Cassie Duncan is giving us food for thought


Cassie & Luca

Cassie Duncan with her son Luca                                                                                                                       Photo by Libby Gott

Growing up on a farm in Northern Victoria fostered a close connection with the natural world and showed me how food ends up on our plates. Since my childhood, the way we grow, distribute and purchase food has changed dramatically. Now we live in a world of choice and convenience, but at what cost?  

While the established environmental organisations focus on issues such as climate change and renewable energy, Sustainable Table, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting a more humane, environmentally friendly food system, has taken a different approach .

Last month I had the pleasure of sharing a cup of tea with Sustainable Table Co-founder and General Manager, Cassie Duncan, and learning why she is passionate about empowering consumers to support healthy, sustainable food production.

I was blessed to have part of my childhood in the country.  I grew up in a single parent household and so when Mum was working, I used to spend holidays with her parents who live in Yarrawonga on the Murray River. I made friends, including my best friend who I met when we were five years old. Her family really embraced me and her grandfather ran a farm so we’d spend time on the farm, going around on motorbikes and doing things you just wouldn’t experience as a city kid. We’d take our bikes out to the bush and pick mushrooms and as long as we were home by tea time, it would be ok. That side of my childhood really informed my interests later in life.

During year 9 at Methodist Ladies College, I spent a term on a remote farm called Marshmead which was hugely life changing. Enjoying nature was something Marshmead introduced me to. I really loved the sense of peace I got out in the bush. I adored being in nature and loved every minute of it. From that point on, I felt this deep sense of connection with the earth and wanted to do something connected to that in my own life.

Connecting how I choose to eat with the impact I have on the environment was a really empowering moment in my life.  Prior to that, I was focused on having shorter showers and switching to green energy, which are all really important, but food is something I make decisions about three or four times a day. Each time it’s an opportunity to consider how I’m impacting the environment and how I’m supporting our community. That, for me, is the power of food. It’s not a chore, it’s a joy. I think most of us find joy in food, and to attach that with how we choose to care for the world I think is a very positive message.

Everyone has to eat and how we choose to eat has the power to change the world. We get to choose where we spend our money every single day and that’s a very powerful vote. But making ethical decisions can be very complex and confusing. We realised if we can do all the hard yards and simplify that for the masses, then maybe more people would jump on board.

We need to educate people about the true cost of their food choices. I remember chatting to Sylvia, who runs Bass Coast Farm in Gippsland, and she was saying she had watched 34 dairy farmers close in her region in the last 20 years. She said, “People don’t realise what that does to our communities. Who is running our CFAs? Who is filling our footy teams?” So we might corporatise farms and people are still getting food, but at what cost?

You have to believe we are all good at heart, but I think there is a real disconnect in the way people behave. You have animal lovers who donate to the RSPCA monthly, but eat meat three times a day from God knows where. They haven’t connected their sense of care and love for their pets with their sense of care and love for the animals that they consume so we are trying to bring that to light. That’s why we are currently in the midst of our Give a Fork! Campaign. We need a national food campaign that gets people talking and discussing the impacts our food choices have on the environment, our health, on animals and on farmers. We would love to see the Give a Fork! campaign grow to be the sort of national voice for food system issues in a way that Movember is for men’s health issues.

Developing connections is really important to me. When it comes to food shopping, that’s been a big influencing factor. It’s not just the sustainability aspect of shopping at a farmers’ market, it’s the fact I get to have conversations with the people who grow my food. I think that’s how we should be relating to our food and how we are born to connect with people and communities. Sometimes in cities we are lacking that. For me, I’ve been able to create that sense of community through how I purchase food and that’s incredibly empowering.

Visit Give a Fork! or Sustainable Table for more information.

© Matilda Bowra 2016




James Fitzgerald is dreaming big


JF sitting 1

James Fitzgerald on the roof of The Dream Factory.                                               Photo by Charlotte Bowra

I’ve always liked James’ love of new ideas and big picture optimism.  The longer I’ve known him, the more apparent these traits become.

 When I first met him a few years ago, we were both working at the same engineering company. We didn’t realize until later we were simultaneously hatching plans to find new roles.

 James was the first to jump ship. He left his job as a certified civil engineer to become Director of Members and Supporters at Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Recently, he’s moved on from the non-profit sector to take up a new role as General Manager Community at the Impact Investment Group’s latest venture, The Dream Factory; a former woolshed in Footscray that has been converted into a hub for start-ups, creative entrepreneurs, social businesses and not-for-profits who focus on design, technology and social change.  I caught up with James to find out what inspired his involvement with The Dream Factory.

My Nonno was a big influence on me. As an Italian migrant to Seddon, he was really big on family and local community. He was one of the community leaders at the time and helped a lot of Italian migrants settle in Australia. He was also really big on small business, had a fruit shop and was very passionate about looking after his customers. Even though he has passed away, people still talk to me about Frank and tell me how he treated people really well in business. I really resonated with that. He was introverted, the flip side of me. I liked going there because he was very calming. He led by example and was very entrepreneurial, but very family and community focused.

Education was a passport. I was the first person in my family to go to uni and the first person from my school in Hoppers Crossing to go to the University of Melbourne.  Pursuing a career in trade was common practice, going to uni wasn’t. In year 11 and 12, I had checkboxes on my bedroom wall about getting into Melbourne Uni Arts/Engineering and travelling the world. It wasn’t a checklist like a bucket list, it was because I wanted options and flexibility. I did engineering because I liked maths and science, and so I could get a well paying job. But I also studied Arts as I’m passionate about humanitarian issues and social change, so I thought I’m going to do both and see what happens.

 As a teenager, I realised I needed to have options, I needed to have vision and I needed to be around people who were thinking big. Now I want to work where I can have the most impact fast; that’s impact investing and social enterprise. We need to encourage people to innovate and take risks. You have all these old industries like mining and manufacturing that are going out of business, but there’s no point debating the macro economic stuff because that’s government and they are going to take 20 years to make up their mind. We need to create jobs for people through socially focussed businesses that are more aware of what’s going on in their community, and they’ve got to make money.

 The Dream Factory could have just been set up as a normal commercial project, but instead the Impact Investment Group set it up as a socially-focused design and tech precinct. This means we can focus on supporting businesses and not-for-profits who are utilising design and technology to create positive social and environmental outcomes. It’s enabled us to create a centre for like minded individuals and organisations where they can share ideas, skills and experience.  Since it’s launched, the amount of good will it’s generated has been overwhelming. So many people have emailed and twittered us and said “Thank you for creating this opportunity for people to be able to use their skills in business and design for good.”

 We can harness the power of business, design and technology to create large scale social change.  The core of the change I want to see is for everyone to double or triple their empathy. If we had more empathy, I think people would think about their impact more. They would think twice about what sort of careers they did, or how they invest their money. There are multiple pathways for improving empathy, but I think one of the best ways is through enabling that connection between technology and design with humanity to create social change.

 The generations coming through, they don’t just want to work for money, they want a job that makes money, but also has an amazing impact. I’ve only got 40 years left of my career; that’s not a long time. So for the next 40 years, I want to be dedicated to ensuring that business is a massive force for change and I want to create social change fast using design and technology. I see huge opportunities and the most talented people will only want to work for companies that are doing amazing stuff.

See The Dream Factory or The Impact Investment Group for more information.

© Matilda Bowra 2016