Growing Hope: An interview with Costa Georgiadis

Costa Georgiadis | she cooks, she gardens

For many people, the concept of global warming and what we can do about it is a difficult one. In the media we’re often presented with a confusing and so-called ‘balanced’ conversation about whether global warming is real, something we should be concerned about and if it is caused by human actions.

While 97% of scientists are in agreement that we are in a crisis that is caused by human actions, a survey taken earlier this year suggested that only 45% of Australians believe that it is a serious and pressing problem that we should begin taking steps now to rectify.

It is a deeply worrying situation we find ourselves in and it begs the question of whether the issue of global warming has an image problem.

I spoke with beloved ABC gardening guru (though he dislikes that term) Costa Georgiadis about this issue, and why breaking down the challenges we face into achievable steps makes a huge difference and helps to change the way we think about what we can do to tackle global warming, sustainability and even political activism.

‘The more I do what I do, the more I realise the small things, the tiny changes that all of us can make is what can make the most difference in the end. Big change is only ever achieved by someone breaking those steps down into little hops and skips and that’s what inspires me.’

Costa believes that gardening and growing your own produce is becoming increasingly popular because it allows people to exercise choice without feeling like they are taking on the world’s problems. ‘You can take on so many issues without taking them on. There’s no adversity – everything about gardening is non-confrontational, it’s very calming and therapeutic. Even the physical aspects are therapeutic; it’s soothing and taming an overstimulated mind. It allows people to switch off, step off the merry-go-round and lose connection with time. Be it for 5 minutes or 5 hours.

The most important politics aren’t in the politics we see on the television, it’s in self-help and health. If you’re going to take control of your planet and see yourself as sacred, then everything you’re going to put on you and in your body is a political decision because you have to decide what it is and to know what it is you have to ask questions, take a position and question ‘is this good for me and for the environment?’.

I think this is where people are making those stands and saying ‘hey, I have the power not to support that company or that form of production, the consequences of doing so impact on me and my health’. People are having kids and asking ‘what exactly am I putting on my kids with that baby shampoo that’s full of industrial floor cleaners?’ and realising that it might be something that they’ve never actually challenged before. I think that’s where it’s becoming political because people are becoming aware and enraged about the fact that they handed over the decision-making to others and those decisions haven’t always been in their best interest. It has been in the best interests of the supply chain and the interests of profits. I’m glad that people are fired up about this stuff – if people are not fired up then we are not going to shift anything!’

Costa | she cooks, she gardens

Costa is in Adelaide this weekend to appear on a panel following a screening of Growing Cities, an American documentary film chronicling the growing interest in urban food production and the powerful changes it is making in communities. The documentary is showing as part of the Transitions Film Festival which Costa firmly supports because he believes that despite their positive message, it is often difficult for a lot of films like this to make their way into the mainstream.

Growing Cities represents so much of what I’ve been talking about as I travel the country. It’s about looking at these incredible things that are going on, it’s talking about people who are saying ‘hey, that one square metre that used to be disused land is actually a very valuable part of our food economy, because it means that I can make these connections, I can grow stuff here which means that I don’t have to buy it or have it transported halfway across the country’.’

The film covers a range of initiatives from small backyard gardens, to allotments that have been transformed into urban farms, and even mobile container gardens built into the backs of trucks.

‘There are all of these incredible initiatives that are happening around food at the moment that aren’t necessarily seeing the regular light of day. So for me, any opportunity I have to shine some light on these positive stories about awesome people doing amazing things is a good one.’

When it comes to the consumption of food itself, Costa prefers to take a hands-off approach and instead encourages people to be mindful of what they are eating.

‘I think every mouthful of food you take is a radical activity – you’re either making a stand for your own health or you’re just towing the line and sticking with the status quo. So if I consider towing the line as radical conformity then not towing the line is radical activism.

Any food consumption should be with gratitude, if that means as a meat-eater you have gratitude for what you’re consuming that’s an important part of it. Part of that requires, I believe, a full understanding of how that meal has been produced so that you can make the decision based on fact. If you can’t cope with the reality of where meat comes from and how we obtain it then maybe it’s time to reassess, because a sanitised piece of white or red structure underneath plastic wrap in a plastic container at the supermarket is totally desensitising you to the reality of what has been sacrificed to bring you that meal.

Likewise, when it comes to eating plants, it comes down to the fact that a plant has been grown for you to consume, and so when people go ‘oh well that’s not 100% perfect I’ll just throw it out’ instead of thinking about how they might be able to use it in a soup, or a juice or feeding it to the chickens, for example, that’s forgetting everything that has gone into growing that piece of perfectly good food.  Finding thanks for not only the effort that’s gone into it, but the water, the soil, the compost, everything that’s gone into its creation is important.

Costa | she cooks, she gardens

Costa’s enthusiasm and positive approach to what are deeply concerning issues is a breath of fresh air and allows the space for people to make small changes in their lives that will ultimately have a huge impact.

‘I like to disarm the situation by saying every little decision is a big decision – when you see it like that then you can make small changes when you’re prepared and ready to. If you build on those decisions one by one then it’s not overwhelming, you’re not thinking ‘I have to change everything and suddenly stop doing everything I have been doing’ – no, start to find, one by one, those producers and suppliers that create things in the ethical way that your standards dictate, and when you find them, tick the box and move on. Make it a happy little process. Don’t put a time frame on it, change is incremental and it sneaks up on you. It becomes a happy little priority, you become preoccupied with finding the best things for you and your family and that becomes addictive – but it’s a positive addiction!’

On the issue of whether there is hope of dealing with the problems of global warming, Costa is philosophical.

‘I don’t underestimate the power of human potential, but I’m also totally aware of the power of ignorance and the resilience and stamina for people to push on through without recognising the reality of what’s on the plate for the sake of habit, conformity and comfort. Because this is how we’ve always done it. So while habit sometimes seems like something that is impossible to break, when those that can think outside the box have space and time to throw their ideas around it is infectious.

When people see something they believe in they will back it, people will throw their support behind change – that’s what’s going to change the future, not the fear-based paradigm, which wears thin on people. Pity the fear-based fool, I say. Fear has been a tool of the powerful for centuries and that’s changing because people aren’t taking that medicine anymore, they’re saying ‘no, that’s rubbish, I won’t be confined, and I won’t live like that’. If people like what they see, they will back it.

Costa Georgiadis | she cooks, she gardens

I know there is hope because I see all this good stuff going on. I came across an organisation today that suddenly took on the mantle of sustainability. In a short period of time, they’ve taken a $700k a year energy bill and cut it by 53% – that’s one person saying ‘hey, we can do that’. We’re suddenly seeing a new generation of thinkers and ideas, a departure from the old ways of thinking about how we generate energy.

We’re moving away from big energy infrastructure that ties people up in grids and so on and saying ‘let’s use the sun that’s here, let’s get people off the grid and what we need is just the storage capacity’. The old paradigm is running scared because they realise the toing’s and froing’s about gold-plating systems is starting to become defunct. People are realising that if they want to change the future they need to change themselves.’

Costa’s advice to readers is simple – ‘Get to know your local growers and local farmers and support them. That decision alone will help to develop alternative food system delivery networks. By doing that you’re immediately having a huge impact on energy and energy consumption that’s reducing food miles because you’re eating seasonally and locally.  Start to grow your own food, because then you’re eating as locally as can be. Start to read labels, and if you don’t like what you find then look for alternatives. Start to find organisations that are in tune with your changing ethical position.

The more you get involved, the more you’ll start to take control and the more you take control the more you realise where your standards are and you’ll be pushed to a new level. As you do that you’ll engage in new circles, and eventually find yourself somewhere new – possibly in an entirely new position. You’ll suddenly be in this place that feels completely different to the place you started out from and it will be exciting. You’ll go places and meet people you never thought you’d meet, and it’ll be fantastic.’

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Growing Cities is a documentary film that examines the role of urban farming in America and asks how much power it has to revitalise our cities and change the way we eat.

The film is showing as part of the Adelaide Transitions Film Festival on Sunday 9th November @ 4pm at the Mercury Cinema.

Following the film there will be a Q&A panel session featuring Costa Georgiadis (Gardening Australia), Nat Wiseman (Founder of Wagtail Farm) MC: Alistair Martin (RipeNearMe).

To book tickets online head to the website.

Disclaimer: I have not received payment for this post, however I have offered to help promote the event as I feel the subject matter is important. I received access to an advanced screening of Growing Cities for reviewing purposes.

The interview with Costa was much longer than I could reasonably fit here – if you’d like to read the full interview let me know in the comments below and I’ll post it as a series.

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