Please note that online plant orders are currently unavailable. Learn more.

Please note that online plant orders are currently unavailable. Learn more.

Why do we import food?

Asks food writer Cherry Ripe

Walk down any supermarket aisle and you will see a myriad of imported foods. And it’s getting worse. Even in the fresh produce sections, in June you can find cherries from the US, navel oranges from California in December, mangoes from the Philippines in July, garlic from China in July, sugarsnap and snow peas from Zimbabwe, garlic from Argentina, and soon apples from New Zealand.

Amidst the tinned vegetables on the shelves of “The Fresh Food People”, Woolworths, in a long-life shelf-stable, squishy, soft pack - not vacuum-packed nor refrigerated - is the absurdity of a “Stir-fried Vegies” mix. Made in China.

At a food summit in Adelaide on “The Future of Food”, part of the most recent Tasting Australia, a spokesman for SPC Ardmona, claimed that at that time the Coles group had up to 200 people “on the ground in China”, sourcing products for their own-brand range.

Eighteen months ago, SPC Ardmona, based in Shepparton, Victoria, was forced to dump 10 per cent of its tomato growers as the big retailers put the squeeze on local farmers by sourcing tinned tomatoes from overseas.

Thus you can find Home Brand Australian diced tomatoes for $1.58, side by side their Italian equivalent for $1.12 – ludicrously, despite transport costs, 46 cents (or nearly a third) cheaper!

Food miles

For anyone who has seen Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the less fossil fuel it takes to get food to the table, the better. That certainly applies to food grown at home in the back garden, which obviously attracts zero “food miles”.

“Food miles” are the cumulative distance built up all the way along the food chain, from transport of food within - or from - the country of origin, to processing or storage facilities, then distribution to shops around the (possibly another) country. Eating is becoming increasingly “transport intensive” and food now accounts for a hugely disproportionate freight demand worldwide.

While everybody has room for a pot of parsley on their terrace, for those who cannot have their own vegie patch, there are other food choices people can make in their daily lives which will make a positive impact on climate change.

Take something as simple as table salt. Why - in a country with a salinity problem - would we be importing salt? Why not choose the delightful pink-hued Mildura salt - an attempt at a partial solution to the salinity problem - which is tastier and more user-friendly than the hugely expensive, imported industrial Maldon salt all the way from the UK?


Then there’s organic food. Most of the chemical pesticides and fertilisers used in conventional agriculture are derived from the oil industry, so organic food reduces fossil fuel dependency by avoiding petrochemical-derived inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers (nitrates etc.).

Because organic farming tends to be produced on a smaller scale, it is less likely to be shipped around the country through a national distribution network, and therefore is likely to be consumed more locally, so it clocks up fewer “food miles” between farm gate and plate.

Carbon sequestration

Another environmental benefit of organic farming is that it has also been shown that in sequestering carbon, it further combats global warming. Last year the Rodale Institute in America determined that if only 10,000 medium-sized farms in the U.S. converted to organic production, they would store as much carbon in the soil that it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road, or reducing car miles driven by 14.62 billion miles. Organic food is not only better for the environment, it is also better for human health. On average, produce grown in the United States has lower levels of several vitamins and minerals today than it did 50 years ago. On the other hand, organically grown fruits and vegetables are increasingly being shown in numerous studies to have much higher levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals than their conventionally grown counterparts.

Conventionally-grown foods, pumped up with artificial fertilisers such as nitrates, are forced to take in extra moisture, so you lose the concentration of the original, natural flavour.

Also, organic produce is more likely to be picked when it is ripe and ready, not designed (for instance, in the case of tomatoes, apples, onions and carrots) to be shipped to cold storage depots where it is held under energy-hungry (fossil-fueled) refrigeration for months on end. It is therefore likely to be fresher.

However in America, a bigger issue is emerging. In the US, to get organic produce from Florida and California to major population centres such as New York or Boston clocks up an inordinate amount of “food miles” and uses enormous quantities of fossil fuel to get it there. Increasingly in the UK and US there is a growing movement (through organisations such as Sustain in the UK) not just to eat organically, but even more important is to “eat locally”.

Another strategy for avoiding food miles is to shop at Farmers’ Markets. There, you can buy direct from the grower. Ten years ago there wasn’t a single Farmers’ Market in Australia: now there are estimated to be 120, turning over $40 million a year.

Among the benefits of buying direct from the farmer is that the shorter the time between farm and table, the fewer nutrients will be lost. Food from far away is older, and has sat in warehouses before it gets to you. Food bought direct from the farmer is in season, and hasn’t been subjected to months of cold storage. Wholesale prices for food barely cover the cost of production: the supermarkets make most of the profit. Cutting out the middlemen offers farmers a more realistic reward for their efforts. And there is likely to be a more diverse range of produce on sale - whether heritage tomatoes, or non-commercially viable crops, thereby encouraging food biodiversity.

But the best solution of all? Grow your own.


4.7 million Australian households are growing their own food

Our new Seed Manager was planting seeds as a child – that’s over 20 years of experience

Australia, where bird song began

Tim Sansom discusses Tim Low's new book

Bees and Colony Collapse

Jim Sansom tells us why the collapse of bee colonies is a huge threat to our food supplies

Bees Under Threat

Clive Blazey explains the largest ideas presented by bee keeper and BBC presenter Bill Turnbull

Biochar Explained

There’s been a lot of talk about Biochar, but what is it? How is it made? And what does it do?

Biodiversity in the garden

The benefits of encouraging a diverse ecosystem in your garden

Bringing carbon down to earth

Clive Blazey talks about sequestering carbon.

Creating the world we want, rather than fighting the world we reject

David Holmgren recalls his first meeting with Bill Mollison

Diggers explains how we make our own soil

Diggers explains how we make our own soil

Five Plants That Could Save The World

Tim Entwisle tells us how plants may provide the solutions to pollution and resource shortages

Fungi and Soil Creation

Botanic Gardens Director Stephen Forbes explains the role of fungi in creating soil

Gardening in a changing climate

Diggers former head gardener, Simon Rickard, shares the lessons learnt after a decade gardening in increasingly fluctuating conditions.

Gardening is the key to reducing Waste

Marcelle Swanson explains how to move away from plastics and improve our health

Giant Miscanthus

Tim Sansom explains how Giant Miscanthus can build organic carbon in backyards

Inspired by Diggers - 20 years ago!

Tim Sansom takes a tour of Joost Bakker’s Future Food System house

Manuka honey: is it a food or a medicine?

Penny Blazey reviews the history of this renowned honey

Monsanto's glyphosate

Graeme Sait assesses the ‘SAFE’ glyphosate spin to increase chemical usage

Organic gardening – growing your own fertility

Sharing a gardener’s perspective on building fertility the organic way.

Organic gardening not just for food

Bill Bampton talks about creating garden beauty without petrochemicals

Q&A - How Carbon Creates Soils

World organic expert Dr. Christine Jones talks about the life-giving link between carbon and healthy topsoil

Reduce waste this holiday season

Join Erin Rhoads, the Rogue Ginger and waste-free advocate for some tips on waste reduction this festive season.

Save Water By Growing Your Own

Clive Blazey explains how you can save water by growing your own food at home

The Cape - Growing food in the heart of this sustainable community

Tim Sansom discovers a housing development making a real difference.

The difference between animal manures

Not all manures are equal, some are actually better than others.

The Future of Food

English author Colin Tudge explains how corporates and government threaten gardening and horticulture

The Soil Food Web

Hugh Hunkin explains how our lives depend on microscopic creatures

There Are No Jobs On A Dead Planet

An edited transcript from Kumi Naidoo's 2014 TED talk "Contagious courage, a billion individual acts"

Trees Are Vital For Cooling Our Cities

Bill Bampton explains why tree planting needs to start on a massive scale

Trees for Shade

Clive Blazey explains why shade canopy is vital in tree selections

Watering tips for gardens

Here are Diggers top tips to help Aussie Gardeners reduce their water consumption.

Why climate change threatens our biological systems

Clive Blazey reports on Tim Flannery's lecture on behalf of the Climate Commission

Why Diggers annual trials are so important

Our new Seed Manager explains the trial process at Diggers

Why the collapse of bees is so serious

Fiona Chambers explains what Diggers members can do to help

Without trees we cannot inhabit the Earth

Bill Mollison's legacy foretells our climate crisis

Related Authors

Bernadette Brady

Bernadette is an experienced gardener with a long term involvement in Community Gardens and a keen interest in growing "all things edible"!

Related Magazine

Autumn Garden 2014

Flowers, heirloom fruit and garlic
Back To Top
Member Exclusives
2022 Gardening Diary and Calendar Combo
2022 Gardening Diary and Calendar Combo
2022 Gardening Diary & Calendar Combo The complete garden combo for 2022! The beautifully illustrated Diggers Club Diary features a week to a page, seeds to sow each month, blank pages for seasonal observations, and handy pockets for your seed packets and plant labels, while The Diggers Calendar showcases stunning garden photography to inspire y...
Member $35.00
Checking stock, please wait..
18 SEED PACKETS: The gift that keeps on giving for a year. This collection will guarantee 12 months of heirloom veges. The recipient will receive seeds for each season ensuring a supply of heirloom vegetables. The pack contains a total of 18 packets of vegetables seeds (Beetroot, Bean, Broccoli, Carrot, Cauliflower, Lettuce, Onion, Pea, Silverbe...
Member $59.95
Checking stock, please wait..
2 year membership + Garden Calendar and 2 Seed Packets
2 year membership + Garden Calendar and 2 Seed Packets
Membership: MNE2CA2
Join the club and receive an exclusive gift, valued at $30. A stunning calendar featuring key dates, a guide to which seeds to sow each month and plenty of space to add your own events. Plus two free packets of some popular seeds – Tomato 'Black Cherry' and Lettuce Heirloom Mix.
Member $79.00
Non-Member $79.00
Checking stock, please wait..