Under its earlier name, the Food Alliance, the organization commenced in 2009 as a VicHealth-funded research team. The Faculty of Health at Deakin University hosted the alliance. Its purpose was to build on the achievements of the Food for All food security project (2005-2010). To this end, from 2009 till 2015 the Food Alliance worked with diverse stakeholders to build the knowledge and evidence-base of the Melbourne and Victorian food systems, and to identify opportunities for strategic engagements and advocacy. In 2014, through a series of forums and workshops that continued into 2015, the team began a research program to develop the Circles of Food approach. This approach is now the basis of Sustain’s work.
- Creating a strong and expanding alliance of Victorian food-system stakeholders across communities, producers, local and state governments, health workers and food businesses;
- Significantly influencing Plan Melbourne, the new Metropolitan Planning Strategy for Melbourne. For the first time, the plan includes objectives related to increasing Melbourne’s capacity for food production and protecting prime farmland. This is a result of the Food Alliance’s extensive advocacy on the issue and its related research program;
- Influencing the development of the National Food Plan. This especially relates to the explicit integration of support for community food-initiatives, such as farmers’ markets;
- Significantly influencing the Healthy Food Connect program within the Victorian Government’s Healthy Together Victoria initiative through our food systems approach;
- Shaping the development of the City of Melbourne’s food policy, Food City as an integrated approach to promoting a healthy, sustainable and fair food system;
- Creating a unique set of resources for several peri-urban local governments. These resources highlight the key role these regions play in feeding Melbourne. Some of this work was funded through the crowd-sourcing Know Your Foodbowl research; and
- Partnering with the Victorian EcoInnovation Lab and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Foodprint Melbourne. Through this partnership an Australia-first piece of research investigated where Melbourne’s food currently comes from, and exlored the potential to source more of Melbourne’s food from within Victoria.
From the Food Alliance to Sustain
In 2015, the Food Alliance relocated to the William Angliss Institute in Melbourne’s CBD. It incorporated as a not-for-profit entity with a new name – Sustain: The Australian Food Network. This change reflected a new stage of its life, emphasizing engagement with local councils and existing food networks.
Sustain functions as a network of food networks. It articulates and amplifies the work of the growing number of local food networks that have emerged and are emerging around the country. Building upon this grass roots strength Sustain works alongside government, business and community stakeholders to establish a truly national food network, taking into account and learning from the well-established models of the Food Policy Councils in North America and the Sustainable Food Cities Network in the United Kingdom.
It has a number of core activities:
- Supporting local governments and other public-sector institutions to develop and implement food policies, plans and strategies;
- Facilitating community-engaged research placements with graduate and post-graduate students in member institutions to help them document their food-related policy and programme work;
- Generating food-system profiles for local councils and other institutions to help establish baselines and benchmarking;
- Building and expanding communities of practice in all dimensions of food systems, urban agriculture in particular; and
- Organizing and co-ordinating events at local and regional level, to enable the sharing of research, practice and policy.