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Bendigo Food Systems Strategy Stakeholder Workshop

UPDATE 2020: Bendigo has recently released their draft food systems strategy - have your say here.

Bendigo Food Systems Stakeholder workshop, 17th April 2019

It's good to see how conversations evolve

Councillor Dr Jen Alden

On Wednesday 17th April more than 50 representatives from diverse sectors of Bendigo's food system attended a half-day workshop to share their thoughts and experiences to help in the development of Greater Bendigo's first ever regional food systems strategy.

Sustain, represented by Executive Director Dr Nick Rose, Project Coordinator for the Cardinia Food Circles project Tanya Massy, and Business Development Manager for the Melbourne Food Hub Ange Barry, shared our work and assisted with the facilitation of the day.

The day commenced with presentations from Bendigo Councillor Dr Jen Alden, Director of Healthy Greater Bendigo Amy Brown, and Director of Health and Wellbeing at the City of Greater Bendigo Vicky Mason. Jen shared the impressive timeline of food systems work in Bendigo dating back to 2012, while Amy spoke about the significant health challenges facing Bendigo and the city's work in developing a long-term platform for intervention via Bendigo's Active Living Census conducted in 2014.

Vicky shared with participants the foundations for a regional food system strategy as located in the Community Plan objectives, to “support a localised, sustainable food system” and to develop a “food policy that coordinates themes around health and sustainability including a Bendigo food hub”. The strategy's goal is to support a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system for Greater Bendigo by 2029.

Participants then workshopped issues, challenges and opportunities in a world cafe format organised around five tables:

  • Food security and food literacy / education
  • Food production and growing
  • Food processing and manufacturing
  • Food distribution, exchange and logistics
  • Waste and recycling

The level of discussion and participation was extremely high. Key themes to emerge included:

  • There is a need to map and share the work that’s already underway and / or previously completed
  • There is a need for sharing of projects / programs / initiatives amongst all stakeholders
  • There is a need for agricultural land capability mapping – especially in the peri-urban areas beyond the urban growth boundary
  • Everyone needs to be included in the conversation so there’s not doubling up and duplication of effort / logistical issues
  • Education / food literacy is a key cross-cutting theme across the tables
  • A regional food hub is seen by many as a key intervention to address many of the distribution, logistical and pricing challenges
  • Knowledge and skills building are very important, e.g. community cooking classes for adults
  • Food service provision in public settings (achievement program)
  • There is a clear shortage of commercial kitchen spaces for emerging entrepreneurs
  • Agriculture in the region is structured around meat and grains, which don't necessarily produce the best health / environmental outcomes, hence there is a need to diversify production

The Sustain team were impressed by the strong representation from Council, the highly engaged and enthusiastic community, and the fact that there was a very good cross-section of the Bendigo food system represented in the workshop. We reflected afterwards that, as in Cardinia, this work represents a continuity of the Healthy Together program which shows the success of that world-leading initiative - and the need for much greater levels of investment in food systems health promotion work in Victoria and nationally. We agreed wholeheartedly with Amy Brown that the breadth and urgency of the challenges mean that a focus on the individual is not going to work and that a whole of systems approach is required. This is true in Bendigo as it is throughout Victoria and nationally.

Next steps

The contributions generously made by participants to the workshop will be synthesised by Bendigo staff into an issues and opportunities paper that will be circulated for comment and feedback. The development of the strategy will entail further targeted forums, a survey, an internal working group as well as a community external reference group. The strategy that will emerge from this process will be put to Council for endorsement by the end of 2019.