Cardinia Shire: Food systems background mapping report
From November 2016 to January 2017, Sustain researcher Julia Laidlaw worked with current and former staff from Cardinia Shire Council, as well as a number of other local food system stakeholders, to undertake a Cardinia food systems mapping exercise. The major part of this work consisted of a thorough review of the extensive documentation generated by the Healthy Together Cardinia Shire team of health promotion staff from 2012-2016, as well as other key strategies, action plans and reports.
Below we reproduce the executive summary and key preliminary recommendations from the 180-page report. This report serves as a key step in establishing the baseline of evidence and knowledge about the Cardinia food system as it presently exists.
This report is the first phase in a multi-year, collective impact food systems project: Cardinia Food Circles. This Project will inform the development of the 2017-2021 Cardinia Public Health and Wellbeing Plan, and support the implementation and achievement of the objectives agreed upon by Cardinia Shire Council in that Plan, across the seven ‘liveability’ domains.
The evidence concerning the relationship between a good food system and good living is overwhelming. As this report demonstrates, the multiple and complex dimensions of this relationship have a direct bearing on the Shire of Cardinia and the quality of life – expressed as ‘liveability’ – of its citizens.
Via a desktop analysis of existing policies, strategies and relevant reports, complemented by a small number of interviews with key informants, this report explores some of the principle systemic influences on the food system in Cardinia. It aims to uncover the contextual reasons why many Cardinia Shire residents are not eating as well as would be hoped, given the goal of optimising liveability for all. In applying a systems-lens to the question of food, the report has revealed a myriad of factors at the local, state and national levels — and across the domains of economy, ecology, politics, and culture — that influence and shape what ends up on the plate in Cardinia households, restaurants and cafes, and workplaces.
The Report has also identified gaps in the documentation, as well as omissions and weaknesses in the programs, projects and initiatives undertaken to date. This gap analysis has informed the recommendations we make for the subsequent development and implementation of the Cardinia Food Circles project. As a desktop review with insights from a small number of people who have worked to build a healthier Cardinia food system, it is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, and we make no claims to that end. Rather, the Report is an evidence-based starting point from which to build discussion and future action, laying the foundations for the next stages of the Cardinia Food Circles project.
The next stage of the Project will be to work with internal and external stakeholders in small groups (of 10-15 people) to collaboratively build a profile of the Cardinia Food System across the four domains of economy, ecology, politics and culture (see Section 7 and Appendix 11). The findings of this report will be circulated to those stakeholders prior to meeting in a workshop format; the report therefore serves both as a starting point to stimulate discussion and debate, and as a resource for all persons interested in the Cardinia food system and in this project. We fully expect that the data in this report will be complemented by the wealth of knowledge and experience that the stakeholders will bring to the food profile assessment process. That profile will form the project baseline, against which progress over the coming months and years can be monitored and evaluated.
The Shire of Cardinia is experiencing rapid and significant processes of change. Despite seemingly intractable challenges, there are wonderful opportunities in the municipality to build upon its considerable strengths and assets. Cardinia could become an exemplary municipality in the way it approaches its food system. Indeed, that is the aspiration of the Cardinia Food Circles project.
Principal Findings and recommendations
Consistent with the Circles of Social Life methodology, these findings are classified under the four domains of economy, ecology, politics and culture.
- There are major opportunities to support existing and new growers to achieve greater produce diversity and extended production seasons in the Cardinia area
- There are significant economic pressures on Cardinia residents that negatively affect their eating patterns and overall health and wellbeing
- Government regulatory barriers place restrictions on the capacity of farmers to sell directly at the farm gate, with permits required for stores over 50m2
- Former HTCS staff considered the lack of consistent program branding a lost opportunity that undermined the impact of projects
Economically, food is an integral part of a balanced production and exchange system. Growing, processing, and providing food can generate sustainable employment. The Shire of Cardinia has an established and successful agriculture sector. However, there remain other economic areas that need focussed attention in the municipality. Common to many cities in Australia and across the world, inequities in access to good food are associated with basic problems in the local community. Setting up or supporting exemplary small-to-medium food enterprises is one way amongst many of responding to this issue.
- Diversify and expand food production, distribution and consumption in the Shire, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal and where possible local produce
- Support business innovation and local job creation in Shire’s food system, for example through consideration of a Cardinia Local Food Hub
- Explore opportunities to support the emergence of essential food providers in retail environments, especially in rural areas, as opposed to heavily burdening communities with non-essential food providers (Healthy Food Connect Report 2014)
- Supporting local suppliers to provide economically accessible locally produced food (Aspirational Energy Transition Plan)
- Encouraging changes in pre-existing food retailers to support people to make healthier choices (such as changes in in-store promotion, display of foods and food placement, menu adaptation, portion size) (Healthy Food Connect Report 2014)
- The Cardinia Western Port Green Wedge Management Plan and Bunyip Food Belt Proposal reflect a deep understanding of the significance of the ecological values of Cardinia region and the importance of preserving it for its biodiversity, agricultural, horticultural and heritage values
- Currently, just over half of the shire’s stormwater comes from agricultural areas. Agricultural land use is also the most significant contributor to pollutant loads to receiving waters
- High levels of obesity and dietary related ill health levels in part caused by the lack of fresh food outlets (food deserts) across the shire & low levels of food literacy
- Only 3.4% of Cardinia residents meet both fruit and veg daily intake requirements
- In common with all municipalities, minimising food waste and recovering vital nutrients presents a major challenge. 32% of waste in the garbage bin in Cardinia was food waste, constituting a major source of methane gas emissions
Ecologically, living in a sustainable environment that enables availability and access to nutritious food has a direct relationship to better health outcomes. Adequate fruit-and-vegetable consumption, for example, can decrease the risk of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. Yet most Australians, including over 93 per cent of people within the Shire of Cardinia, do not consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. Growing food locally can, for example, contribute to changing this problem.
- Encourage the development of sustainable food systems that are readily able to adapt to climate change impacts (Healthy Food Connect recommendations) as well as minimise impacts on waterways and soils
- Continue to encourage community food waste reduction through education, composting and worm farms , reducing rubbish collection requirements (Aspirational Energy Transition Plan)
- Explore advanced technologies for processing organics to compost and support development of local markets for use of organic waste to enhance soil quality (See current Waste Management strategy – A new Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy available in 2018)
- Encourage local food production through community education and establishing and supporting community gardens (Aspirational Energy Transition Plan)
- Systems thinking is new to most people and an emerging approach to organisational planning and strategy. HTCS evaluation report and conversations with former staff highlighted the lack of clarity and confidence in its communication as an ongoing challenge.
- Healthy eating is mentioned in a number of council policies as a result of the food security principles developed under HTCS, but this is not properly reflected in strategic design or the coordination of local government sectoral KPIs & mutually supportive policies
- Building the capacity of staff to increase the sustainability of projects will be enhanced with the appropriate investment of time and energy
- The general public and local government employees are generally skeptical of investing too heavily into new programs because of the likelihood of change or disruption to previous health programs linked government funding election cycles
- A major challenge is presented by the different levels of government and their powers in localised regional affairs
Politically, Cardinia Shire Council has taken the laudable step to develop a local food systems strategy that attends to the whole food system. The Healthy Together Cardinia team and other Council employees are acutely aware of the critical issues that affect a vibrant food system. They are clear about what the Council can directly change, what it can influence, and what is beyond its jurisdiction. Cardinia Shire Council could thus take a local, statewide and national lead in this area. That is, Cardinia could become a city that consciously treats food as a central part of its social life. In political terms, this means building questions of the vitality of the food system into the centre of its policy-making.
- Build capacity amongst council staff and councillors by integrating food systems thinking across different business units and within key council plans and strategies (Politics)
- Evaluation processes and priorities should be in place from the outset of the project
- Advocate to other levels of government through research and case studies for changes in planning policy for better control around density and proximity to vulnerable communities of fast food outlets
- The strongest predictors (amongst others) of inadequate vegetable consumption and inadequate vigorous moderate physical activity is “a lack of time”: the majority of Cardinia residents are faced with long commutes by car to work however this is not the only cause with cost and convenience significantly relevant factors
- Eating habits and healthy lifestyles are learnt; and there are powerful economic interests that shape eating habits of families and children
- Conversations with key stakeholders revealed that engagement and sustainability of future projects would be greatly enhanced if they were designed with community input in a ‘bottom up’ way
- Advocacy for change and accountability greatly benefit from vision, inspiration and living examples of possibilities
Culturally, the liveability challenges of employment, transport and cost of living pressures, together with a planning framework that has privileged the expansion of non-essential food providers, mean that ‘making healthy choices the easy choices’ is far from simple and easy. Transforming a food system that, in effect, makes unhealthy choices the easy choices, to one that supports optimal health and wellbeing for all Shire residents, will require united and committed action around the aspirational visions and targets of the Cardinia Food Circles project. People of Cardinia already take food very seriously. This provides a strong basis for taking action in the area of food. Even though this cultural strength does not yet translate into more than an emergent and inchoate civic (political) engagement with food issues in the local area, the signs are promising.
- Healthy eating and dietary habits and related issues must be analysed within a broad systemic context that factors in the myriad of potential causes and their effects. This is needed to build a shared understanding of the Cardinia food systems, and its challenges and opportunities amongst a diverse and representative group of stakeholders
- Establish a shared and widely understood definition and baseline of food literacy with shire residents and council officers
- Raise levels of food literacy across the shire, particularly amongst the youth
- Establish a local food security coalition of food producers, distributors and consumers to strengthen food security (From 2014−15 Health Promotion Recommendations)
Evaluation and iterative community engagement processes worked into the life of the project but especially at the outset are essential.
 Cardinia Shire Liveability Plan 2017-2021, Research and Data Profile, September 2016
 Cardinia Shire Liveability Plan 2017-2012, p114.