On 19th October 2015 Sustain: The Australian Food Network was launched in Melbourne’s CBD, with a one-day workshop: Democratising Food Systems. This was a well-attended and very successful event, and we are pleased now to publish the workshop report. The executive summary is reproduced below, and the full report can be downloaded by clicking here:
Democratising Food Systems was a participatory one-day workshop held at the William Angliss Restaurant in Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne, on 19th October 2015.
Organised in collaboration with William Angliss Institute and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA), the intent of the workshop was to launch Sustain: The Australian Food Network and offer the opportunity to a diverse range of food system actors and stakeholders to meet and have structured conversations around some of the critical challenges facing Victoria’s, and Australia’s, food system.
Eighty participants attended: producers, social entrepreneurs, community food networkers, farmers’ market coordinators, not-for-profit managers, local government managers, local government agribusiness extension and rural business officers, dieticians and health professionals, representatives of philanthropic foundations, trade union organisers, writers, researchers, academics, and students, and chefs.
With contributions from four organisations, participants spent the day exploring four key wicked problems affecting the food system:
- Scarcity in a world of abundance: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
- Cheap food and labour exploitation: National Union of Workers
- Land loss and urban sprawl: Foodprint Melbourne researchers
- Inappropriate-scale regulation: Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance
The workshop was very well received by participants, 36% of whom completed a post-workshop survey. More than 70% said the workshop either significantly (53%) or greatly (18%) opened up new ways of approaching and thinking about food systems issues. Participants came for exposure to new ideas and approaches, and they were not disappointed. They also came to meet and connect with other food system actors, and many commented that this was one of the key successes of the workshop: the diverse mix of individuals and organisations in the room, well beyond what has been the typical experience of previous food events.
Recommendations for next steps included the following:
- More events through the year, focused on particular issues and / or regions
- Website resources to outline key target objectives and outlines for Sustain
- The establishment of working groups to progress a change agenda
- Holding the same or a similar event with collaborators in NSW
A key outcome of the day was the identification of the critically important roles supported by Mornington Peninsula Shire Council (MPSC) and the City of Whittlesea (CoW) in the form of a Rural Business Officer (MPSC, Gillian Stewart) and an Agribusiness Officer (City of Whittlesea, Annemaree Docking). Gillian and Annemaree shared their accumulated experience in these roles over the past few years, highlighting how effectively they had been able to build bridges between external stakeholders (producers) and internal stakeholders (planners, environmental health officers, food safety officers), beginning to transform what had previously been antagonistic relationships into constructive ones. Further, these roles demonstrated that both MPSC and CoW valued and supported their local producers, through (for example) the formation of the Small Rural Landholders network in Mornington Peninsula, and regular Agribusiness workshops and events in Whittlesea. Such initiatives have not only reached out to the producer community, but also built awareness and support for the local food system in both municipalities amongst the broader community.
Sustain is pleased to report that we are working with Gillian and Annemaree, as well as the Victorian Local Governance Association and the City of Greater Bendigo, to form a VLGA-led working group involving senior staff and Councillors from a number of local governments, with two aims:
- To raise awareness within councils of the importance of this Agribusiness Extension role
- To advocate across local government in Victoria for the creation of such roles in peri-urban / interface Councils, and in regional and rural Councils
The first meeting of this working group will take place early in 2016, and it is anticipated that it will meet on two-to-three occasions in order to map out an action pathway. This will likely include engagements with the State government over key issues such as definitions of ‘intensive agriculture’ in the State planning scheme and other threats to producer security, as well as the broader strategic question of protection of high-value farmland.
 Foodprint Melbourne is a joint project led by the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (University of Melbourne) and Food Alliance (Deakin University) / Sustain; and funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.