Regenerative farm 96 Bangalow is proving the economic benefits of composting and local production in the Northern Rivers community, with plans to accelerate its circular economy approach using data from Mandalay Technologies.
In the agricultural industry, the term provenance is linked to knowing the origins of where your food came from.
Understanding where food has travelled from can be difficult to ascertain, as there can be multiple stakeholders involved in the supply chain.
Fortunately, growing food and keeping it within a reduced radius has numerous benefits, from reduced greenhouse gas emissions associated with fewer trucks on the road, to supporting local industries.
This method is one of the guiding aims of regenerative farm – 96 Bangalow. Based in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, 96 Bangalow functions as both a place to dispose of food waste and grow local crops.
SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY
The company’s mission is to develop a space which helps create a healthy lifestyle through regenerative land use and sustainable processes. It aims to create zero emissions while supporting ecological values and sustainable economies, supplying the community with locally grown produce, services, employment and education.
The facility operates on an 86-acre property that was once a cattle and stone fruit farm. Now, it has transformed into a place that seeks to close the waste loop and build a circular economy.
Blair Beattie, Project Manager at 96 Bangalow, says its regenerative agricultural practices and systems have been providing food for the community while diverting waste from landfills. The company has partnered with local cafes such as Harvest, sustainable consultancy firm Trust Nature, restaurants such as Barrio and a number of others.
“We work with local cafés and restaurants to supply them with bins, as well as educating them about source separation with best practice information. It’s vital that things like onions and plastics are filtered out into a different waste stream,” Blair says.
“We collect that waste and use it for composting, in our worm farms and for premium food for our plants.”
He says the company is in an excellent position to help the local community and businesses embrace a provenance style of consumption.
“Our aim is to help the entire shire become a purchasing platform for local growers. We want to cut down on the transport costs associated with food production.”
Blair says at the moment, it’s not uncommon to see stock being shipped up to Queensland, only to be distributed back to NSW.
“That’s a lot of kilometres and wasted time that leaves food just sitting there when it should be eaten. We aim to ensure sure that the community is purchasing locally grown food, but also disposing of that waste locally as well.”
Blair says the farm has been steering clear of monoculture farming practices and wants to promote Australian bush foods.
“Our bush food laboratory has been really great as an educator. Restaurants have gotten people into it, as well as people looking for some variation in gourmet diets,” he says.
“We’re taking a permaculture approach to how we grow our plants. We plan to use a system called successional agroforestry, which involves planting timber, fruits and perennials in the same area to create a food forest,” he says.
“It means we don’t have to spend time fertilising or mulching, because the system supplies all inputs and the plants are more resilient, so there’s less of a need for pesticides. It produces nutritious products while helping plants come to fruit production quicker.”
A LEARNING PROCESS
Blair says the community has been eager to get involved and learn how to be more environmentally conscious.
“Education is one of our passions, because a lot of people haven’t had great experiences composting at home. Compost produced in a household should ideally be done in an aerobic state, but for most, it becomes anaerobic, as it’s not maintained properly. With the right education, compost can be made without pests, smells or slime.”
At the moment, 96 Bangalow has three worm farms in operation, providing the company with valuable nutrients in the form of worm juice and castings. This is used as a nutrient to assist in plant growth.
96 Bangalow is planning on upscaling their operation, but to do that, Blair says they need a solid backend system of data.
“It’s baby steps at the moment, but we’re hoping to really expand our systems. We plan to work closely with Byron Shire Council and businesses in the area to try and tap into the market with local growers,” he says.
“We can provide businesses with a healthy and environmentally friendly narrative, which we hope will incite change in consumers. When people learn how much waste is being sent to landfill, they’re usually quite shocked.”
To support its expansion, 96 Bangalow has been working with software specialists Mandalay Technologies to start collecting and analysing its business intelligence.
“When we have the data, we can begin to monitor business behaviours. It can help us with feedback from growers and gives us a deeper understanding about what waste will be created and where, and how we can tap into that to utilise it for our facility,” Blair says.
“It means we can keep track of how much we can intake and onsell to growers. If we’re able to record sales data, movements, purchases and quantities on a backend, we can properly prepare for how much organic matter we receive.”
Simon Kalinowski, Mandalay Technologies Managing Director and 96 Bangalow owner, says he bought the business a year ago to support the creation of a circular economy. He says taking food from the surrounding businesses and converting it into compost allows the circular economy to take effect.
Simon says the idea for the business was inspired by his own personal journey of having grown up in the Northern Rivers and later worked in a city. He notes that often we’re detached from the realities of food production and waste, which is why he encourages Mandalay staff to work remotely on the farm.
“Our goal is to understand how we can incorporate sustainability into our lives. Our developers will spend part of their fortnight in the farm gardening and understand the cycle of food and soil,” he says.
Simon says 96 Bangalow is able to move waste in around 15 to 20 minutes – keeping transport costs to a minimal.
“You’ve got thousands of regions in Australia that are struggling with economic problems, yet consumers are still purchasing their meat or fruit from places that are grown thousands of kilometres away and that just doesn’t make sense,” Simon says.
“On a macro scale, and when you think about it from a consumer perspective, if you are purchasing food that is grown locally in your area it’s probably one of the best ways to build economic and job security.”
He says applying some of these principles locally can prove beneficial to supporting a government’s waste strategy.
“If we are going to achieve the sorts of waste targets that we set in order to create a circular economy, then all of these related benefits need to be measured. From a software point of view, I am curious to see what the data points we need to capture are and measure these so that councils can really support these initiatives,” he says.
Simon says the next step for 96 Bangalow future is involving Mandalay software to allow it to regionally source their food, but also learn about the practical methods to build a circular economy at home.
“We’re approaching it from a business point of view so that other local areas can personalise and customise it to their needs. The most exciting part is becoming an enabler for food to be grown locally and encouraging councils to divert waste from landfill into composting,” he says.