From 2 October – 5 October Dr Nick Rose, Executive Director of Sustain: The Australian Food Network, and Dr Jennifer Alden, Principal, Growing Change, visited Albany in the Great Southern
Region of Western Australia, for a series of meetings with diverse community, business and
government stakeholders. The invitations came from Evelyn Collin (Director of Community Food Events) and Libby Johnson (convenor of the Great Southern has the Greatest Food Networking Group Ever).
The focus of the visit was to explore the opportunities in the region for the establishment of a multi-functional Food Hub, with an associated discussion exploring the need for and opportunities for the establishment of a regional abattoir, to support small-to-medium-scale livestock producers. Dr Rose and Dr Alden were invited to visit the region on the basis of their work with the City of Greater Bendigo in Victoria, in conducting (from May to June 2015) a highly-regarded Food Hub feasibility study, which explored a range of options, was based on a social and economic impact assessment as well as financial modelling, and set forth a logical staging process as well as recommendations for next steps.
Subsequently Dr Rose and Dr Alden have been contracted by the Rural City of Wangaratta, also in Victoria, to undertake a Food Hub Feasibility Study; and, together with Suzette Jackson of Innate Ecology, by the City of Wyndham, to undertake both a Food Hub Feasibility Study and a Community Food Systems Engagement Strategy.
Whilst in Albany, Dr Rose and Dr Alden also attended and spoke at a monthly meeting of the Great
Southern has the Greatest Food Networking Group Ever, and Dr Rose was a keynote presenter at
the inaugural Food for Thought Festival, held in Albany town square on 4 October, and attended by
an estimated 1000 people.
Dr Rose and Dr Alden were both highly impressed by the knowledge, capacity and diverse range of
experience represented by the stakeholders who are participating in the discussions surrounding
the Great Southern Food Hub process. Dr Rose and Dr Alden were struck by the high levels of engagement and participation of producers in the discussions on both days.
As regards the Food Hub, the major obstacle at this point appears to be the establishment of effective governance processes so that the project can be effectively progressed. We believe the City of Albany is best placed to demonstrate effective leadership in this respect. We would also encourage the RDA to work with all the 11 Councils/Shires of the Great Southern to establish a region-wide Food Policy, to provide an overarching framework under which the Food Hub can sit as one of a number of high-impact strategic actions. We would recommend that this policy be developed in a participatory manner, with multi-stakeholder forums held in all of the 11 LGAs to ensure wide engagement in, and support for, the development of the policy and the implementation of the resultant action plan.
Clearly the demand for the Food Hub is well established, and it would seem to be an idea whose time has come in the Great Southern. All the necessary elements are in place: human capital, infrastructure, access to financing, logistics, relationships and networks. From our experience, moments when such a unique constellation of forces come together are rare, and the opportunity may pass if it is not taken advantage of in a timely fashion
Key next steps to progress the Food Hub include:
• Formalising the governance structure of the Food Hub Committee
• Providing funding to conduct a full feasibility study
• Developing business models for the Food Hub