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February 2015

DIY frugal and natural foaming hand wash

Simple soap and water is just as effective as antibacterial soaps. Little eco footprints

Commercial liquid hand soap was the first product I ditched when I started simplifying our household’s personal care products. I now make a simple foaming handwash using only two ingredients: water and castile soap. By switching to a simple homemade handwash, you can reduce exposure to unnecessary chemicals, minimise waste and save money.

The liquid soaps you find in the supermarket are laden with a long list of unnecessary and nasty chemicals.

I used the helpful Skin Deep cosmetics database to investigate the safety of ingredients in a major brand of anti-bacterial handwash. I discovered that of the 17 ingredients listed, seven are considered a "moderate hazard", including the first ingredient after water – cetrimonium chloride. This chemical and others, such as methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone, can cause skin damage and allergic reactions.

Simply switching to a "natural" product isn't the answer.

Just because something is advertised as containing "ingredients of natural origin" doesn't mean that it’s safe to put on your skin.

Even an expensive hand wash marketed as "plant-based" and containing "all-natural ingredients" contains potentially irritant chemicals such as cocamidopropyl betaine, phenoxyethanol and phenoxyethanol.

The home brand and budget hand soaps fare even worse, with most containing the "high hazard" triclosan, despite it being a toxic chemical that can interfere with hormone regulation.

There’s no evidence that including triclosan and other antibacterial or antimicrobial ingredients in hand soaps is any more effective than plain soap and water.

Given that washing our hands with plain soap and water works just as well, washing our hands with these chemicals seems an unnecessary risk, particularly for children and expectant mothers.

But I get the appeal of liquid soap. Thankfully it’s easy to make your own.

How to make your own foaming hand wash

Making your own foaming handwash couldn't be simpler and will save you money.

Make your own foaming soap wash using only water and castile soap. Little eco footprints

To make your own foaming hand soap, you will need a foaming soap dispenser. You can buy foamy bottles from online soap-making supply stores, or you can simply buy a foaming hand soap and reuse the dispenser.

Castile soap is a very mild liquid soap that will clean your skin without stripping it of natural oils. It is traditionally made using pure olive oil, but can also be made with other oils. You will find it in most organic food stores, or from online soap supply stores.

Fill the dispenser four parts water and one part liquid castile soap. Little eco footprints 2

Fill the dispenser four parts water and one part liquid castile soap. Little eco footprints

To make the foaming hand wash, fill the dispenser with around four parts sterilised water and one part castile soap. I simply leave the morning kettle boil for an extra minute and use that water once it has cooled.

Home made simple and frugal foaming hand wash. Little eco footprints

Buying your castile soap in bulk will make your hand wash super-frugal. I bought a five-litre bottle – which is enough soap for me to make 25 litres of handwash. I like that I haven’t had to think about buying hand soap in the five years since I bought the bottle. I'm guessing it will last me another five years.

My foaming handwash works out costing around $1 a litre – far cheaper than even the cheapest and nastiest home brand refill hand soap at $4 a litre.

The pump can become stiff after a while. I’ve read that you can add a dash of oil to your mix to alleviate this problem. I simply wash my dispensers thoroughly in sterilised water and leave them to air-dry when this happens.

Switching your handwash may seem a trivial change that isn't worth the bother. But lots of small changes can make a big difference.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 23rd February 2015.

Foraging wild food - prickles, patience and practice

Prickly Pear fruit. Little eco footprints

Foraging is more than simply gathering free food. It can fulfil an innate urge to collect and is surprisingly rewarding. But it can take a while to get used to the unusual and variable flavours.

How to forage Prickly Pear. Little eco footprints

I've found that prickles, patience and practice are part of the process when learning how to forage food.

"Collecting wild foods is deeply rooted in our nature," wrote Adam Grubb and Annie Raser Rowland in The Weed Forager’s Handbook. For the vast majority of human history, we have been hunter-gatherers, dependent on our ability to forage. "Reconnecting with the original function of our foraging impulses helps us satiate them before they erupt into a house full of unused kitchen gadgets, shoes, or an LP jazz collection," wrote Adam and Annie.

By fulfilling an impulse to search, identify, collect and prepare, foraging can help us be content with what we have rather than yearn for more.

Foraging isn't without risks and hassles. Thankfully there are loads of resources, both online and in books (My favourite beginner foraging books include this one, this one and this one), which can help you get started (Weedy greens are a great place for beginners to start).

There’s also a long list of rules and tips that will ensure you don’t accidentally eat something that is poisonous, contaminated with herbicides or laden with heavy metals.

How to forage Prickly Pear fruit Australia. Little eco footprints

Once you make your way though the long list of rules and finally taste your previously forbidden fruit, you may discover you don’t like the taste, because the taste of wild foraged food can take a while to get used to.

"The first time you taste a new food, your tongue is naturally suspicious, especially of bitter flavours. Those of you who remember your first tastes of beer or coffee will know what we mean. It’s often only after you eat a new food, sleep, and wake up alive and well, that your tongue is willing to appreciate its nuances," wrote Adam and Annie.

The taste of wild foods can also vary between plants. Wild foraged food isn’t predictable like the cultivated food you’ll find in the supermarket. As Adam and Annie say: "Be persistent. Don’t be put off by one experience with a weed that’s been too tough, sour or bitter for your taste. It may taste quite different growing in a different spot."

How to forage Prickly Pear fruit. Little eco footprints

I've experienced this variation when foraging Prickly Pear fruit. I’d read that its flavour is like a cross between all-natural bubblegum and watermelon, or like raspberries and watermelon with kiwifruit. But each time I tasted the fruit, I found it bland and definitely not worth the prickles. However, prickly pear is abundant in my neighbourhood, so I persisted. Then finally, I harvested some delicious fruit without getting a single prickle. My persistence and practice paid off.

Prickly Pear weed Australia. Little eco footprints

Preparing foraged Prickly Pear pads nopales. Little eco footprints

I've had a similar experience with prickly pear pads. Known as nopales, prickly pear pads are popular in Mexican cuisine.

How to prepare nopales Prickly Pear pads. Little eco footprints.


The first time I tasted them, I didn't like their sour flavour and slimy, mucilaginous texture. The meal wasn't worth the laborious process of carefully picking and preparing the prickly pads. But again, I persisted and practised and discovered that boiling in water is the key to reducing their slimy texture.

Cooking Nopales. Prickly Pear pads. Little eco footprints.

Nopales con huevos. Prickly Pear pads with scrambled eggs. Little eco footprints.

I recently made a classic Mexican meal – nopales con huevos. Or scrambled eggs and prickly pear. It was edible.

I wouldn't say I love prickly pear pads, but I'm going to persist. There’s still a long list of Mexican nopales recipes to try. Tortillas with cactus and cheese is next.

I'm pleased that I'm fulfilling more than my appetite when I serve foraged foods because otherwise I’d likely stick to scrambled eggs sans the prickly pads.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 16th February 2015.

How you can help Shepherds Ground grow

I’ve been watching with interest the progress of a proposed rural land sharing community here in the Hunter Valley.

The Shepherds Ground Village and Farm is forging ahead and provides an inspiring model for how communities can live and produce food sustainably.

Port Stephens Council has granted development consent and almost half of the 29 memberships have already sold.

Shepherds Ground members (from left) Marco Forman, Leonore Bastow,  Lucie Bruvel and Lucie's son Angelo. With the Sheherds Ground site in the background. Tricia Hogbin-800x534

This project makes me almost disappointed I already own a rural property.  Otherwise I’d be buying a membership. For less than what we paid for our nine-acre powerless property with no home and no water, members get a brand new sustainable home overlooking more than 200 acres of productive farmland and restored bushland. 

Members will also have access to their own large garden plot or can be part of the co-operative that will establish a diverse and sustainable biodynamic farm. There’s also a community hall, commercial kitchen, and plans for a bakery, apiary and market garden.

The village lifestyle is one of the main attractions for Lucie Bruvel (pictured above, second from right), one of the key drivers of the project. ‘‘I’ve lived in communities and small villages in Europe and love the sense of connection and co-operation that comes with village life. There’s always someone to share a meal with or mind the children,’’ Lucie said. 

Shepherds ground village and farm plans

There’s a diverse range of people and ages joining as members, ‘‘all with a common willingness to become part of a greater movement towards a simpler more healthy and connected way of life’’.

They already have half-a-dozen families with children and Lucie tells me they are considering getting a community bus to transport the kids to nearby schools.

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is that it will facilitate the restoration and sustainable farming of a heavily grazed and degraded piece of land that would otherwise be beyond the financial reach of most farmers.

Without the Shepherds Ground project, the property would most likely be  bought by a wealthy tree-changer and become a picturesque weekender. 

The 29 village sites help to fund the purchase of the farmland so that it can grow food and support the dreams of aspiring young farmers. 

Marco Forman, one of the young farmers that will create a sustainable and diverse biodynamic farm at Shepherds Ground. Tricia Hogbin-800x534

Being able to farm, without taking on a huge financial burden that forces unsustainable farming practices is what attracted biodynamic enthusiast Marco Forman to the project. He  is looking forward to being part of the team that establishes a sustainable mixed farm. ‘‘There’s enough space for multiple small farming enterprises that can grow food, not only for the village, but the broader community as well,’’ Marco said. 

We can all help this worthwhile project suceed

I love that the Shepherds Ground team are generously allowing everyone to be involved in this exciting project.

I’ve signed up as a Friend of Shepherds Ground and have also donated to their current crowd-funding campaign.

The campaign closes at the end of February and is the final push to raise the remaining funds to buy the land and make this dream a reality.

If we all donate a little, we can give this worthwhile project a big boost.

Donate to this not-for-profit project here.  

(Long-time readers will know that I rarely suggest ways for you to part with your money.  I'm making an exception for this project because I believe it will be a valuable model for how we can grow food sustainably and also live meaningful and healthy lives). 

The Edwards in Newcastle is hosting an evening get-together 21 February to help raise funds for the current campaign. It will provide an opportunity to find out more about the project and meet like-minded people. Anyone is welcome.

For more information and to contribute to the funding campaign visit 

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 9th February 2015.

Understanding the true cost of cheap food

Our roosters Limpy and Roostie. Understanding the true cost of cheap food. Little eco footprints

It's easy to not appreciate the true cost of our food when it’s so cheap. The full ethical and environmental costs aren’t included in the "Cheap, cheap. Down, down" prices you’ll find at the supermarket or fast food outlet. This undervaluing of our food causes a cycle of increased food waste, continued environmental degradation, and far from ideal farming practices. Thankfully, once you become more connected to your food, cheap undervalued food becomes easier to resist. 

Australian households waste more than $5 billion worth of food each year. This waste is not only costing our hip pocket, it’s costing the environment.

Greenhouse gasses are being emitted, land cleared, and water guzzled – to grow good food that ends up being tossed in the bin. 

Most of us know that food waste is wrong – yet plenty of us still waste food – and feel guilty about it.

It’s easy to find tips for reducing food waste. We can meal plan, write a shopping list, store our food properly, and embrace leftovers. But behaviour change can be challenging if your heart isn’t in it.

Truly understanding where your food comes from can provide the motivation needed to avoid cheap food and reduce food waste.

Bethany Turner,  a researcher from the University of Canberra, studied the food waste behaviours of consumers and found that "people who grow some of their own food go to great lengths to prevent food waste.  These consumers speak of the time, effort and care that underpins food production,  and are motivated to avoid waste out of respect for the food itself as well as its producer". 

Processing our rooster. Understanding the true cost of cheap food. Little eco footprints

I felt this strong motivation to avoid food waste at all cost when I recently processed one of my roosters.  The value of chicken meat in my mind has increased exponentially. 

We raised our two roosters from eggs, and despite my original plan being to process the roosters for meat, I chickened out. I fell in love with both of them.  "Soup" and "Stock" were saved from the pot and were renamed "Roostie" and "Limpy".

But then the crowing competition began. They were trying to out-crow each other – all day – from 4 am.

So in the interest of being a good neighbour we decided one of them had to go. Roostie, the most frequent crower, reverted back to his original name – Soup.

So almost a year after learning how to process chickens at Buena Vista Farm, I finally found the courage to process one of my own chooks. Kind of.  Daddy Eco thankfully did the deed and I managed the plucking and gutting.

Given the effort we put into raising him from an egg, feeding and eventually butchering him, I made the most of his nutritious and delicious meat.

He became four meals. 

Connecting with our food. Rooster coq au vin. Little eco footprints.

The first meal was a coq au vin inspired casserole and I served leftovers the following day.

Making rooster bone broth. Little eco footprints

Then I used his bones (plus feet and gizzard) to make a super healthy bone broth which became a delicious chicken and vegetable soup that fed us for two more meals.

I’m not suggesting you go out and grow your own roosters to process. Perhaps you can grow a pot of carrots or lettuce. If you do,  I’m sure you’ll be less likely to toss slightly floppy carrots and you’ll be carefully storing your lettuce so that it stays crisp as long possible.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 2nd February 2015.