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.
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.
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.
Slow Food Farmers Market, Abbotsford Convent, Collingwood, Melbourne
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
- CERES is a not for profit educational organisation located on 4 hectares of rehabilitated landfill in East Brunswick, Melbourne. Ceres has experience in a wide variety of community food projects including community gardens, organic markets, urban agriculture, aquaponics and more http://www.ceres.org.au/home.html
- The Patch Primary School in the Dandenongs has an inspiring garden program including vegetable growing, an orchard, chickens and ducks. http://splash.abc.net.au/media/-/m/30753/the-patch-school-garden
- The City of Casey and Eaterprises have done the groundwork for a future Food Hub http://www.eaterprises.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Casey-Food-Hub-Scoping-Report-public.pdf
- The Collingwood Children’s Farm runs a regular Farmers’ Market, an urban farm, orchards and a community garden http://www.farm.org.au/
- 3000 acres is a very new project, launched in November 2013 to map available land in Melbourne that could be used for community gardening and other forms of urban food production: http://www.3000acres.org
- 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/
- 5 Borough Farm (New York) http://www.fiveboroughfarm.org/urban-agriculture/
- Capital Growth London http://www.capitalgrowth.org/
- Incredible Edible http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/home and inspirational TED talk by Pam Warhurst about how the project boosted inclusive community building, education, employment and the local economy http://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes.html
- Rosario Argentina Urban Agriculture http://www.idrc.ca/EN/Documents/city-hooked-on-urban-farming.pdf
Helpful tools, toolkits, resources
- Victorian Farmers’ Market Association http://www.vicfarmersmarkets.org.au/
- The City of Yarra has some useful guidelines for setting up community gardens and other urban agriculture projects http://www.yarracity.vic.gov.au/Environment/Community-gardens/
- Cultivating Community has resources and can provide consultancy about community gardens, school food gardens, food swaps and more with a focus on public housing and people with lower incomes http://www.cultivatingcommunity.org.au/
- Local Harvest maps and provides information on a variety of community food projects http://www.localharvest.org.au/
- A tool to identify vacant urban land (site coming soon) http://www.3000acres.org/
- Australian Food Hubs Network http://www.foodhubs.org.au/
- From the Ground Up report on community food initiatives in Yarra and Victoria http://www.yarracity.vic.gov.au/Community-participation/Local-food-initiatives/
- Moreland Food Gardens Network http://www.morelandfoodgardensnetwork.org/
- Australian City Farm and Community Gardens Network http://communitygarden.org.au/
- Food Hubs – developments in Australia http://www.foodhubs.org.au/developing-a-food-hub-framework-for-down-under/
- Food Sensitive Planning and Urban Design http://www.ecoinnovationlab.com/uploads/attachments/article/417/HF-FSPUD-LRFINAL.pdf
- Community Gardens Toolkit http://www.sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/content/pages/gcall-natopia-community-garden-toolkit
- The Soil Association (UK) has short videos, an action manual, technical and further information around CSAs http://www.soilassociation.org/communitysupportedagriculture
- The Five Borough Farm in New York has many resources including an evaluative tool http://www.fiveboroughfarm.org/
- The Resource Centre for Urban agriculture and Food Security has a huge accessible international database and other open source resources http://www.ruaf.org/
- Sustain (UK) has resources and information at http://www.sustainweb.org/cityharvest/
- Incredible Edible tool kit and more http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/home
- National Good Food Network has resources for Food Hubs http://ngfn.org/resources/food-hubs/food-hubs
- United States Department of Agriculture has information on food hubs http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/FoodHubs and farmers markets http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateA&navID=Home&topNav=Home&page=Home&acct=AMSPW
- A toolkit for mapping vacant public and private volunteered land for community use in New York https://596acres.org/