CERES: different & good / Tamil Feasts go on the road

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 at 2:00 pm

CERES doing different and good

In the beginning, back in the early eighties when Brunswick’s textile industry was packing up and heading for China. Back when local businesses were still using the Merri Creek as a sewer. Back when a culture of community mindedness was becoming swamped by a culture of shopping.  A small group of people decided to do something different, something good in their neighbourhood.

On a treeless former bluestone quarry cum rubbish tip nobody knew much about community gardens, clean energy, or environmental education. But they got to work anyway; they cleaned up, they planned and planted.  They recycled buildings and made garden plots out of piles of leftover blue stone. They got in the ears of politicians and scraped together funding.

And slowly, slowly out of this primordial community soup emerged a beautifully chaotic, leafy sanctuary that drew teachers and students, bike fixers and solar geeks, urban farmers and social entrepreneurs, parents and children and a myriad of tiny community groups seeking a home.

Projects emerged; like Australia’s first kerbside recycling scheme, early demonstrations of solar and wind power, kitchen gardens, social enterprise and of course the hands-on lessons that helped thousands of school children understand that the way we live is entwined with the fates of our insects and animals, our rivers and creeks, our forests and fields….our everything.

If you look around Australia there’s no place like CERES. Today we receive almost a million visits a year to our park, online and through CERES’ programs in hundreds of Victorian schools. People of all ages use CERES to learn, to grow, to meet, to share ideas, to connect with food, energy, water and culture.  And each year at this time we ask you to join with that original group of neighbours to keep CERES doing the different things, the good things.

Anything but standard honey

Monday, April 3rd, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Last Saturday at the CERES Harvest Festival and practical beekeeper Benedict Hughes, unveiled the wonderful new Display Hive that he and the CERES Bee Group have finally finished building.  Benedict and CERES CEO, Cinnamon Evans, told the story of the Display Hive listing all the people involved over the years and it reminded me of an old standard; a song played and reinterpreted so many times at CERES that its tune and rhyme feels like part of our collective DNA.  

This is a song about the coming into being of things we hold dear.  Like an old standard the song of the Display Hive was a work of many authors.  A story of knowledge passed down and kept alive by previous generations of beekeepers and given value here again.  A story of people giving what labour they could, adding their touches, big and small, before moving on.  A story of happy coincidences, timely arrivals, gifts of money and materials breathing life and form into an idea, a vision that we now stand in front of today.  

In the future thousands of excited school students and the next generation of eager beekeepers will peer through this glass, just inches from the hive and witness the builders making the comb, the cleaners preparing cells for larvae and nectar, the nurses caring and feeding the young, the fanners, with their wings a-blur, air conditioning the others.  They won’t know about all the hands that put this hive here but they may take the idea, the vision and make the song their own some other time, some place else.   

The CERES Bee Group is open to the public and meets on the 3rd Sunday of every month to introduce people to the art of bee keeping.  The group has a small number of spare protective veils, just bring long trousers, boots and a long sleeved shirt, some rubber or leather gloves and a narrow brimmed hat.

Benedict Hughes is also running a formal workshop for beginner beekeepers on Saturday 29th April at CERES.  Find out more here.

Have a great week


Diary runneth over / No box left behind > 2018 Target

Monday, February 20th, 2017 at 12:10 pm

There’s so much going on over the next month I had to make a program……

Passata Making Workshop –  Sunday 26th February

I’m not sure how many tomato saucing devices Monique Miller has at home, but she’d easily be in the highest percentile of sauce equipment ownership in Australia. Monique, in preparation for this year’s 21 Days of Crowdsaucing, is holding a passata making workshop at CERES. Aimed at turning the uncertain sauce-maker into a feisty nonna ready to lead loved ones through the travails of passata production.  After spending a day saucing with Monique you’ll never look at a cheap tin of Italian tomatoes quite the same way again.  Bookings here

Tamil Feasts at The Brunswick Bowling Club –  Sunday, 26th February

First I was going to plug the second Tamil Feast at Joe’s Market Garden tomorrow but it’s sold-out again! There is however, for all you lawn bowling fans, Tamil Feasts’ Lawn Bowls & Curry Bowls at Brunswick Bowling Club.  For the uninitiated Tamil Feasts are put on each week by Niro, Sri, Nigathan, Nirma, four Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers who spent six years in Australian immigration detention centres.  Ably assisted by the wonderful Dori (tears of joy) Ellington, over the past 2 years this unlikely crew has shared food and stories touching the hearts of thousands in sold-out feast after sold-out feast. 

The String Contingent at Joe’s Market Garden –  Friday, 3rd March

CERES farmer, Emily Connors, is always thinking outside the waxed cauliflower box; this time she’s come up with the garden companions of classical music and urban agriculture. Now a market garden might not be the first venue that comes to mind when you’re considering catching some high-end classical strings  – but just float the image of sunset down by the Merri Creek, a garden-side picnic blanket, some nibbles and the world class String Contingent and it all starts to make perfect sense.    Bring a chair, rug, cushions and some extra cash for a CD and a special veggie show bag.  Tickets here.

CERES’ Harvest Festival  Saturday, 25th March

The biggest thing happening anywhere in Brunswick East this year, the Harvest Festival is where CERES give thanks to our good earth.  There’s the famous baking competition judged by hard but fair Country Women’s Association judges. The competition is fierce and the best thing is you can buy the cakes afterwards.  This year there’s a new preserves competition section judged by Caroline from A Bit of Jam and Pickle .  There’s also an animal petting zoo, free workshops, music, face painting, food and 10 acres of CERES  – info here  

Crowdsaucing – March & April

If you’ve ever wanted to get your family, friends and neighbours together, put your favourite accordion album on and turn a small mountain of romas into delicious passata – then this is the event for you.  Last year on Crowdsaucing Day we supported Australian farmers and preserved 5 tonnes of local tomatoes at over 100 crowdsaucings across Melbourne.  This year, to maximise the number of local tomatoes sauced and weekends to sauce them, we are going for 21 days of Saucing through late March and April.  read more here

Put A Zucchini on Your Neighbour’s Doorstep Day –  Saturday, 25th March

PAZOYND Day, as it’s fondly  known, will coincide this year with CERES Harvest Festival. PAZOYND Day is a spontaneous celebration of backyard produce sharing and neighbourliness.  Not restricted to zucchinis or squashes, PAZOYND Day encourages the informal distribution of any home grown fruit or vegetable item, fresh or preserved in order to promote greater harmony and less food waste in your hood.  (A warning – zucchinis and other produce can be a trip hazard – please place your produce with care). 


Rejoice – home compostable eco-cellophane. CERES – aiming for zero.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 at 1:13 pm

In the week before Christmas Alex,Fair Food’s grocery buyer, sent a joyous email out ….

The day has finally come – I can now say with confidence that all of our pre-packed dry goods come in biodegradable/ compostable packaging. Well, not quite – we still pack salad mix/cleaners etc in degradable plastic bags as we haven’t yet managed to find an appropriate alternative. But certainly the new compostable eco-cellophane bags we’ve introduced for our pre-packed dry goods (rice, nuts, dried fruit, legumes etc) are the greenest of all!”

Packaging is a long road, I mean ideally we’d just collect reusable containers from your house/food host fill them with your desired groceries and bring them back to you. We’re not there yet but in the meantime we’ve been on this continuing search for packaging that has a small energy footprint,comes from renewable sources and doesn’t leave our creeks lined with those apocalyptic plastic Christmas trees every time it floods.

So Alex found this eco-cellophane – which is made from cellulose, which is made from wood pulp, that is sustainably harvested from Forest Stewardship Council managed forests, that’s also been certified home compostable.  There are bio-plastics around that say they’re compostable, which is true but only in an industrial-style hot composting facility not in your add-a-bit-at-a-time home compost or worm farm so we’re very excited that these eco-cellophane bags break down in a home compost in two weeks. They’re also marine degradable.

Oh and while we’re talking packaging, we’re continuing the No Box Left Behind Campaign from last year, where we’re asking you help save all the forests, all the lakefulls of water and all the kilowatts of energy that go into making the tens of thousands of Fair Food cardboard boxes we send out into the world each year.

You can get involved in NBLB simply by flat-packing your Fair Food cardboard boxes and leaving them out at your food host or your house for our drivers to pick up (same goes for all the eskys and frozen water bottles, just don’t flat-pack them).

More … 

Tamil Feasts meets Joe’s Market Garden. Unglut Your Gut – last week to join.

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 at 9:06 am

On the last Tuesday evening in January two of CERES’ most dynamic worlds collide when Tamil Feasts go down to Joe’s Market Garden to feed the people. Brimming with talent like a seventies supergroup, only not so overblown as say an Emerson Lake and Palmer, these shooting stars of social enterprise promise an evening by the creek to remember

Tamil Feasts, in case you’ve never heard, are four Tamil men, Niro, Nirma, Sri & Nigethan, who spent 6 years in limbo at various Australian immigration detention centres.   After gaining community release they joined forces with the incredible Dori Ellington to start Tamil Feasts at CERES. A Tamil feast is a night of delicious Sri Lankan food and story telling. With their generous spirits and exquisite food these men have touched the hearts and stomachs of over 75,000 diners in sell-out meal after sell-out meal.

And then there’s Joe’s Market Garden, sitting on a bend of the Merri Creek just below Bell St, Joe’s has been feeding city residents for over 150 years making it possibly Melbourne’s oldest continually farmed vegetable patch . Originally established by Chinese market gardeners in gold rush times it was bought by Joe Garita’s family in 1945 – interestingly this was soon  after Joe and his father were released from detention as “enemy aliens” during World War II.  In 2003, as he eased into retirement, Joe gave the garden to CERES’ farmers to continue feeding the people. Today Vince (Joe’s cousin) and his protege, Em, tend the land and continue to plant the seeds Joe that has passed on.

Now, I couldn’t think of a better place to eat food cooked with feeling by Niro, Nirma, Sri & Nigethan and hosted by gorgeously gregarious farmer Em. Tickets have been selling like hot dosas so get in quick and if you don’t make it down on Tuesday, then you can catch a Tamil Feast each Monday, Tuesday and Friday at CERES (Melbourne’s most beloved ex-tip and environment park). And you can also buy fresh produce direct from Joe’s Market Garden, catch some local music and generally enjoy a bit of tranquil bustle (if that’s a thing) every Saturday between 9am-1pm at Joe’s Farm Gate.

More … 

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 Education.at 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 foodhosts@ceresfairfood.org.au (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