered opium instead which caused a lot of friction with the narcotic averse Chinese.  Things got tense. There was stand off and a shoot-out.

Meanwhile the Brits, who were working on a side project to rule the world, decided they’d bypass the Chinese and grow their own tea on an island they’d recently picked up from the Dutch – it was Ceylon of course.  The standard job description for tea growing wasn’t great; long hours, low pay, cold, wet, monotonous.  Accommodation was windowless and communal with up to 23 others.  Prospects for advancement were zero. The Brits definitely weren’t keen and the local Sinhalese couldn’t be persuaded either, so the pragmatic Brits persuaded tens of thousands of impoverished Indian Tamils to sign up as indentured (read one step up from slavery) labourers to come to Ceylon to grow the tea.

With tea growing sorted the Brits got busy taking over the world, taking their tea with them as they went – including to Australia, where tea took on a very central role in the settlement/invasion.  Billy tea was the drink of miners, drovers, swagmen and bush poets and along with damper, it fueled the expansion of the new colony.  The tea leaves of course came from Ceylon and they were picked by generations of indentured Tamils.

Cut to Sri Lanka 1983 – after 200 years of tea picking and doing all the other jobs nobody else wanted to do the Tamils started asking for the same opportunities as everybody else.  The answer from the Sinhalese was “No” and a vicious civil war ensued.  26 years and 100,000 dead later the Sri Lankan Army had the rebel Tamil Tiger forces trapped.  In the final months of fighting an estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians died and another 300,000 Tamil civilians were forced from their homes.

Predictably many Tamils fled; most to refugee camps in India but some went further afield.  A few came to Australia but instead of being embraced as the folk who had fueled a million campfire cuppas the Tamil refugees ran smack into what could be described as the peak of our country’s “Stop the Boats”  era – a time characterised by our political parties competing to be meanest to anyone coming to Australia in a boat.

Accordingly the Tamils were placed into endless detention – predictably they felt hopeless and depressed – some attempted suicide. In an effort to stop the Tamils going mad and killing themselves, the people who ran the detention centre in Broadmeadows turned up at CERES to begin an unofficial cooking program. Meals were cooked, friendships were made and when CERES staff came to eat the food everybody was blown away. Not long after the cooking program ended the Tamils were finally released into the community.  Heads were put together over a kitchen table and a project was hatched.

This is how the award winning Tamil Feasts project began exactly a year ago.  Four Tamil chefs, Nigethan, Sri, Nirma & Niro, who spent 6 lost years in immigration detention, have now served over 70,000 meals to sell-out feast after Tamil feast, sharing their food and telling their stories to the people they now share a country with. Happy birthday guys!

Tamil Feasts are on Monday and Tuesday (vego/vegan) at the CERES Community Kitchen at 6:30pm. These three-course feasts are a slamming deal for only $30. Kiddos-sized plates without the spice are $20. Bubs are free! With an ever-changing menu, no two feasts are the same and you couldn’t tell this story without mentioning Dori – who has given it her everything to make Tamil Feasts happen.

Have a great week


Smalt: Oh fudge! The best cooking job in Melbourne.

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Sometimes when you’re away from home a thing finds its way into your life that you find so engaging, so joyful, so essential it comes to define your future and maybe even who you are.  Because when you come home and you find the thing isn’t available you decide, with the fervour of the newly enlightened, that you’ll just make the thing yourself.  And so the research begins and with your disciple’s eyes you see evidence of the thing wherever you look – secret words, forgotten techniques, special equipment.  You stumble across revered pioneers and their guides laying out the journey ahead.

A previously secret door has opened and you speak in tongues about the thing to bemused friends.  You find yourself on pilgrimages to odd places to attend thing workshops, open days and product demonstrations. You try out your experimental batches of the thing on unsuspecting family members and spend your Christmas break fixing up a kitchen or a workshop or buying some specialised piece of thing-making equipment that costs more than a decent used car.

Then you’re being supported by an understanding partner, working your regular job 2 days a week, selling the thing from a market stall and cold-calling businesses to ask if maybe they might be, possibly interested in buying a wholesale quantity of the thing.  And then all of sudden when somebody does actually order your thing and some other people seek you out to get some for their shop and others come to write a thing article or invite you to run a thing workshop and you realise you’ve become the thing person.

Bonnie Halliday discovered her thing was cold smoking rock salt and of course she couldn’t find any locally and of course she became the cold smoked salt person.

Bonnie learned through trial and error that apple wood made the best smoke and found her best salt took a whole day to smoke. She found her special equipment in the form of a Butch cold smoker, a tall heavy duty steel box connected by copper tubing to an old oak wine barrel.

Like a true believer Bonnie cold smoked anything she could think of; dairy, meat, nuts, fish, honey and salt of course. And then one day Bonnie discovered that although almost everything tasted good with cold smoked salt there was something that tasted really, really good with cold smoked salt – it was fudge.

Bonnie brings her fudge to the Fair Food warehouse in this large Tupperware container.  She transfers the small hand wrapped parcels of fudge into a cardboard box and takes her Tupperware home.

When Alex, Fair Food’s grocery buyer, first brought a pack of Bonnie’s fudge over to try she apologised for the inevitable addiction she was about to enable.  God!  Fudge, was there ever a more onomatopoeic word?  After eating half the pack I had to ask for it to be taken away to another part of the building before I slipped into an artisanal fudge coma.  And in that moment with my mind swimming in a fug of smoky sweetness I struggled to articulate my thanks to Bonnie for discovering her thing.

Bonnie sells her salt and fudge at markets around Melbourne – you can also find Smalt in the webshop.

Read more …

Vic Cardemone is a fixer. What to do with those window bags.

Sunday, June 12th, 2016 at 2:10 pm

In the Fair Food car park a delivery truck returns from a run with its back step dangling off in an alarming angle. Andrew, the driver, gives it a few tugs and the whole thing breaks off, hitting the concrete with a clang.  The call goes over to the CERES Site Team and Vic Cardemone wanders over to take a look.  Vic looks over the broken step and under the truck where it came off. The truck disappears over to the Site workshop and returns later, the step not just fixed but totally redone, held together with strong clean welds, reinforced with a piece of recycled box steel.  The whole thing made better than before.

Vic Cardemone has been fixing things around CERES for the past 14 years, he started volunteering not long after he retired from his job in the workshop at Caterpillar, the heavy machinery company.  Working through a never-ending list of things needing building or fixing, in his own way Vic has kept CERES going and perhaps CERES has kept him going too. Vic turned 80 the other day, (that’s him above watching on uncertainly as his 80 candles are ignited with a blow torch).

When it comes to recycling things CERES is a place of huge optimism but the gap between the dream and the reality of making some pile of old rusty steel into something useful is regularly summed up by Vic’s well-worn refrain, “What is this f#*!ing s#%t!?”.  Invariably however, what emerges is quite the opposite. The results of Vic’s patience and skill can be found all over CERES in resurrected gates, bike racks, meter cages, fortress-like steel cupboards and endlessly repaired wheel barrows, trolleys and vehicles.

And like so many “no longer required” people and things that come to CERES, Vic’s story is another line in the universal CERES song – a mantra sung to our throw-away world.  In an old unwanted rubbish tip, there is an old unwanted man, making old unwanted things, new again.

Happy Birthday Vic


CERES is appealing

Monday, May 30th, 2016 at 6:13 pm


For the most part CERES generates its money through social enterprises like Fair Food, but there’s a gap (there’s always a gap). Once a year we put it out there and ask for your help.  It’s a one time thing – we hit you up and then let everybody get on with it.  See our spiel below, normal newsletter transmission resumes next week.
Dear CERES supporter,

In the beginning, back when CERES was an unused rubbish tip, when the Merri Creek was a sewer for Kodak and all the other factories upstream. Back when Brunswick was a suburb of closing shoe and textile factories and people were losing their jobs. Back when there wasn’t a single tree between the Roberts Street front gate and the Merri creek – there was a small group of neighbours who came to this small piece of polluted land and wanted to do something good.

There was no master plan; they just cleaned up, they planted trees, made fences out of hard rubbish, cobbled together garden plots and chicken coops and they started teaching school kids how to look after our land and water better.  Years passed and slowly a beautifully chaotic, leafy sanctuary of veggies and chickens and school kids and young parents and bike fixers and solar geeks and preservers and community gardeners seeking respite from a busy, concrete world coalesced from this primal community soup and emerged as CERES.

There was no leader, no charismatic visionary, people just played their parts, gave their time, came and went, came and went. Thirty-four years later CERES remains – this hopeful little piece of land surrounded by a city with its eyes glued to screens, its mind filled with property development, its belly wracked by an insatiable appetite for material things.

And each year around this time we ask for your help to keep CERES – CERES. Because every year almost half a million of you come through the front gate to learn, to grow, to meet, to share ideas, to just span time watching the chickens. You come to this special, chaotic, hopeful oasis in the middle of the city that couldn’t have been made by a government or a corporation.  And we ask you to give because together you made CERES and only you can keep on making it.

CERES plays a long game; one day the 60,000 school children who come to learn at CERES will run this country.  They come to use green technology, to work in food gardens and to talk with indigenous teachers about cultures who live in harmony with the world around them.  And there’ll be things they see, hear, smell, touch and taste at CERES that will help them understand that our needs and desires for food, shelter and energy are intimately connected with the fates of our creeks and rivers, our insects and tadpoles, our chickens and our kingfishers, our gardens and forests.

Take a look around Australia and the world, there’s no place quite like CERES. The money you give today helps CERES work with hundreds of volunteers each month (people like Pete below on the left).  It helps put thousands of plants in the ground. Helps workers like Ellie (below on the right) welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, people who just want to do something good, something hopeful like the neighbours who came here more than 30 years ago and began cleaning up an old rubbish tip.

Today CERES is a symbol for hope, embodied by the land it sits on: because the damage we do can be fixed – if we choose to fix it.  Some people have their walking groups or sporting clubs, some their churches – if you want to be part of something meaningful, something to belong to, to barrack for, to believe in, then make CERES your group, your club, your church, your place.

Donate here 
If you donated, thank you.  Your donation is tax deductible.

Have a great week

CERES Harvest Festival – Peace, prosperity & an eBay goddess

Sunday, March 13th, 2016 at 10:06 am

A few weeks ago in a newsletter I was digressing about the joy of discovering the cornucopia that’s depicted on our very own Victorian coat of arms. Seemingly mundane at first glance, on closer examination I was struck by its offbeat imagery; a  kangaroo levitating in a lavishly decorated medieval jousting helmet while two toga-clad ladies nonchalantly showed off olive leaves and various agricultural products in a style reminiscent of a stand at a fresh food expo on a slow day.    But beyond its offbeat wackiness there was something about this picture, something that’s been nagging away in the back of my mind for weeks now.

It was as our yearly harvest festival approached “that something”  finally clicked into place. I was thinking about the origins of our name CERES and had been revisiting a poem of Ovid’s sent to me by an old friend with a very expensive and esoteric education….

Ceres was the first
to split open the grassland with a ploughshare,
the first to plant corn and nurse harvests.
She was the first to give man laws.
Everything man has he owes to Ceres,
so now I sing of her
and so I pray my song may be worthy
of this great goddess
for surely she is worthy of the song.

Then later while browsing for images of Ceres I happened upon this bronze statue on eBay  (that’s her down there, she’s going for $120 btw). Instantly everything came together. The eBay statue and the woman on the coat of arms!  They were the same!  It was Ceres, her head crowned with a wreath of wheat, her harvest spilling out of her cornucopia.  It was her right under my nose, all these years watching over us, the symbol of our state standing above that banner, proclaiming our  motto, Peace and Prosperity.

I suspect that back in the day the Peace and Prosperity motto alluded to the enforcement of laws upon local populations, both indigenous, convict and poor, so that “gentlemen of the Empire” were unhindered to take as much from Ceres as she would give.

But today, in another age, an age of climate change and with an ecology ready to crack,  Peace and Prosperity now requires us to care for Ceres – in fact more than care for her, to actually give back more than we take, so that future generations may follow us and tell their own stories of Ceres, celebrate their own harvests and draw their own funny coats of arms.

Each year CERES Harvest Festival celebrates and gives thanks to the good earth, our farmers and the cycle of the seasons.  CERES Harvest Festival is happening this Saturday 19th March, 10am to 3pm Cnr Stewart and Roberts Sts Brunswick East. Entry $5 and kids free.

P.s.  Don’t forget this Saturday to share your surplus on “Put a zucchini on your neighbour’s doorstep” Day.

Have a great long weekend


A week for lenticels and a bit of summer fattoushery.

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 1:41 pm

The Seven Stars have been making their delicious Turkish and Kurdish food at CERES since 2007. Starting as a social enterprise project with AMES, this passionate group of Alevi women who wanted to get out of the house and into the world have used their strong food culture as a springboard to do just about everything – from running a Turkish barbecue at CERES market to catering for weddings (including my own) to feeding Jack Johnson on his Australian Tours. Seven Stars have been making dips for Fair Food and the Merri Table Cafe for years now and at a very generous 250g (as opposed to those lightweight 200g supermarket dips) you get every chance to taste the love. Was $5.95, now $5.45More specials and things …