From Albany to Broome, WA's food culture is creating a better future for children in Nepal. More than 60 top chefs have contributed their favourite recipes and recollections to Forage, a cookbook by Perth-based charity Upside founder and university student Calum Foulner to improve education and health in remote villages through sustainable agricultural projects.
About $350,000 has been raised since 2009 and the book - edited by Kate Christou and produced by a team of volunteers with a $5000 start-up donation from Boatshed Market in Cottesloe in recognition of its commitment to local produce - aims to boost that by an additional $120,000 over the next six months.
It's divided into four sections covering the sea, the earth, the land and the treats, with a foreword by Neil Perry, graphic design by Carmon Shirras and photography by Jessica Shaver, who has captured the landscape along the way.
Also on board are Hadleigh Troy (Restaurant Amuse), Giampaolo Maffini (Modo Mio), Chris Cheong (Beluga), Tony Howell (Cape Lodge), Aaron Carr (Vasse Felix) and Kiren Mainwaring (Dear Friends).
Mr Foulner, 24, says it represents the organisation's commitment to using business to generate funds, rather than relying on donations, and that every dollar collected is invested in a "culturally considerate" agricultural project run by local people.
"We believe that hand-outs of money are an unsustainable way of improving life in developing countries," he says. "We also apply this in Australia when we fundraise and we are proud to be selling a top-quality win-win product rather than shaking a tin; (it's) a gift in return for support."
He's in Nepal till the end of February for Action Apples, a 2000-tree orchard on 6ha of unused community land in Ghiling Village in the Mustang region of the Himalayas bordering Tibet. It's a two-day horse ride from Jomsom, which is about 200km north-west of Kathmandu. There's no electricity and the villagers rely on subsistence farming to survive. Building supplies can be brought in only during winter when rivers freeze and construction can take place only in summer when snows recede.
"It requires a lot of forward planning but I love it," he says. "It's like a step back in time. We're working in an arid climate with great growing conditions but have to bring everything in. It's taken 18 months to get 1000 metres of irrigation pipe to the orchard from the spring and put up 2.5km of fencing to keep out the Himalayan blue mountain sheep."
Upside has already completed its first project in Ghiling - a new school boarding house - with Maitri-Ratna Nepal, which means jewel of friendship. It's planned to eventually fund the running costs of the boarding house and school through the apple orchard - the first lot of 800 trees is about to go in, with commercial quantities of fruit expected in five years.
"We try to work through our local partners here and support them to do the work in the village," Mr Foulner says. "If change is going to happen, it has to happen from the inside. Every dollar generated by Upside is invested into a culturally considerate agricultural business which not only sparks a much-needed source of food, income, employment and trade for surrounding villages, but all profits from the businesses are then injected back into each community to deliver much-needed improvements in education and health. Our approach is self-empowering, sustainable and all about the long term."
The project is being overseen by a Tibetan goat shepherd called Tenzing, who founded the school, which has 42 pupils and, now, two boarding houses. Classes go through to Year 6, with Year 7 opening up this year. The plan is to progress to Year 10 by 2016.
Another project - Coffee Fix, in Makaikhola village, in the Kaski district - is earmarked to support a health post and school boarding house through plantings of coffee and oranges. It's hoped that the spin-off employment opportunities will help tackle slave and sex trafficking in the region.
"It's been a big learning curve," says Mr Foulner, who first went to Nepal in 2009 to get some perspective on his life. He'd lost his mother - the book is dedicated to her - to suicide at 15 and spent a gap year working on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean before starting a finance degree at university.
"I wasn't looking to doing any aid work. A part of me wanted to know what it would be like to live without a parent in a Third-World country, so I spent about six weeks in an orphanage in Kathmandu, then started raising money for it.
"When I dug a bit deeper, I saw that the real issues were in the remote areas of Nepal.
"I guess my experience with my mum and my experience in the Mediterranean - it was cool and fun but kind of plastic - made me realise I had to do something that would make a difference somewhere along the way."
His Communities Moving Forward (CMF - his mother's initials) formed the early workings of the Upside model, which he hopes to refine and take to some big NGOs that might be able to amplify the work it does.
Forage has already raised $80,000 since it went on sale a couple of months ago for Christmas.
The hardcover book is $55 (plus $10 postage and handling) from upsidenepal.org/forage, with all proceeds going to Upside.
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