Community Food Projects


The Issue

Large supermarkets and multinational corporations dominate the production, processing and distribution of food in Australia with impacts on farmers, the environment and community awareness of where food comes from. Community food projects have grown in response to concerns around access to fresh and affordable food, health, sustainability and resilience in a changing climate.

Some projects have a focus on production (community gardens, school food gardens) and others on distribution (farmers’ markets, food hubs).

Ceres Fair Food is a non-profit online organic grocer and is an example of a community food project that focuses on distribution. This project creates closer connections between farmers and consumers.

Community food projects can: help producers connect directly with consumers, create alternatives to heavily processed food and supermarket outlets; provide healthy physical and social activities, support cultural integration; strengthen community resilience; and enable the learning of new skills around growing and preparing food. Similarly, community and local food projects can have an impact on the way communities think about food, build capacity, forge relationships and networks and offer an opportunity to grow or provide access to culturally appropriate, affordable and healthy produce.  By developing strong relationships with local government and local businesses, they can make a positive contribution to job creation, local economic development, and to community food security.

What can I, as a practitioner and member of the public, do to support community food projects?

Connect with others working in this area. Support food projects to suit the needs of different communities. These could range from large to small initiatives such as farmers’ markets, community gardens, school gardens, food hubs, curbside planter boxes, urban agriculture, community supported agriculture, urban orchards and food forests and food swaps from home gardens.

Community gardens and urban agriculture

Community gardens enable local people without access to a garden to grow fresh food for their own or shared consumption on public or underused land. Gardens may be on Housing Commission Estates, vacant blocks and land awaiting development. Although some councils allow the limited use of parkland in particular circumstances, this is often contested.  Management models vary according to the land ownership, community and authority involved.  The social, health and community benefits are many and diverse.  For many housing commission residents, community gardens offer an opportunity to grow plants from their own food culture.

Richmond Community Gardens and Cultivating Community on ABC’s Gardening Australia

Urban agriculture is usually defined as the production, processing and distribution of food in urban and peri-urban areas. As such, it can include a variety of activities and scale, including community gardens, urban orchards (fruit trees on public land), curbside planter boxes and nature strip food plantings. Some local governments have developed guidelines for this and other community food growing activities. A new project, 3000 acres, is developing a framework and resource to map all land potentially available for food growing as community gardens in Melbourne.

As urban sites are often contaminated, soil testing or the use of raised beds with imported growing media can be essential. Guerrilla gardening is a term applied to plantings that have not gone through council approval processes.  For an inspiring story of how Guerrilla Gardening can bring communities together and create positive social benefits watch this Ron Finley TED talk about Guerilla Gardening in South Central Los Angeles

Food swaps enable sharing of excess produce from home gardens, reducing waste and building community. Edible facades, vertical farming and rooftop farms are other forms of urban food production being developed overseas.

The Food Alliance is working with many local councils, community organisations and social enterprises in and beyond Melbourne to support and promote the expansion of urban agriculture in Victoria. For more details, visit our Urban Agriculture page [link to page on Urban Agriculture]

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community supported agriculture refers to a range of initiatives where farmers and consumers enter a formal partnership regarding the production and exchange of fruit, vegetables and other farm products. Communities get access to fresh, local fruit and vegetables and gain an insight into the challenges of food production. Farmers benefit from a direct channel to market and guaranteed buyers for produce. The risks are shared and consumers and producers are able to connect, sometimes with farm visits. Produce is delivered to a warehouse and coolroom for packaging, before being distributed directly to the CSA subscribers.

Examples of Australian versions of CSAs include Ceres Fair Food and Food Connect in Sydney and Brisbane.

Farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are markets where farmers sell seasonal, local produce direct to the public. They can provide farmers with an expanded, alternative and fairer marketplace and a direct connection to customers. Consumers are able to source regional fresh food and products which have not travelled long distances or spent a long time in storage. In addition, farmers markets afford social and educational opportunities and contribute to community building. There is potential for farmers’ markets to provide access to healthy fresh food in low income areas through location, targeted marketing, partnerships with other organisations and offering affordable second grade fruit and vegetables (perfectly good but not aesthetically acceptable to supermarkets). Farmers’ markets need support from a number of sources, but are increasingly being established in school grounds or other semi-public land, with benefits to local economies.

Two of the leading farmers markets organisations in Australia are the Victorian Farmers Markets Association and the Melbourne Farmers Markets Association.

Slow Food Farmers Market, Abbotsford Convent, Collingwood, Melbourne

Food Hubs

Food hubs are organisations that provide infrastructure to fill gaps between local food production, distribution and consumption.  They have grown rapidly in the US in recent years and are starting to attract interest in Australia as a way to manage the collection, marketing and distribution of produce from identified, usually local, sources. Hubs can improve access to fresh local food and provide farmers with access to alternative wholesale, retail and institutional markets. As well as strengthening local food economies through streamlined marketing and shared resources, food hubs can also have educational, social and sustainability goals. There is also potential for improving access to fresh food in underserved or low-income areas by providing farmers with a market for produce that is of perfectly good quality but not up to supermarket cosmetic standards.

The Australian Food Hubs Network is supporting and promoting the expansion of food hubs in Australia.

School Food Gardens

Schools food gardens have an educational and health focus. They can be small and simple or more extensive with links to other activities. With a ready-made community and usually access to some potential growing space and other resources, school food gardens help children and communities learn about growing healthy food, sustainability and contribute to community resilience. Some schools have partnered with others to share land and care for gardens over holiday periods.

Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Project

Inspiring Projects

Victoria

Australia

  • Food Connect in Brisbane http://brisbane.foodconnect.com.au/ Food Connect’s aim is to supply local, sustainably produced food to the community in South East Queensland.
  • In 446 schools Australia-wide, around 50,000 children are enthusiastically getting their hands dirty and learning how to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal food Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation http://www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/

International 

Further information

Helpful tools, toolkits, resources

Australia

International

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