Our food system involves a chain of processes: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, distribution, sales, consumption and waste disposal. There are environmental, economic and social factors as well as health implications. A major breakdown of any link in the chain could threaten our food security.
The aim of the food forum was to connect people and organisations interested in growing, sharing, sourcing and distributing healthy, affordable and sustainable food.
The room was buzzing with lively conversation from the moment I arrived. Local food producers, health workers, Bass Coast and South Gippsland Shire environment officers, Landcare facilitators, Bass Coast councillors and interested individuals were among the 30-plus people who came together at the food forum.
Conducted by the South Coast Food Policy Coalition network, this was the second of two community forums as part of the Federal Government-funded Connect-Food-Action Project, auspiced by South Coast Primary Health Care.
The network is interested in increasing access to healthy and affordable food and finding strategies to make the community food system more socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.
Julia Lomas, of South Coast Primary Health Care and the contact person for the network, gave an overview of the project, which aims to understand what the food system is, what the issues are and what actions can be taken locally.
Project co-ordinator and researcher Adrian James consulted the community, did phone interviews and reviewed the literature to see what was happening with food locally, in Victoria, Australia and overseas.
He found that locally produced food builds community resilience and increases food access, that food waste is a significant issue and that larger more industrial-scale farms are increasing pressure on the natural environment.
His report highlighted the social benefits of early childhood and school-based food programs, local markets, community hubs and volunteer involvement. Economic factors included the current supermarket duopoly in Australia, increased demand for sustainable local food and competition from overseas food production.
The report also identified health issues and related healthy-eating education programs as well as planning and built environment considerations.
Adrian had a hard time drawing people back to their seats after the delicious morning tea. The quince paste, beetroot dip, dukkah, cucumber and crackers were from Outtrim. The cheese was made at Moyarra. The kiwi berries and four varieties of cherry tomatoes were from Kardella. The hazelnuts were grown at Glen Forbes, the carrots at Leongatha South and the olive oil was produced at Loch. It was a tantalising taste of what the forum was about.
Chris Hamilton, sustainability officer from South Gippsland Shire, soon had everyone’s attention with the Southern Gippsland FOODMAP. The website is a colourful map with icons of foods, wines and retailers of locally produced food. The map is a great way to source local produce. It is a free marketing opportunity for local producers and distributors who develop their own material for their listing.
Gil Freeman from ‘Grow Lightly’, a not-for-profit group “working to help South Gippsland feed South Gippsland”, gave an inspiring talk about the local food veggie box scheme and Food Hub. The Food Hub, next to Coal Creek Heritage Village in Korumburra, sells seasonal fruit, vegetables, nuts, preserves, olive oil, honey and eggs. All produce is grown within 60 kilometres using organic agriculture principles.
The Food Hub is open three days a week and is operated exclusively by volunteers. Those unable to get to Korumburra can buy a weekly or fortnightly box of vegetables and pick it up from various depots, including Inverloch, Wonthaggi and Phillip Island.
Shianne Murray from South Gippsland Health Service in Foster showcased FOODCents, a health program that debunks the myth of healthy food being more expensive. The program, which is partnered with St Vincent de Paul, provides the skills and knowledge to access healthy and affordable food. Participants go into their local supermarket and compare the price as well as the salt and sugar content of a range of processed foods and see for themselves that the most expensive foods are the worst for your health.
The final session of the forum was an interactive exercise for each of us to identify our two highest priorities from the six areas identified in the research phase – education, policy, economic development, food landscaping on public land, retail and emergency food – and to give suggestions for future actions. Lists of ideas quickly grew on butcher’s paper on tables around the room.
Ideas for strengthening the community food system included creating education pathways to support the food sector, a Southern Gippsland food branding program, embedding food security into a range of council policies and strategies and collaborating to fund a facilitator to broaden the local food network.
The lively discussion and interaction across the diverse range of people and organisations that attended the food forum suggest there is a keen interest in supporting and encouraging sustainable, locally grown food. A draft report on the forum recommendations will be available for comment in April.