Inspired by the example set in Ontario with the passage of the Local Food Act in November 2013 and the creation of a $C30 mn Local Food Fund to support local food networks, awareness-raising, food literacy and local food economies, the Food Alliance is working with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, Foodbank Victoria, Melbourne Farmers Markets, the Victorian Farmers Markets Association, Gene Ethics, MADGE and other allies to push for the enactment of similar legislation and resourcing in Victoria.
Why do we need a Local Food Act?
Food insecurity is becoming a major issue for many Victorians with 25% year-on-year increases in demand for food relief; food growers and processors are under pressure from imports and the cost-price squeeze; there is increasing demand on high-value farmland from suburban sprawl and competing uses such as mining.
Food and agriculture, the land and the farmers, have been taken for granted for too long. There is a groundswell of initiatives and community support for local producers and for local food in general, as demonstrated by the levels of public support for SPC and its growers and workers. A Local Food Act is a visionary reform which will send a strong signal throughout the community that we are recognizing the true value of our food system: the natural resources and the people, on which, it – and we – depend.
Benefits Of A Local Food Act for Victoria:
Enhanced social, cultural and economic wellbeing for local and regional economies, communities, producers, processors, independent retailers and the catering and hospitality industries
Contribute to better population health and enhanced food security through supporting an increase in the sustainable and viable production of fruits and vegetables, and thus enable the progressive reduction of hunger, chronic disease, and obesity
Create a healthy food future by developing healthy food habits and knowledge in Victoria’s children and youth: i.e. building food literacy
Promote the wider adoption of sustainable agriculture and land management practices
Green our cities, towns and urban spaces, create livelihoods and training for youth, and build connected communities, through supporting and enabling a major uptake in urban agriculture in all its diverse forms
A campaign website is being prepared and a petition will be drafted and circulated. To stay up to date, bookmark:
What do we want?
A firm commitment to protect the foodbowl regions of Melbourne and other high-value agricultural areas of the state
The creation of a $10 mn Local Food Fund to support local and community projects around Victoria
The creation of an inter-departmental Ministerial Food Forum
A Public and Parliamentary Inquiry into the State of Victoria’s Local Food System and Economy, leading to recommendations for comprehensive legislative and policy reform
1. A firm commitment to protect Melbourne’s foodbowl regions and other high-value areas of agricultural land
What is the issue?
Simply put, our future food security depends on safeguarding fertile soils. And those soils are increasingly at risk from two major directions – urban sprawl, and land-use conflict related to the expansion of the coal and coal-seam gas mining industry.
Melbourne is losing its best soils at a rapid rate. In the 1950s there were more than 2000km2 of farmland surrounding Melbourne, by 1930 this is expected to be less than 200km2. Further afield, the rapid expansion of the coal-seam gas industry is also placing pressures on farmland, with 24 exploration licenses being issued in the past few years for Gippsland. Arguably an even greater threat is posed by the mass expansion of new brown coal mines in the fertile La Trobe Valley.
What will the Local Food Act do?
To protect loss of farmland from urban sprawl
- Map all agricultural land in peri-urban Melbourne, and around Victoria’s other main regional centres; and identify high-value agricultural land
- Permanently fix Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary and stop biannual reviews
- Create a special planning overlay to permanently protect high-value agricultural land
To protect loss of farmland from coal and coal-seam gas mining
- Extend the moratorium on coal seam gas and other unconventional gas mining to enable a full public inquiry to be conducted into all risks related to food security (including the integrity of farmland and water sources, as well as the impact on the health of farmers and rural communities), and environmental risks, to be conducted
- Map and identify all areas of high-value agricultural land across Victoria, and especially in those areas where the expansion of the coal and coal-seam gas industries are contemplated
- Create a high-value agricultural land overlay which ensures protection in perpetuity for the land so designated, so that it can only be used for sustainable agricultural purposes
2. Create a $10 mn Local Food Fund
What is the issue?
Across Victoria there is a groundswell of support for community food initiatives and projects: backyard gardens, school gardens, community gardens, farmers markets, farmgate sales, ethical and sustainable food production, community-supported agriculture initiative, Food Hubs, and more. Because this sector has recently emerged and its multiple benefits are not well understood, it has not enjoyed levels of resourcing or support of larger-scale commercial operations, especially those selling into export markets. With a relatively small level of public support, the visibility, scale and impact of this sector would dramatically rise, with flow-on effects through the whole Victorian economy and community.
Under the Community Food Grants program established by the 2013 National Food Plan, 364 community gardens, farmers markets, community food kitchens, food rescue organisations and others submitted applications for small grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. Regrettably, the new Federal government axed the program in February 2014. So hundreds of worthwhile projects that would have benefited tens of thousands of Australians will now not be funded; and for every organization that applied, there will be at least one and maybe two or three more that did not do so.
What will the Local Food Act do?
A $10 million Local Food Fund, to be disbursed in small grants and loans over a three-year period, will fill a critical need and dramatically increase the scale, visibility and impact of the local and community food sector in Victoria.
What will the Fund support?
- Access to healthy and local food for all Victorians - especially for low-income groups
- More support for local & family farmers – on-farm capital improvements to support diversification and value-adding –
- Healthy food education for our kids – support for food literacy and farm-to-school programs
- Support for the transition sustainable farming practices that preserve the environment, via farmer-to-farmer workshops
- Strengthen and expand the local food economy - support for farmers markets, food co-ops, Food Hubs and more
- Support local food networks – education and awareness-raising
Access to Healthy and Local Food for all Victorians
A Food Act for Victoria will contribute to better population health and enhanced food security through supporting an increase in the sustainable and viable production of fruits and vegetables, and thus enable the progressive reduction of hunger, food poverty, chronic disease, and obesity.
We can create a healthy food future by developing healthy food habits and knowledge in Victoria’s children and youth: i.e. building food literacy.
Food poverty/food security/fair food
It is estimated that up to two million people may be food insecure in Australia, despite our farmers producing enough food for 60 million people. A large portion is produced for export. Access to adequate nutritious food needed for health and wellbeing in an equitable manner remains a problem in Australian communities.
Known as food insecurity or food poverty, what we are talking about is:
‘The inability to obtain healthy affordable food. This may be because people lack shops in their area or have trouble reaching them. Other factors influencing food access are the availability of a range of healthy goods in local shops, income, transport, fear of crime, knowledge about what constitutes a healthy diet, and the skills to create healthy meals. Due to this complex mix of factors, people on low incomes have the lowest intakes of fruit and vegetables and are far more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and coronary heart disease. Food poverty can also be about an overabundance of “junk” food as well as a lack of healthy food’.
Food poverty is associated with obesity and general poverty. This occurs in particular in areas of disadvantage, and frequently in regional, rural and remote locations. In order to fully address issues associate with access, supply and appropriate use of foods support is needed for a multitude of local community food initiatives that bring with them an enhanced social capital.
Food is a basic human right, recognized under international law, to which Australia is a signatory. It is fair that everyone has access to affordable, healthy and culturally appropriate food. Children especially need adequate amounts of nutritious food for normal growth. It has been proven that hands-on activities with food increase interest in and consumption fruit and vegetables, establishing life long healthy eating habits.
Boost food literacy: healthy food education for our kids
By expanding school kitchen gardens to every school in Victoria by 2025 food habits can be supported for life, establishing seasonal fresh food knowledge. Expansion of food growing in public and private spaces across Victoria will enable partnerships to be developed for food growing and business development, in the process securing better access to healthy food for low income and vulnerable groups, and food fairness, allowing increased resilience to food price changes and food security.
In the US there are over 8000 farmers markets and 2000 farm to school programs. This demonstrates the potential for increased access to and consumption of fresh, local produce in a range of community settings separate to the supermarket duopoly that dominates the Australian food supply chain.
It is possible to create goals for increasing access to local food in the community, institutions and services that can be monitored and reported upon as part of the implementation of a proposed Local Food Act for Victoria.
3. Proposed Governance Arrangements for a Local Food Act
What is the issue?
Food system governance is fragmented across multiple departments: Department of Planning; Department of Environment and Primary Industries; Department of Health; Department of Regional Development; and the Department of Education. This creates and reinforces a ‘silo’ effect with regards to the food and farming system: rather than it being seen and treated in policy terms as a single coherent system, responsibility for its different components are divided up across multiple departments, creating tensions, conflicts and contradictory policy frameworks.
What do we propose?
An inter-departmental Ministerial Food and Agriculture Forum will guide the development of a Local Food Act for Victoria. This Forum will aim to achieve genuine integration of policy objectives and resolution of key policy tensions around environmental sustainability and health with food production, processing, distribution and consumption, coupled with appropriate decision-making powers. It could be jointly led by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, given that the primary purpose of food is (or should be) to support the health and well-being of all Victorians. It should report directly to the Premier.
A Ministerial Advisory Committee will advise the Forum with representation from local and regional food system stakeholders, including producer groups, food businesses, health professionals, food rescue agencies, local government, urban agriculture, the ethical finance and philanthropic sector, planners, the waste, recycling and renewable energy sector, and educators.
The introduction of the Ministerial Food Forum and Ministerial Advisory Committee will be accompanied by the initiation of a Parliamentary and Public Inquiry.
4. Local Food Act for Victoria – Parliamentary and Public Inquiry
What is the issue?
To gain real and lasting support for a major reform, and to ensure that it really makes big changes, you need to engage properly with as many groups and individuals in the community as possible.
At the Federal level, we have in the last three years seen two rounds of policy reform in food and agriculture. The first was started in 2011by the previous Labor government: the National Food Plan. The second began earlier this year under the guidance of the new Coalition government: the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.
The trouble with both these policy processes is that they begin by making a large number of assumptions about what the ‘right’ approach is, and therefore what the key ‘issues’ are. It’s a very top-down and narrow way to approach an area like food and agriculture, which traverses so much of our culture and society, not to mention having a very profound impact on our ecosystems and environment.
What do we propose?
What we are saying is that there needs to be a much deeper and broader engagement with the whole community, which doesn’t start from the basis that the Government knows which is the best or the right way forward. Rather, the process is done in the genuine spirit of inquiry, in that it seeks first to listen and learn from what people and groups are saying. It allows a wide diversity of voices and perspectives to be heard.
We do say, however, that the process should be guided by certain values, principles and priorities. High amongst these are:
Ecology: Our food system should minimally maintain the health and integrity of the natural resources on which it depends, wherever possible seeking to restore degraded natural ecosystems and enhance the health of existing ecosystems.
Economics: Our food system should support, create and sustain local long-term employment, build a stronger local food industry, and underpin local livelihoods.
Politics: Our food system should proactively engage with communities through public debate of policy, planning and legislative issues relating to land-use, health and wellbeing, and urban and regional livelihoods.
Culture: Our food system should embrace the cultural significance of food in all its social dimensions, recognizing its central role in promoting social cohesion, life-long and intergeneration learning, and community wellbeing
Through a process of genuinely open and participatory inquiry, common issues, themes, and priorities emerge. These can be refined with the assistance of experienced practitioners and academics, and synthesized into concrete proposals for comprehensive legislative reform.
We also propose that a Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s Food System to be initiated in the initial 2015 sitting dates of the Victorian parliament. The inquiry will comprise a joint investigatory committee of the Economic Development, Infrastructure and Outer Suburban Interface Services committee.
Terms of Reference to be determined and submissions received, followed by hearings and a Final Report summarizing the findings. The Government is required to respond within six months of the report being tabled.
Resources / Further Reading
Local Food Act 2013, Ontario, http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&BillID=2754
Local Food Fund, Ontario, www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/about/localfood.htm
Peoples Food Policy Project, Canada, http://foodsecurecanada.org/policy-advocacy/resetting-table
Peoples’ Food Plan, Australia, http://www.australianfoodsovereigntyalliance.org/peoples-food-plan/
National Food Plan, Australia, http://www.foodalliance.org.au/australias-national-food-plan/
Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, Australia, https://agriculturalcompetitiveness.dpmc.gov.au