"You can't heal Country unless you're on it, unless you're living with Her" Ajay, Bush To Bowl... The way forward is Listening. Listening to Country, listening to the natural intelligence of our landscapes, listening to the people who have been caring for Country since Time Immemorial … and listening to each other.
On one hand, the regenerative agriculture movement calls us to move away from systems of domination and depletion that were sewn into farming by industrial agriculture and colonisation. On the other hand, the regenerative agriculture (or "regen ag") movement is an opportunity to move towards techniques of cultivating culture, food, fibre, medicine (and raw materials for soap!) that hear and elevate the wisdom of Nature. Since Time Immemorial, First Nation Australian communities have listened to Country. These threads of reciprocal care weave a fabric of spiritual, scientific and economic relationships between the resources which sustain all life on Earth; knowing that as we people care for Country, Country cares for us. These ways of knowing predate and transcend the dualism that defines Western cultures' relationship with nature; the dualism that separates human animals from our non-human kin. These ways of knowing underpin the ancient and evolving legacies of Traditional Ownership, Science and Custodianship that continue to expertly manage land, water, fire, air and Story across the Countries and Sea Countries now known as Australia. And these ways of knowing meet the Dr. Bronner’s family legacy in a loving handshake that says, here on planet Earth - we are All One.
See in Western culture, scarcity, urgency and competition have displaced many of us from a core truth. A truth it’s time to re-member ourselves to. The truth that the incarnate network of life that we call Nature thrives on diversity and abundance. Or as renowned botanist, author and Potawatomi Citizen, Robin Wall Kimmerer, puts it “all flourishing is mutual”.
Despite the violence of colonisation, First Nations communities around the globe have not forgotten this truth and nor have ecosystems. We need only look to any thriving ecosystem to see that a defining quality is diversity. So, while Western culture tends to embed homogeneity into the architecture of our society, human communities are just like non-human animals: diversity, abundance, role specificity, reciprocity and where and how we belong matter to us. At this tipping point in humanity and planetary boundaries, any actions towards a better story for the future must be based on this truth and re-member us to these mutually beneficial qualities. Thankfully, they are at the core of First Nations knowledges and the "regen ag" movement is listening.
In my work as dirtgirl, my postgraduate academic studies and in my current role as the Ambassador for Dr. Bronner’s Australia, I’ve had the joy and privilege of hanging out with a wide range of legends who are writing better stories for the future. Mainstream media is geared away from this kind of empowering narrative, but I tell ya - there’s alotta good people out there, on the ground, doing their best for each other and for the next generation. And once you get your hearts together and hands in the soil, it’s hard not to feel a bit of hope.
Recently I got to spend a good few hours with a few of these good people. It was an ”unseasonably” warm Friday for late Winter... inverted commas = a nod to the increasingly redundant term, due to a warming and drying climate… but yes. It was an “unseasonably” warm Friday when I drove past the driveway of Bush to Bowl, and happily legged it by foot a few hundred metres back alongside whirring traffic to their bright yellow sign. I recognised it from social media. My friend and Central Coast food community champion, Sue Bradley, had brought Bush to Bowl to my attention in early 2020, which as it turns out, was also early for Bush to Bowl itself. Since then, I've followed Clarence and Ads with respect, curiosity and joy as they’ve admirably expanded their baby and team, time and time again. And their baby ain’t a baby anymore.
Bush to Bowl is a business. It was co-founded by its innovative and incisive owners who I just mentioned - Clarence Bruinsma and Adam Byrne (or Ads, as he is so affectionately referred to by most people who know him). Clarence is a proud Yaegl man and Adam is a proud Garigal man, making Bush to Bowl a successful, 100% Aboriginal owned enterprise now in its third, going on fourth, year. The small but mighty team describe themselves as being “aimed at creating a healing space and platform for First Nations people by connecting to Country and their traditional foodways… We practice our culture on a daily basis by giving back to Country, our Mob and the wider community”.
Now, Clarence and Ads might own the business, but Ajay, their Produce Manager, was driving when I rocked up that Friday. Sharp as a tack, impeccable with his word, walking his truth and shining from the inside out, Ajay met me with an embrace that I'm privileged to have felt. Inside the main shed was a bar next to a table and chairs, and across the bar were spread lemon myrtle leaves, pepper berry, strawberry gum and more. This is a big part of what Ajay, and Bush To Bowl, know and do so well - igniting curiosity in others and harnessing it to educate people about the diverse world of bushfoods and the vibrant, ongoing culture they encompass. Engaging people through their senses, Bush to Bowl creates a profound version of an experience the wider regenerative agriculture movement touches on: that when we connect with our cells and our heart, as well as our minds, we form an undeniable and unforgettable connection with what matters to us. Smell it, love it - it's much harder to go back!
As Ajay says, "You can't heal Country unless you're on it… Unless you're living with Her". This brings us to the importance of Story. In regenerative ways of agriculture, plants, produce, inputs, yields… do not exist in isolation. It's about the relationships in-between. Stewards of land are called to step back in order to step forwards. And when they do, it's with a wider aperture for seeing the subtleties of who works together (and how) in our landscapes, naturally.
This wisdom is also central to the offerings of Bush To Bowl, because stories that define and celebrate relationships between all kin are stitched into the fabric of their People's sciences and spirituality.
While sitting in the sunshine, interrupted only by a noisy Kookaburra, Ajay threaded this intelligent thinking into even some of our simplest convo's. Like when we were talking about how everyone can be a part of writing a better story for the future, and what better place to start than at their place - or your place!
"Pick a plant that's going to give you flowers straight away, or in 12 months. Then pick a tree that's going to give you fruit in two years. And make it a journey... our natives are pretty good at looking after themselves. But then you'll notice your garden will continue to change and you'll end up with fruit, you'll end up with flavours you didn't have at the start. And your journey keeps going..." Ajay.
I'm so deeply grateful to Ajay, and the Bush To Bowl community, for sharing their vision and the vision of those who came before them, with me.
I will leave you with some of the key words that continue to echo for me, as emerging and blooming legacies of Bush to Bowl and the wider Regenerative Agriculture movement:
Start where you are and grow big…
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