An Urban Food Strategy in Practice

Dec 10, 2022 | Climate change

Last month I discussed the Banyule Urban Food Strategy which is currently being developed by Banyule City Council, with Sustain – the Australian Food Network employed as the consultants.

What might the Strategy look like in practice? It is essential that any strategy leads to real-world action.

It is important to recognise that we may not always be able to take for granted that the food we need will be available to us. Climate change with its fires, floods and droughts is already impacting food supplies as seen this year in the high prices of fresh food, but this could become a situation of actual shortage or unavailability.

Briefly, the Strategy is aimed at ensuring equal access to healthy, nutritious food for Banyule residents. Since Banyule covers a large area, with a diverse population, a variety of pathways will be required to make food accessible to all residents.

Like most suburbs, Banyule’s food supply comes from a variety of sources:

  • supermarkets and smaller retail fruit and vegie shops, fish shops and butchers
  • community gardens such as the Sustainable Macleod Community Garden, Riverside, Bellfield and Buna
  • school kitchen gardens, such as Diamond Creek Primary School
  • urban farms, such as Farm Raiser in Bellfield
  • home gardens
  • vegie Swaps, such as the Sustainable Macleod, 3081 and Monty Swaps
  • Not-for-Profit (NFP) organisations, such as BANSIC Food Hub
  • takeaway and fast food outlets.

Supermarkets are clearly by far the major suppliers of fresh food locally. We can expect that they will continue to play a major role in providing food. Smaller retail shops – the fruit and vegie shop, fish mongers and butcher shops – are the next largest suppliers of fresh food.

The Strategy will need to examine in more detail the role of retail outlets to ensure that they are making fresh, nutritious food reliably available.

The Urban Food Strategy will also examine the role of local producers of fresh food.

Community gardens, urban farms and home gardens currently supply some proportion of fresh food. While Sustainable Macleod has been careful to track all food produced at the community garden, and all food swapped, it is unclear how much food is produced and consumed, originating from these various sources.

There are great benefits in supporting these various forms of local food production, such as providing the freshest of food, reducing the need for large areas of agriculture, and reducing the distance travelled by our food.

With a well-integrated strategy, it should be possible to connect these local food producers into a coordinated whole, across Banyule. Engaging in this way would encourage the community to participate in food production, with potential flow-on effects including a greater awareness of the health impacts of the food we eat.

Local Food Connect (LFC) is a volunteer organisation which has done a remarkable job over the years of connecting local producers with the community. LFC operates the Eltham Farmers Market and actively promotes local food businesses through its popular newsletter. LFC has been working to establish an urban farm in Eltham.

Support for existing community gardens and urban farms should be a priority, together with encouraging new community gardens and urban farms. Effective support could include providing skills training for residents in growing produce, in addition to financial assistance.

Current NFP organisations which operate food banks should also be integrated into the Strategy, as they are handling an increasing number of requests for food by community members. It is critical that these organisations are able to provide nutritious food for their clients, who are far more likely to suffer poor health and wellbeing outcomes than more advantaged members of the community. For more on this, see my interview with Kate Farrelly of BANSIC.

I am expecting that the Strategy will look at the role of takeaway and fast food outlets. Some are able to offer what might be considered nutritious food (fresh salads for example), while others are offering more highly processed foods. It will be important to consider the extent to which less-nutritious foods are consumed in the community and how the Strategy can improve the quality of food consumed by the community.

The views in this article are my own, not necessarily those of other participants in the Strategy development. They do represent some of the input I will bring to the Working Group. If you have thoughts or feedback on the Urban Food Strategy, let me know at:

Written by Paul Gale-Baker.