Last week, Anthony Flaccavento was in Canberra and over a hundred people were at the Wednesday evening Food Hub event at the University of Canberra.
One of the most important things that has come out of the Food Hub events last week, has been a real understanding that FOOD MUST BE FARMER LED. Being a Farmer, Anthony understands this and he helps to get everyone onto that page.
Whether it be a food hub, a farmers market, a retail or wholesale outlet, a farm gate stall, an export business, or any combination, Farmers must be the driving force and their stories are an integral part of it working.
From my experience, Farmers have great stories and these stories need to be heard. There are so many people who quite honestly don’t know what a potato plant looks like, or rice, or so many other plants that are consumed regularly. Actually, five years ago, I was one of those people. I’m not kidding.
How do we change this? We give people stories to connect with. We tell them the stories of the farms and farmers, we tell them about how great the radishes and kale are right now, and why, and what you can do with them. We tell them why there won’t be any carrots in a couple of months time and that yes, the tomatoes are still many (many) months away. We need to tell the story of food and why chicken can’t be on the menu every day, but eggs can be.
As well as this, we need to connect people with people…Connect the people eating (and buying) with the people who are growing their food. The good and the bad, when you have an unexpectedly great crop as well as when half of it is wiped out because of one of a hundred possible reasons.
Anthony has presented all around Australia in the past couple of weeks, and he let me in on a little secret…he thinks that we, the CANBERRA REGION, are probably in the best position to actually start a food hub, whatever form that takes. We have networks, organisations and connected people who have being doing the ground work for a long time.
We know that Canberra was not set up with agriculture in mind; most cities start with the market gardens around the outer edges, but not Canberra. There are a few farms dotted around, but few market gardens, which is where a lot of our daily needs come from. There are a number of urban growers and urban grower organisations working on growing more food in the city and suburbs, but a city the size of Canberra needs a lot of food.
Canberra has a substantial population and is also (regionally) surrounded by growing areas, the question is, how to bring it all together. How to logistically and economically bring the food grown in the surrounding regions to where it is needed. And, most importantly, how to make this work for the farmers.
My own personal musings lead me to think that mini regional hubs, feeding in to a food hub based where the people are, Canberra would work best for our climatically diverse and geographically spread out region. Logistical difficulties are exponentially increased through that system, but Anthony shared a few success stories where he has seen it work.
The first small step has started – the Facebook Group SE Region Food Connectivity – Healthy Food for a Healthy Future has begun. If you have excess, know of excess or could transport some, please join the group and get involved. Right now, we are looking for someone to transport lemons and grapefruit from the Bega area to Canberra. We are also looking for any goats cheese producers in the region.
Back to the event: The second day, brought together 40 people, after a re-cap of the previous night and a discussion about where we want to be, we split off into six key working groups: Public engagement and education; Healthy food to low-income people; Public policy; Business and market development; Developing supply; Connectivity. If you could not be there on the day but would like to be involved in any of these working groups, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The six working groups are tasked with continuing the momentum and connections that came up last week. There will be a follow-up conversation on Wednesday 7th December 6-8pm in Canberra to stay connected, make sure we are all on the same page and keep things moving. It is an open event, and we would love everyone to get involved.
Thanks to the organisations, institutions and individuals who helped make the events such a huge success. The University of Canberra: Health Research Institute and Gabrielle deserve a huge thank you. Regional Development Australia: ACT, SEE-Change, Canberra City Farm, Canberra Business Chamber and Conservation Council ACT region have all helped to bring the event to Canberra. Also, thank you to Sustain: The Australian Food Network for organising the Australian Community Food Hubs Conference in Bendigo in August and bringing Anthony to the country.
For an overview of the current ACT region food system, check out the recent ACT region People’s Food Plan.