Local Food Economy Pilot Study – Bendigo

Read Alex and Julia’s update on their work in Bendigo

Introduction

The bulk of the policy and research focus on food and farming in Australia is directed towards bulk commodity production, with a strong orientation towards export and trade. In recent years, a growing public and policy awareness of multiple and converging health, environmental and food security challenges have contributed to the realisation of the need for recognition of the multidimensional nature of food systems. With this recognition has come an increasing interest in, and support for, local food economies.

We can define a local food economy as:

Food production, and related economic and social activities close to where people live, typically resulting in higher levels of trust and more intimate connections between producers and purchasers.’

A strong local food system not only has health and environmental benefits, but also benefits local economies through local job creation, greater investment in local businesses and increased farm viability.

This Pilot study for Bendigo will generate a ‘Local Food Economy Report’, which will aim to quantify these economic benefits and map local food economy changes and initiatives that are underway at all levels. Whilst good production information exists for most regions of Victoria, there is an overwhelming knowledge gap regarding what portion of this food is sold and consumed locally. In order to quantify the Victorian local food economy, it is first necessary to populate this knowledge gap.

With this in mind, the development of the local food economies report will be an iterative process, with the first step being a region wide pilot study, in order to develop a template that can be replicated with the incorporation of more Victorian regions.

Sustain: The Australian Food Network recognises that local governments and community stakeholders, including local producers and food businesses, are leaders and pioneers in the field, with substantial knowledge of their region and its communities. Accordingly the development of this project will be a participatory and consultative process, incorporating the needs, priorities and opportunities in regards to:

  • Regional production

  • Large and small producers in the region

  • Regional farmers markets

  • Farm gate activities

  • Community supported agricultural organisations

  • Educational programs e.g. farm to school, kitchen gardens

  • Community gardens

  • Co-ops

  • Local food processes

  • Not-for-profit organisations e.g. food rescue organisations, food waste programs

  • Local retailers with a local produce focus e.g. markets, cafes, restaurants

  • Back yard producers

  • Community members with interest in the local food movement

NB: For the sake of the project, local can be defined as anything bought or sold within Victoria (or neighboring border towns), however during the pilot stage we will only be collecting data from those within the Greater Bendigo region.

Project Aims

  • Comprehensively map actors across different sectors including identifying important relationships and interactions

  • Quantify the economic impact of the local food industry and disaggregate by sector e.g. producers, processors, retailers, food procurers, councils, not for profit organisations. Data collection will include information regarding local food activities, sales channels, relationships with other stakeholders, number of employees, annual turnover and percentage attributed to local produce

  • Obtain qualitative data regarding the importance, challenges and opportunity in the local food system for all stakeholders – Basically we want to know how the community engages with the local food economy, whether it be big or small.

  • Provide a template to repeat the pilot in other Victorian regions with the view to produce a state wide report outlining the economic impact of the local food economy in Victoria

Challenges and limitations

We envisage that there will be data that will be difficult to collect or quantify. We understand that local food is a difficult construct to define and therefore cannot discount, nor often distinguish between, food bought or sold, by or from, other Victorian regions. There will therefore undoubtedly be activities that are not captured, inaccurately quantified or incorrectly not recognised as being part of the local food economy.

We also appreciate that some stakeholders might consider some of this information sensitive and whilst we will do our upmost to ensure that sensitive financial data remains anonymous, there may be stakeholders who wish not to share this information with us. We encourage these stakeholders to still get involved and fill out our surveys or share their thoughts as best they can; all input is valuable to us.

Data Collection

Data collection is been undertaken in a number of ways:

  • Structured surveys of local businesses, including producers, processors (could be any value added product from cured meats to tomato relish) and retailers (including hospitality businesses and caterers) – This will be mainly undertaken via email with participants encouraged to contact us if they wish to be involved further or can contribute more information

  • Simple survey monkeys to capture any back-yard production, at home value adding or food rescue activities that are occurring – basically we want to know how any individual contributes to the local food system, big or small! These survey monkeys have been disseminated via our Facebook page ‘Bendigo’s Local Food Movement’ – in an attempt to capture as much local food system activity as possible.

  • Semi structured interviews with local not for profit organisations, community gardens, market managers, council, organisations that procure food (La Trobe University, Bendigo Base Hospital etc.) and a range of other larger stakeholders.

Outcomes

The final outcome will be a jargon free report that aims to highlight, and therefore strengthen, the importance of a strong local food economy and its associated activities. The report will have a wide readership including local councils, producers and growers, farmers markets coordinators, the hospitality and retail sectors, food processors, schools and other educational institutions, community groups, the health sector and not-for-profit organisations.

This report will contribute to the growing visibility of the local and regional food sector in Victoria. It will build the case for stronger investment in the sector, and legislative and regulatory change to enhance the viability of local producers and food businesses. It will serve as a template and an example to be followed by other regions in Victoria and nationally, and therefore become an important resource to strengthen the local and fair food movement in this state and beyond. Significantly, it will help continue to position Bendigo and all the food system stakeholders in the region as leaders and pioneers in this emerging sphere in Victoria and Australia.

Preliminary themes

Data collection for the project has already commenced in the form of structured surveys and whilst the quantifiable economic value of the local food system cannot be determined until data is comprehensively obtained, the qualitative data already gives us some clear picture of the importance of the local food system to communities.

Themes of consumer education and choice, strengthening sense of community, environmental and health benefits and supporting local business carry strongly throughout the survey responses as benefits and motivations to selling locally:

Getting to know our customers on a face to face level’

People can visit, talk, and view our farming systems first hand and decide if they want to support’

Consumers knows where their food is coming from’

Low food miles’

Fresher, real food for consumers’

Similarly there are a number of recurring themes of the limitations and challenges that exist in local food economies:

Difficulty in start up cost for small producers enforced by governments’

Convincing consumers of the benefits of local produce due to higher cost compared to supermarket models’

Marketing local food as a viable alternative and not a niche luxury item’

Focus of governments on strengthening economies through import and export markets’

We want to hear from anyone in the Greater Bendigo region who is involved or interested in the local food economy.

Julia and Alex can be contacted via our email or Facebook page:

Email: bendigolocalfood@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Bendigolocalfood/?fref=ts

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