Thursday, 16 November 2017

15 Great Uses for the Common Powder Puff Plant in a Permaculture Garden


Calliandra (Calliandra haematocephala) is popular and attractive garden plant grown for it's beautiful powder puff flowers BUT did you know that Calliandra is so much more than it's good looks?

Calliandra is:
  1. a fast growing legume
  2. a fabulous chop and drop mulch
  3. an excellent food forest shade plant
  4. a useful hedge or screen plant - coppices well
  5. a pioneer plant in a permaculture food forest - helping to get the systems started 
  6. excellent fuelwood for small fires
  7. used for intercrop hedgerows in agroforesty systems
  8. valuable supplement forage for ruminant livestock
  9. an accessible source of leaf meal protein for laying hens - pods are also high protein
  10. useful in land rehabilitation
  11. an excellent erosion control plant
  12. a green manure
  13. a pollen source for honey production
  14. attractive to butterflies and birds too (flowers)
  15. a host for lac insect (Laccifer lacca) for shellac production 


Calliandra is a hardy plant that grows well in warm-humid climates. It can withstand dry conditions, although may become semi-deciduous if the dry season is extensive. It grows 3-5 metres, but can be hedged. 


It is easily propagated by stem cuttings or seeds. Once you have one plant, you can keep making more, and sharing them widely.


It was originally from the humid and sub-humid regions of Central America and Mexico.


There are many varieties of Calliandra. The main variety recommended for agroforestry is Calliandra calothyrsus but the values of the common garden plant, Calliandra haematocephala, are also very high.


References: 
http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpc/doc/publicat/gutt-shel/x5556e09.htm
http://www.tropicalforages.info/key/Forages/Media/Html/Calliandra_calothyrsus.htm
http://www.theorganicfarmer.org/Articles/plant-calliandra-fodder-and-soil-fertility

Happy gardening. Feel free to share this post.


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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Eat your hedge!


This hedge is delicious!

Today we harvested kilos of fruit from one of the berry plants we hedge. Jaboticaba (Plinia cauliflora), otherwise known as the Brazilian grapetree, has fruit like grapes - sweet, round, juicy and delicious!

Jaboticaba is great as a hedge but also in a pot, in a food forest, on a verge, in community garden or school garden - a neat, hardy and delicious tree.

I have a few Jaboticabas in my home garden. They are slow growing and reasonably small still, just a couple of metres tall, but that's as big as I want them to get otherwise the fruits are out of reach. It will be getting a haircut soon.


Other fruit trees I hedge are things like Acerola Cherry (Malpighia emarginata), Grumichama (Eugenia brasiliensis) and Riberry (Syzygium luehmannii). Their dense foliage, shiny leaves, interesting flowers make a great hedge and it means I can better access the fruit.

I really love the idea of making every part of the garden productive and delicious. There are a lot of hedge plants that provide nothing but a screen.  It's such a great idea to add extra value to it - food, habitat, mulch ....



I really like to eat the fruit of Jaboticaba fresh. I like the pop it makes when you bite into it followed by the burst of sweetness. I typically spit out the thickish skin, which is a little tart tasting, but sometimes I eat that too.



After harvesting the fruit only lasts a few days so depending on the harvest size, it could be necessary to make jam, cordial, wine, tarts or liquer. 


Jaboticaba as a small hedge:


  • Jaboticaba responds well to being trimmed.
  • Jaboticaba keeps it's leaves right down to the ground.
  • Jaboticaba's leaves stay looking shiny and welcoming in both the wet and dry seasons.
  • It has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

I like Jaboticaba at the entrance to my garden because:


  • The plant delineates where the footpath to my house is.
  • I see it everyday and can and keep watch for when the flowers are forming - it reminds me to keep an eye out for the fruit.
  • I see when the fruit is ripe so I can harvest it before the birds get to it.



What edible hedges do you/could you eat?

  • What plants work best for this in your climate? 
  • What is your favourite edible hedge?



Happy gardening. Feel free to share this post.



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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Do you eat your fig leaves? Here's 5 ways to prepare them.



My fig tree (Ficus carica) is sprouting an abundance of soft large tender leaves at the moment. It'll be a while till there are any figs ready, and to be honest, in this climate (subtropical), the amount of figs I can harvest is quite small.  

I have placed the fig tree in my landscape design to be close to the chicken house. This way, everyday I see how the fruits are going and can harvest them before the birds. 

My daughter and I love fresh  figs and we delight eating the few we get right there and then in the garden. In actual fact, I don't think a fig has every reached our house.

Anyway, I was standing there looking at this fig tree the other day and thinking how nice the new leaves looked. They certainly looked edible, but I have not tried them before, so I've gone and done some research. This is what I found.




  • Fig leaves are well and truly edible.
  • Fig leaves add a lovely coconut, walnut, vanilla flavour to food.
  • Don't bother with the really old ones - way too fibrous and bland.
  • Fig leaves are a good source of vitamin A, B1, and B2. They also contain calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, and potassium. 
  • There are many health benefits from consuming fig leaves and drinking fig leaf tea: anti-diabetic, lower triglycerides, for bronchitis to name a few
  • Take care with the sap when harvesting, it can irritate.
  • Make fig leaf tea. Dry fig leaves can be used as a tea just as you normally brew tea leaves. You can also use the fresh leaves. Boil them up for 15 minutes and strain. 
  • Cook up fig leaves in lightly salted water for 20 minutes or until tender, then use as a wrap or spinach green alternative.
  • Use fig leaf as a wrap. The leaves add a great mediterranean flavour to food when wrapped and cooked. Fig leaves can be used  to wrap rice and vegetables, or to wrap fish. 
  • Cook up a vegetable curry with big leaves in it. Remove the leaves at the end. The leaves add a lovely flavour.
  • Leaves can also be added to slow cook stews or soups as a spinach alternative.
  • The first record of fig leaves being used as a food wrap is in 3rd century BCE. Fig trees are thought to have originated in the middle east and first cultivated in Egypt. They flourish  areas with a mediterranean climates - hot dry summers and mild winters. They are however found everywhere except Antarctica.



I would be very interested to hear what you know about eating fig leaves. 


Happy gardening. Feel free to share this post.


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Saturday, 4 November 2017

How to simply propagate pineapple - a great perennial in a permaculture plot (includes 3min film)


I've got pineapples growing all around my permaculture garden, particularly as an understory in my food forest areas. They are protected there from frost, and this layering of plants helps to make best use of space. I love pineapple and so do my kids. They are really easy to get started (instructions below).

When I first discovered how pineapple grew, I was amazed. I grew up thinking fruit came from trees. This amazingly delicious fruit actually comes from a bromeliad - a low growing, quite prickly leafy plant. Pineapple is in fact the only bromeliad that is cultivated for food.

Pineapple is so versatile. It is great in savoury and sweet dishes, but certainly the best way to eat it is raw and freshly chopped.

Eating pineapple straight from the garden is so extremely delicious. It's no wonder it is one of the most popular tropical fruits in the world. Growing pineapple at home requires patience though. It takes 18 months to 2 years to get a fruit, so it's a good idea to keep planting new ones to have an ongoing supply.

Columbus took pineapple (Ananas comosus) from the West Indies to Spain 500 years ago.  Back then in Europe, pineapples were a fruit only the wealthiest elite could afford - now massive monocultures mean that it has become the 12th most consumed fruit in the world. 





I much prefer to grow my own or buy from local farmers because there are a few downsides of the pineapple industry. They are usually grown in large scale monocultures with high inputs and lots of chemicals.  Globally, these monocultures are typically controlled by a handful of companies. In many parts of the world, large pineapple monocultures mostly employ migrant workers to plant and harvest. The environmental and human cost is high.

So if you live in a warm humid climate, get some pineapple going in your garden. Pineapple is a short-lived perennial and is surprisingly easy to grow in frost free areas of the tropics and subtropics.


How to propagate pineapple (super easy!):



  1. take a top from a store bought pineapple
  2. remove any fruit flesh
  3. remove a few of the bottom leaves - you can see some tiny root tips forming there
  4. leave it for a couple of days so the stump dries out (and therefore doesn't rot in the ground)
  5. plant it in the garden or in a large pot
  6. when your pineapple ripens, harvest it, chop the top off and replant - the cycle continues



A diversity of uses for the pineapple plant beyond food...

In a permaculture home and garden, pineapples have quite a few other uses besides food.
  1. water-harvesting: the leaves harvest water and make the little reservoirs
  2. habitat creating: these water reservoirs create habitat for invertebrates 
  3. can create a prickly border to keep animals from an area
  4. soil protection as an understory crop in heavy rain areas
  5. medium quality roughage for ruminants (https://www.feedipedia.org/node/675) - green leaves and pulp
  6. pineapple waste from peeling and coring (30%) can be used in compost and worm farms to improve the soil
  7. indoor air purifier: place a pineapple in each room to removes new paint fumes and formaldehyde off-gassing 
  8. turn fibre from leaves into handmade paper
  9. interestingly, pineapple leaves are now being developed into a type of leather too (http://animalsaustralia.org/features/pineapple-leather.php)

Happy gardening. Feel free to share this post.


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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

13 Ways to use Buddhas Hand - a most unusual and delightful citrus


Buddha's hand (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) is such a curiosity. It's unusual form and exquisite aroma is a delight in my food forest. It is a small tree which becomes laden with these weird and wonderful fruits in spring. I get a crop in Autumn too.  This plant is suitable for pots too.

It is called Buddha's hand because of the way it looks. Each of the citrus segments is fully enclosed with peel and look quite like fingers. Each one looks different and quite like the Buddhist hand gestures (mudras).

Interestingly it has no juice like most citrus fruit - just zest and pith. The treasure though is this zest - it adds a wonderful flavour to dishes, like lemon blossom.  Use it as you would any lemon zest. I use it when it's green and further ripened and turned yellow too. It's flavour is quite strong and a little goes a long way.


So how do you use Buddhas Hand?

  1. shave thin slices onto salad
  2. grate over steamed vegetables
  3. shave thin slices onto tofu or fish dishes
  4. grate into salad dressing
  5. add finely grated to marinades
  6. use finely grated in cakes and biscuits
  7. chop slices and brew as a tea (a little honey is nice with this)
  8. make candied segments as throat lozenges (like candied citrus peel)
  9. just munch it raw from the plant when fully ripe (a young friend of my daughters used to come here and do that all the time!)
  10. add slices to bath for an aromatic soak
  11. place in centre of table as a curiosity and air freshener
  12. soak in vinegar for a few days, then use as a antibacterial surface cleaner
  13. telling stories and making creatures with the kids

Medicinal Value

Buddha's hand has long been used to:
  1. relieve pain
  2. ease bruising
  3. clear lungs - an expectorant
  4. soothe throat
  5. ease an upset stomach and digestion issues
  6. ease menstrual pain
  7. boost immunity
  8. lower blood pressure


It is of the citron family - one of the original four citrus fruits that all others emerged from. The others are mandarin, pomelo and papeda (kaffir lime is a hybrid of this).

It mostly grows in the temperate regions of China and India, but is becoming popular in many parts of the world. It is very happy here in my subtropical garden and is great for small yard because it is just a small tree.


Do you have other ways you use Buddha's hand?

Happy gardening. Feel free to share this post.


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Sunday, 29 October 2017

How to use your fresh raw Aloe vera as a leave-in hair conditioner


I grow my own conditioner - Aloe vera  (Aloe vera barbadensis).  Simple, all natural, zero-waste, chemical free. 

Yes, that's it - just one ingredient, no processing - raw aloe straight from the garden to my hair.  Have you tried it?

I'm so delighted to be avoiding harmful chemicals, irritating artificial fragrances, plastic bottles, silicone, false smoothing and costly products. Typical conditioners have 5 main ingredients: cationic surfactants and polymers, oils, humectants, silicones, and proteins.

No thanks! Aloe is great. It:
  • has 20 amino acids that are the building blocks of healthy hair
  • moisturises
  • balances hair pH
  • removes toxins from hair
  • enhances hair strength and sheen
  • locks in moisture
  • tames frizzy hair and fly-aways
  • acts as a detangler
  • rejuvenates hair follicles and prevents thinning
  • contains enzymes that promote heatlhy hair growth
  • is not heavy
  • relieves scalp build up
  • nourishes scalp and prevents dandruff
  • relieves itchy scalp



It's a liberating thing - realising that you can meet your everyday needs straight from your garden like this - free, natural, nourishing and effective. 


Aloe conditioner is so very simply and works a treat!  You don't even need to wash it out. My whole family uses it. The kids love doing it too.

Here's how I use raw aloe as a hair conditioner:

  1. Get a leaf: Every time I wash my hair (with plain fragrance-free organic liquid Castile soap), I grab a leaf from the cluster of Aloe vera plants growing next to my verandah.  Sometimes I take it into the bathroom, but I actually prefer to sit in the garden doing it.
  2. Cut a chunk about 10cms long (I usually just give it a quick rinse to wash off the yellow latex that comes out from just under the skin). You can keep the rest of the leaf in the bathroom for a few days and keep using it.
  3. Open it up (slice lengthwise along the flatter side and simply open it out)
  4. Start applying it all over your hair from the scalp to the tips. (sometimes it helps to run your finger along to release more gel from the aloe flesh every now and then)
  5. Leave it in - there's absolutely no need to wash it out. 
  6. Use it all up: If there's some left, I use it on my face, my neck, my elbows and knees.
  7. Compost the leftover skin. This is a zero-waste conditioner. The aloe skin can go straight to your worm farm, bokashi or compost bin, or you can simply just toss it back into the garden as organic matter!
I designed my garden with my aloe patch close by for easy access. I use aloe everyday for something: 
  • hair conditioner
  • face moisturiser
  • after shaving lotion
  • soothing insect bites
  • sunburn (I try to avoid this!)
  • kitchen/ironing burns (I also very much try to avoid these, but they happen every now and then)
Aloe vera super hardy, easy to grow and abundant. It's great in the garden or a pot. I prefer it in the ground if possible in a warm spot. It actually doesn't mind some shade - it prevents it from getting sunburnt, and the leaves seem to thicken up with more gel.

Here's a little video clip I made about aloe recently:



Here's some other things that I grow at home to use my hair:


Have you tried fresh aloe for your hair too? What other simple natural hair conditioners do you make from your garden?


Happy natural conditioning! Feel free to share this post.


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If have enjoyed my blog and youtube channel, you may like to consider becoming my patron too. I think of it like a subscription to a magazine you like - but this one is online. From $1/month, you can be part of my the Our Permaculture Life supporter network. Click here to find out more:  https://www.patreon.com/moraggamble.


Thursday, 26 October 2017

7 great health benefits of fresh olive leaf tea - free from your tree!


Olive leaf tea.  Have you tried it? 

Olive leaf tea is a great replacement for green or black tea with zero caffeine and way more health benefits. And, if you have an olive tree in your garden, you have an endless free supply. A gently infused handful of fresh leaves tastes great and is very refreshing hot or iced, straight or blended.



Olive trees (Olea europea) are known as the tree of life and have a great place in a food forest and productive garden - food, medicine, oil, fuel...

Although olive trees are best grown in mediterranean climates, I have one growing here in my subtropical food forest. I placed it in the driest sunniest spot. It is now quite tall and strong. I knew it was marginal here for producing the fruit, which it has done very occasionally BUT this doesn't stop me from still harvesting extremely valuable products from this tree on a regular basis.


My olive tree at the top of my subtropical food forest.

Like pumpkins, most people just wait for the fruit and overlook all the amazing edible leaves (my favourite summer spinach). Same with the olive tree - the leaves are wonderful to make tea and olive leaf extract. Olive leaves are available all year on this beautiful evergreen tree.


Benefits of Olive Leaf Tea

Olive leaf tea has been brewed since the Ancient Egyptians and has great medicinal qualities. It is high in antioxidants and vitamin C - more than green tea! It provides all the benefits of olive leaf extract, but in a milder way.  People regularly drink olive leaf tea to:
  1. relax and ease arthritic pain
  2. reduce bad cholesterol
  3. lower glucose levels
  4. lower blood pressure
  5. strengthen the cardiovascular system - a heart tonic
  6. stimulate the immune system
  7. help fight infections
(note: Avoid if you have low blood pressure, and check with your doc if you have diabetes since it lowers glucose levels)



How to Make Fresh Olive Leaf Tea

  • Harvest healthy looking leaves from non-sprayed olive trees or ones away from busy roads. 
  • Gently infuse a handful of leaves for a few minutes, rather than boiling it. High heat destroys it's active ingredients. You can steep it longer to extract more benefits and really boost your system. You can blend it too with lemon honey or ginger for taste, but I like it straight.
  • I use a coffee plunger, and sometimes just put leaves in the cup with the hot water. Super simple!


A few cups a day is a great tea for your well-being and for healing.

Note
: Most places I researched said to dry the leaves - that's if you want to store it, however if you have a tree and can wander out to grab a couple of leaves each day, fresh is best. It is less oxidised, more potent and more subtle, mellow flavour.




A little bit of history:

Olives are slow growing, hardy and able to withstand extreme conditions. There are records of a 6000 year old olive tree growing in Lebanon.  Olive branch has long been seen as a symbol of peace and it was seen as a life giving tree and revered. There are fossilised remains of an olive tree dated 37000BC  . The first known plantation was on Crete around 3000BC - planted by the Minoan civilisation.

What else do you know about fresh olive leaf tea, or other ways to consume fresh olive leaves?


Happy tea making! Feel free to share this post.


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Wednesday, 25 October 2017

3 easy steps to make natural calendula salve - just 4 ingredients


In just 3 simple steps, with only 4 ingredients learn here how to make your own calendula salve simply, quickly and cheaply.  


In this film, I'll show you how to make this fabulous natural first aid and skin healing salve - step by step. It is such a wonderfully useful homemade product using homegrown flowers and the highest quality ingredients.

Use calendula salve to:
- soothe insect bites
- heal cuts and bruises
- smooth rough elbows and knees
- soften chapped lips
- soothe rashes, including nappy rash
- heal minor burns, including sunburn
- ease eczema and psoriasis

Beautiful homemade salve from homegrown flowers.

This recipe is safe for the whole family. Every ingredient I recommend is natural and edible. What you put on your skin, should be good enough to eat!

This is the final part 3 of my series about calendula. The links to the blogposts and youtube films for the first two parts are:

Part 1: Calendula: How to Grow and Use
(https://youtu.be/w46LHwBz4_4)

Part 2: Make Calendula Oil: for skin, healing and eating
(https://youtu.be/KNRsXuFpVrw)


I love my permaculture garden for the abundance of fresh food, but a permaculture garden offers just so much more. This is one of those ways.

I hope you enjoyed reading and watching this series on calendula. Feel free to share.

Happy gardening and making!

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Tuesday, 24 October 2017

5 Ways to Eat Your Lavender


I always have lavender growing in my permaculture garden. I love its colour & scent, its hardiness and the way it attracts bees. Lavender essential oil is one of the most widely used oils around the world for its calming properties. But, did you know that there are plenty of ways to eat the lavender you grow in your garden too?

Here are 5 ways to consume lavender as an edible herb. While you can use any lavender, I think the best type of lavender for cooking is any variety of L. angustifolia (English Lavender). This is the one with the smooth narrow (not indented) leaves.

English lavender leaves look like this.


1. SALAD

The leaves, petals and flowering tips of lavender can be used raw in salad. You only need a little. Great taste and colour.

2. SOUP, PASTA OR STEW

The leaves, petals and flowering tips can also be added to soups, pasta sauces and stews. Again, remember, a little goes a long way. If you are using dried leaves, use a teaspoon (about 1/3 of the quantity) otherwise it can be overpowering.

3. LAVENDER TEA

A tea can be made from the fresh or dried flowers of lavender. It is helpful for easing headaches. Apparently it was drunk daily by Queen Elizabeth I for migraines. I prefer using the flowers fresh. The flavour is better - somehow sweeter.

4. BAKING

Lavender flowers and leaves are great in desserts. You can sprinkle them through cakes, biscuits and slices.

5. LAVENDER VINEGAR

Use fresh sprigs of flowers and leaves in vinegar for salad dressings, marinades and more. Place the freshly harvested, but dry leaves and flowers and add to vinegar. Leave steep for a few weeks then strain and use over the next 12 months.

(You can also dilute this vinegar 1 part: 2 parts water as a simple spray and wipe cleaner, which is also excellent for cleaning windows too. It has natural bug-repellent properties too, so a good thing to spritz around a bit)

NOTE: Make sure you know the source of your leaves and flowers to make sure they have not been sprayed.

GROWING LAVENDER

I love that Lavender thrives in some of the more difficult places in my garden, and it’s also a great potted plant. It is so drought hardy. Key thing - don’t overwater it. It doesn’t do well with wet feet. I like to keep my lavenders well mulched and trim then when necessary to keep them bushy.

A TINY BIT OF HISTORY

Lavender is a native of the Mediterranean region and commonly used in the Old World. Did you know that when the King Tut’s tomb was opened in 1923, there was a faint scent of lavender even 3,000 years. Egyptians used lavender for mummification and as a perfume.  Romans also used lavender - for bathing, cooking and purifying the air.





I hope you enjoyed reading. Feel free to share.


Happy gardening and cooking!



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Friday, 20 October 2017

Grow real food in the city to cut hunger



On Tuesday I joined the stage with Maddie, a young indigenous leader, a strong empowered woman, a 21 year old single mum, working hard to finish school. She was there to share her story about what it's really like to be poor and regularly experience food insecurity.

She told us how last week she was standing in the supermarket with $10 to her name, trying to work out how to feed herself and her son for the next week, and that this is not an uncommon thing for her. Everyday life is a struggle.

What would you do if you had $10 left to buy food for 5 days?

She also told the forum that she is so glad there is free food growing in parks and gardens. When she's desperate, that's where she goes. She said it's what saves them from hunger.  Publicly accessible community gardens are vital.

It is so good to know that fruit trees we planted over 20 years ago in various council parks are now mature and feeding lots of people in need, but it's such a small drop in a very big ocean. Another thing is, these gardens have been established by volunteers with little financial support. 

Imagine if there was support to grow so much more food in the cities and towns for free picking - hardy fruits, herbs and perennial vegetables. Things that are robust, long lasting and easy to grow.
Imagine if we encouraged and showed people how to take cuttings  to grow food in their own homes.  We don't have to buy everything!

Imagine park planning involving the design and development of urban food forests - fabulous diverse food producing parks for the people. This is actually happening in a number of cities.

Community food systems are not just a nice thing to do. They are critically important for addressing not only food insecurity, but food sovereignty (the ability to access real and appropriate food, not just a certain number of calories for survival.)

Diverse food gardens are a source of life and hope. They are places where people: 

  • connect with the community and find support
  • can access real food freely
  • can learn how to grow food simply and cheaply
  • can access space to grow food with security (many rental properties not offering this option)
  • can find peace and calm, and a place to think
  • can learn new skills for employment
  • cook up shared meals and learn how to use the seasonal produce
  • can grow culturally appropriate foods not typically available in stores
  • can go for low-cost or no-cost social events and fun for the kids

These are just a few of reasons gardens, especially community gardens are so vitally important. Real food is essential for our bodies and minds, to think clearly, to have energy, to have lasting health.

The number of community gardens is growing, but the issues that emerged at the forum were whether the people who really need the food have the capacity to be involved (physically or emotionally) or feel comfortable to approach these garden groups.  Partnerships between those working to help people in poverty and community gardens are happening, but there could be so much more.

Like I said in my last post, one in six children in Australia live in poverty and experience hunger.  I feel that those of us who have the capacity to do something, can help but growing good food in public places - food that is available to anyone who needs it. Also organise community cook-ups and welcome people and organisations to participate. Most importantly we need to listen to the people who are experiencing hunger and work with them to find positive, lasting solutions.



Dr Richard Denniss, Chief Economist at the Australia Institute - the funniest and most understandable economist I'd ever met who made so much common sense.

A comment that stuck in my mind, by Dr Richard Denniss, Chief Economist from the Australia Institute (co-author of Affluenza, and author of Econobabble), is that, as a nation, we do entirely have the economic capacity to end poverty, but there is not the will. It's not a popular way to spend the national budget. He gave the example that we'd rather invest in a fleet of new nuclear subs, even though we already had some and hadn't used them much. It's about our values and priorities. 

Get involved. Poverty is a much bigger issue than most people realise, or want to acknowledge, in rich countries like Australia. 

The event was the Ending Poverty and Inequality in QLD Public Forum at the Edge, Southbank, that was part of Anti-Poverty Week. The MC was social justice advocate & channel 7 TV anchor, Kay Macgrath.