Urban Agriculture Forum 2016

Working Group Outcomes

The University of Melbourne, Burnley Campus, November 20-21 2016

Henry Crawford, Sustain: The Australian Food Network


In the afternoon of Day One of the Urban Agriculture Forum the attendees split into groups and engaged in a focused discussion around four areas of urban agriculture. With the ability to select an area with the most relevance to their interests and expertise, the attendees selected between the topics of; urban agriculture and advocacy, backyard growing and food forests, commercial urban farming in Australia, and the role of local government.

The aim of the working groups was to develop a list of actions and recommendations that would form the basis of the Forum’s follow-on agenda. The working groups utilised the Socratic circles method of group discussion, a democratic approach to sharing ideas, teasing out issues, engaging in spirited debate and building relationships. Each group was first posed a series of questions by a designated group expert relating to important future considerations within the area being explored.  With the aid of the group expert and support team, new questions were raised  as the groups worked through the questions initially posed by the expert.  Each group was split up into two concentric circles where only one circle was given the opportunity to speak at any given time, a format that encourages equal contributions from participants. The actions /outcomes that were proposed are as follows;

Urban Agriculture and Advocacy

Group Expert: Nick Rose (Sustain)

Supported by: Mark Sanders (Moreland Food Gardens Network)

Initial Question(s): What should the role of city-wide groups be in created a shared advocacy platform for fairer food systems?

Actions/Outcomes:

  • Create a network of networks that can function to create a larger voice

  • Establish a voice with government that can compete with big business and other peak bodies that lobby government directly

  • Contact councillors now

  • Local council required to revise their strategic plans post election as well as the Health and Wellbeing Plan

  • Working towards a kitchen table style discussion model that could be used in the run up to the 2018 election

  • Approach Get Up to see whether they can take the issue up

  • Some groups agreed to nominate rep to a group and to continue contact after today to work together

Backyard Growing and Food Forests

Group Expert: Kat Lavers

Supported by: Hermann Paulenz

Initial Question(s): How can we expand backyard food production in Melbourne? What policies / resources / networks do we have now – and what others do we need?

Actions/Outcomes:

  • Greater utilization of urban food waste and grey-water to create a closed loop urban food system

  • Create a dialogue with government to address trends in backyards being paved over and generally reducing in size, and the green space shaving that is occurring around multi-story developments

  • Lobby for reintroducing incentives for installing water tanks and other resource saving technologies, revising restrictions around verge planting, and regulations around keeping animals

  • Economic incentives to support backyard growers such as rate discounts for food producers or other sustainable practices like reducing chemical and pesticide use, and recycling food waste and grey water on site

  • Food safety and regulations need to be reconsidered for small producers and home growers, for example regulations for small selling eggs produced at home

  • Greater education around home food production and the knowledge that it may in many cases be some of the best quality produce available

  • Show case studies that demonstrate the value of home food production in economic terms, and also case studies demonstrating that it doesn’t take a significant amount of time to produce a decent quantity of food from home plots

  • Promote an understanding that even if not all home growing can be justified in strict economic terms, it is still underwritten by a strong holistic case in terms of resource saving and community building

  • Addressing the issue of soil contamination, recognizing the need to make it easier and cheaper to have soil tested

  • Creating networks to allow successful home growers to share their successes and connect with other growers or aspiring growers

  • Greater utilization of small technologies for backyard growing

Commercial Urban Farming in Australia

Group Expert: Chris Williams (University of Melbourne)

Supported by: Michael Zagoridis (Pocket City Farm), Annemaree Docking (City of Whittlesea) & Seb Lindner (Propagate)

Initial Questions: How can the high cost of land in Australia’s major cities be overcome as a barrier to establish productive and commercially viable urban farms? What viable production methodologies and marketing strategies are available to make urban farming viable and widely practised?

Actions/Outcomes:

  • Regenerative production systems need to be emphasized – climate change, food security, health, inclusion (social equity + commercial potential)

  • Funding models need to be given greater attention

  • Greater attention must be given to unlocking land

  • Broad community education and bringing the community along for the journey

  • Streamlining regulations and planning frameworks to unlock urban land protect from sprawl

  • Policy setting and incentives at all levels of government for commercialization of UA

  • The need for systems thinking around urban agriculture

Role of Local Government

 Group Expert: Lee Tozzi (City of Darebin)

Supported by: Kathi Orsanic-Clark (City of Yarra)

Focus Questions: What role can and should local government play in supporting the expansion of urban agriculture & urban food systems in Australia? What barriers currently exist (State / Federal – planning etc.) and how can they be addressed?

Actions/Outcomes:

  • Embed urban food systems objectives & actions into council plan & health and wellbeing plan

  • Giving community more determination over the use of public land for urban agriculture

  • Advocate to state government via cross council food alliance

  • Ensuring both metro and regional governments are involved

  • Raise the importance and profile of urban agriculture in local government through a state government mandated process

  • Better marketing and selling of urban agriculture success stories in the media

  • Address the barriers of health risk and soil contamination in urban food growing

  • Integrate the urban agriculture role / responsibilities into sustainability areas of council

  • Working with state government to use zoning to protect vulnerable food growing areas and promote urban agriculture

Summary of Dr Nick Rose’s Churchill Fellowship Report, 2014.

Summary of Dr Nick Rose’s Churchill Fellowship Report, 2014. 

Dr Nick Rose
Executive Director at Sustain: The Australian Food Network

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This Report describes a Churchill Fellowship to study innovative models of urban agriculture in the US Midwest, Toronto and five provinces of Argentina. The focus of the study was to explore models of urban agriculture that could generate livelihood opportunities, especially for young people; and / or enhance food security for vulnerable and low-income groups. The study involved visits to over 80 organisations and institutions across the regions visited, and interviews with more than 150 people.

HIGHLIGHTS

Dr Rose was impressed and inspired in every place he visited. The following are examples of outstanding innovation, passion and creativity:
VK Urban Farms, Chicago, Eric and Nicky von Kondrat
Urban Canopy Farms, Alex Poltorak
Victory Gardens Initiative, Milwaukee, Gretchen Mead
Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit, Ashley Atkinson
Earthworks Farm / Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit, Patrick Crouch
Community Food Centres, Toronto, Nick Saul
Black Creek Community Farm, Toronto, Verity Dimock
Pro Huerta Tucuman, San Miguel de Tucuman, Jose ‘Pancho’ Zelaya
Urban Agriculture, Municipality of Rosario, Antonio Lattuca
Programa PRODA, Neuquén, Ariel Zabert
Pca Dos Chanar, Neuquén, Ignacio Pastawaki

MAJOR LESSONS LEARNT AND CONCLUSIONS

Urban agriculture is flourishing; and is a source of connectedness, health and well-being, innovation, creativity, sustainable livelihoods, therapeutic benefits and enhanced food security for low-income populations in both North and South America. There are many opportunities for innovative models, enterprises, practices and policies to be adopted and supported in Australia. Commitment and resourcing from state and federal governments, and from the philanthropic and private sectors, would be extremely beneficial in terms of rapidly expanding and scaling up a relatively small but highly capable urban agriculture movement in Australia. Local governments have a critical strategic role in establishing support planning and policy frameworks to enable individuals and organisations to expand the excellent work already underway in Australia’s towns and cities

DISSEMINATION AND IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

Dissemination will be via existing (e.g. Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network) and emerging (‘Fair Food Network’) Australia-wide networks; through speaking engagements at food forums and related events; and through publications and writing. Dr Rose will work with colleagues in these networks, and in local governments around the country, to encourage the development of models, policies and resources to enable the expansion of urban agriculture. Longer-term goals include the recognition of urban agriculture in State planning frameworks; and the recognition of, and support for, urban agriculture in Federal food policy.

PRINCIPAL RECOMMENDATIONS

1.   Individuals and organisations directly involved in urban agriculture should actively explore ways to expand its current scope, which is largely confined to non-commercial and self-provisioning community gardening. Urban agriculture as a potentially viable commercial activity should be actively explored and promoted; as should urban agriculture as a means to enhance the food security of low-income and vulnerable groups.
2.   Individuals and organisations directly and indirectly involved in urban agriculture should examine ways in which they can effectively form part of a network that supports the achievement of their respective organisational, financial and advocacy goals.
3.   All local governments should work collaboratively with community organisations and other stakeholders to audit all land potentially available within their LGA area that could be suitable for food production, and then classify the sites according to levels of suitability and types of urban agriculture activity that potentially could take place on them.
4.   All State governments should review their planning provisions and legislation to ensure that urban agriculture is included as a permitted and encouraged use across a range of zones, to indicate to local government that the policy approach in this area is one of enablement and encouragement, rather than risk aversion. In other words, the presumption with urban agriculture should be ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’.
5.   The Federal Government should acknowledge the value and importance of urban agriculture, and indeed of local food systems and economies, as a matter of public health, local economic development, environmental sustainability and community well-being, as well as enhanced social capital.
6.   This acknowledgement and recognition should come in the form of a dedicated Federal Urban Agriculture and Local Food Fund, to be disbursed via an application process that encourages regional and collaborative initiatives with high and long-term impact, to scale up and expand initiatives already existing, and enable the flourishing of multiple new projects and models. Funding should be provided to research partnerships to document changes achieved by the projects and create the evidence base to justify further and ongoing public and private investment. The amount should be reviewed annually to take account of increasing need and capacity, however the suggested starting figure, based on the Ontario Local Food Fund (see above), is $20 mn.
7.   State governments should support this Federal Urban Agriculture and Local Food Fund through their own co-financing mechanisms, according to an assessment of the needs and capacity of the urban agriculture and local food sectors in their own states. For the more populous states (Victoria, NSW, Qld) this co-financing mechanism should be in the order of $5 mn – $10 mn, to be reviewed annually in consultation with the sector. Different financing mechanisms can also be explored, such as a levy on developers, supermarkets, insurance companies, and other relevant private sector stakeholders.

For more information and a copy of the full report please click here.

Sustain: The Australian Food Network

Henry Crawford
Sustain: The Australian Food Network
September 15, 2016

Since the start of 2016 Sustain: The Australian Food Network has been embarking on a mapping project of existing Council plans, policies and strategies that relate to urban agriculture. The scope of the project includes nineteen councils, with the majority of these located within the Melbourne Metropolitan Area. The objective is to identify the current local policy framework for urban agriculture, and to create a resource that clearly maps out these policies and strategies. The intention is that this resource will be useful for both the community and organizations like 3000 Acres, through painting a clearer picture of the regulatory context in which they operate.
 
As of September 2016 the project is nearing the first stage of completion, with 16 of 19 councils profiled. The next stage is to build on the mapping resource by looking more closely at the two councils that are seen as having the most extensive urban agriculture policy frameworks. This will include a series of surveys and follow up interviews with the aim of generating a best practice model for urban agriculture policy formulation and implementation. The final stage of the project will see it become incorporated into a countrywide online Food Systems Directory, which Sustain is facilitating thanks to the ongoing support of the Myer Foundation.
 
The Directory is intended to be a dynamic, user-generated networking tool that both makes visible the growing food systems movement around Australia and provides a means for individuals and organisations to locate and connect with each other. Over the next few months, Sustain will be reaching out to individuals and organisations to invite them to create their own profiles, upload key aspects of their work, and share their affiliations. The Directory will be publicly launched in the first part of 2017.
 
Rather than strictly looking at policies and strategies the mapping project instead identifies all documents that have been developed by Council in relation to urban agriculture. One of the key takeaways from the project to date has simply been the number of detailed and highly practical documents relating to food growing and food sharing that exist. In order to complement Council policy and strategy, these resources are intended to empower the community with the tools necessary to start growing food at home. So here are three great examples of documents that do exactly that, all of which are available on respective Council website:
 
 
Moreland City Council  – Home Harvest booklet

This is a highly practical and detailed 60 page document that was produced in collaboration with Sustainable Gardening Australia, and provides the necessary tools and information for successfully designing and managing a sustainable food garden. From planning, to building, managing and harvesting, the document provides in-depth explanations on organic systems, soil choice, companion planting, integrated pest management, and many other areas. The document also provides general information on local food and seed swaps, farmers markets, and even provides recipe suggestion so as to ensure you are getting the most out of your home grown produce. With text provided by Sustainable Gardening Australia, similar Home Harvest booklets are available from the City of Manningham, Nillumbik, Banyule, Whittlesea, Hume, Macedon Ranges, Stonnington, & Wyndham Councils.
 
 
City of Darebin – Sustainable Gardening

This Sustainable Gardening booklet was also produced in collaboration with Sustainable Gardening Australia. It places food growing within the broader context of promoting sustainable gardening behaviours, both to ensure the health of the natural environment and our own personal health in the process. The detailed 40 page document covers both edible and non-edible plants, and goes into specifics on the food growing cycle with garden design, plant selection, harvesting, composting and worm farming all taken into consideration. With useful tips on which seeds grow best in specific environments and locations, the documents is a highly practical tool for those new to growing food at home. In addition the booklet provides information on local community gardens, food swaps and farmers markets.
 
The City of Yarra – Lets Grow Together

This urban agriculture resource booklet represents a best practice model for applying for, planning, designing, and maintaining a community growing space. Community growing spaces provide an opportunity for the community to work together, building more resilient and liveable neighbourhoods through growing, producing and sharing fresh and healthy food. They are located on public land and may include a planter box on a footpath or road, a productive tree, or a nature strip garden. The document also provides a list of useful websites and relevant literature relating to urban agriculture and sustainability.
 
For more information on the policy research or the Food Systems Directory please go to www.circlesoffood.org and/or contact Executive Director Nick Rose at info@sustainaustralia.org.

Dr. Nick Rose, Executive Director of Sustain, talks to Food Tank about building a fair and resilient food system in Australia.

Dr. Nick Rose, Executive Director of Sustain, talks to Food Tank about building a fair and resilient food system in Australia.

Interview by Suzy Honisett
Food Tank
September 4th, 2016

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Nick Rose, Executive Director of Sustain, about the health of Australia’s food system and his view on what are the key factors impacting on a healthy and resilient food system in Australia.

Food Tank (FT): What are some of the biggest opportunities to support Australia’s food system?

Nick Rose (NR): The single biggest opportunity lies in the field of education, with the introduction for 2017 of a paddock-to-plate food literacy curriculum, Food Studies, as an elective for all Grade 11 and 12 students in Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state. As a result, in a few years, as many as 10,000 students could be taking Food Studies. These students will form a growing cohort of capable tertiary graduates who can inform and lead the development of good food policy at the local, state and federal government levels. If other states follow Victoria’s lead and introduce a Food Studies curriculum, the wave of food systems change generated by tens of thousands of highly informed and motivated youth will, I think, be irresistible.

Other significant opportunities include the embrace and resourcing of sustainable and regenerative forms of food production, as well as the expansion of new and fair distribution systems and enterprises, such as farmers markets and food hubs. Legislative and planning protections for Australia’s major food bowl areas close to capital cities are sorely needed. Governments at all levels have a crucial role to play in these and other necessary shifts.

FT: With increasing innovation in the food system and networking technologies, what are you most excited about?

NR: I’m excited about creating a dynamic, multi-layered and searchable food systems directory that will, for the first time, reveal the scale and breadth of Australia’s growing food systems movement. The development of this directory is a project that Sustain is now working on, with the support of the Myer Foundation, and we’re looking forward to making it a reality in 2017.

FT: From your extensive travels, what are some successful innovations in other countries that could be applied in Australia to improve the food system?

NR: I have a strong personal interest in the great potential of urban agriculture to transform the food system as a whole, and I saw dozens of examples of innovations on my Churchill Fellowship visiting the mid-west United States, Toronto, and Argentina in July-September 2014.

Those innovations include: community urban land trusts to make city and peri-urban land available for sustainable and intensive food production, education, and social justice; capturing large organic waste streams to support sustainable and highly productive urban agricultural systems; planning overlays and zoning to facilitate commercial-scale urban agriculture production; the multiplication of inner-city farmers markets with dedicated space for urban farmers; the establishment of small-scale artisanal food processing facilities to incubate food entrepreneurs; the facilitation of city-wide urban agricultural networks; and, the development of comprehensive and inclusive urban agricultural strategies that recognize, value and support the work of urban farmers and the organizations they are embedded in.

FT: How do organizations and individuals get involved in supporting a healthy and resilient food system in Australia?

NR: There are so many points of entry for individuals, from growing some herbs and vegetables, to supporting a kitchen garden at your local school (as a parent) and, or, your local community garden (more than 500 across Australia). Also, shopping at your local farmers market (now more than 180 in Australia) and, or, fair food enterprise, supporting local and sustainable producers wherever possible. Major change is needed at the level of policy, legislation and regulation, and here organizations can make a difference by joining one of the many local and regional food alliances that are in existence around Australia, or forming one if it doesn’t already exist in your region.

FT: If you could change one thing in Australia to improve its food system, what would it be?

NR: The single biggest obstacle in my view is the concentration of economic and political power represented by the supermarket duopoly - Coles and Woolworths. In the past 40 years, the grocery market share of these two companies has more than doubled to 75 percent. Meanwhile, Australia has lost more than 40 percent of its farmers, with the average age of farmers now approaching 60 years, compared to 42 years for the workforce as a whole. These two trends are deeply connected. As a country, we need to confront our tolerance for oligopolistic concentrations of political-economic power, and the supermarkets present the most urgent task, regarding the long-term sustainability and fairness of our food system.

FT: What personally drives your work to improve Australia’s food system?

NR: My drive stems from years living in Guatemala (2000-2006). It was here my political consciousness was awakened on realizing that the deaths of 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly Mayan indigenous peoples, could be traced to the refusal by the United Fruit Corporation and the then U.S. government of President Eisenhower to countenance even the partial redistribution of its massive landholdings and excessive wealth. This story is all documented in Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the CIA in Guatemala. It was a book that changed my life.
I believe that in working to improve Australia’s food system, I am part of a huge and growing global movement to transform the world’s food system. I dedicate my efforts to the memory of those who died in the struggle for a fair Guatemala.