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We want to hear from the orgs creating a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system in Australia

Amy Carrad, Research Assistant, University of Wollongong

We are going to state the purpose of this article up front. If you are part of a non-government, civil society organisation or initiative that is working for a better food future for our country, then we would love to hear about what you are doing, how you do it, and why. You can tell us by completing this survey. It closes 21st June 2021.

That might be enough for you. You might run off to complete the survey straight away (please do and tell all your friends and colleagues!) But if you are asking “why do you want to hear from us?”, then read on.

If you are reading this, you are probably already a member of the ‘fair food’ movement. You are probably aware of the flaws of our current food system – flaws that negatively affect not only our personal human health, but also that of the planet on which we depend. Flaws that stem from various sources and parts of our society that have been driven by unsustainable economic, social, political and environmental factors. We as a society have shaped this, but that also means that we as a society can shift and reshape to produce a system that is healthy and just for people and planet.

At various levels, so many great examples of diverse activities have already been seeded. Internationally, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals draw attention to the need to end hunger and malnutrition, embed sustainable agricultural practices into food production, and address unfavourable trade practices. The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact sets a framework for action by governments at a local level. In Australia we have Councils who have adopted and are implementing integrated food system policies that tackle issues ranging from housing affordability and providing support to farmer and food producers, to better managing food waste, through mechanisms such as education, leadership, planning and partnerships.

We also have grassroots action within our communities that is driving change in our neighbourhoods, and across our states and nation. This is because fair food is not an exclusive club – it is a piece of the pie everyone can bite into. Anyone can be involved, even if only in what might seem like a small way. We have community gardens; we have advocacy groups and coalitions asking for policy change; we have organisations that deliver food-related education; we have associations for farmers; we have unique solutions to tackling food waste, and many, many more. But we don’t know a lot about them.

This is what our research aims to uncover.

We are a team of researchers1 from the University of Sydney, University of Wollongong and William Angliss Institute of TAFE who are exploring the role of local government and civil society in creating a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system in Australia.

The first part of our research involved spending about 18 months looking at the websites of all the local governments in NSW and Victoria to identify and analyse what they are doing about the food system. Doing so was a relatively systematic and finite task. We know which Councils there are – we can get a list of them online – and we can find out what they are doing – we can search their policies and strategies. It was encouraging to identify the great work that is being undertaken by some Councils in these states.

The second part of our research aims to identify the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of civil society’s engagement in food system governance2 in Australia and this is where we need your help. Unlike the local government research phase, we simply cannot know everyone who is out there doing something about food system governance in Australia. There is no single online list, but you can help us build one. If you are part of an Australian organisation or initiative working to build a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system then we would love to hear about what you are doing, how you do it, and why. You can tell us by completing this survey. And then please tell any other organisations you know that might be interested in letting us know they exist and what they do. It closes 21st June 2021.

1 Researchers: Dr. Belinda Reeve (University of Sydney), Prof. Karen Charlton (University of Wollongong), Dr. Nick Rose (William Angliss Institute of TAFE, Dr. Amy Carrad (University of Wollongong), Rebecca Smits (Honours Research Student, University of Wollongong). Read more about our research project: https://law-food-systems.sydney.edu.au/

2 By food system governance we mean the system of formal and informal rules, customs, laws, and policies that shape and influence the food system. Governance, as the name suggest, includes the actions of government, but also those of non-government actors such as businesses and the community sector. Examples of engagement in food system governance include being consulted on a local government’s food policy, advocating for changes to legislation that impact on the development of local food economies, or participating in a multi-stakeholder forum such as a council-community committee or working group. Food system governance does not include internal organisational management, e.g. being on a community garden committee, but does include working with others to influence food system change, e.g. engaging with a Council on the development of a community garden policy.

These actions can take place across any stage of the food system including growing, processing, distributing, consuming, and disposing, It can range from environmental sustainability and agroecology to economic development. From Indigenous food systems, sovereignty and knowledge to research and policy advocacy. From nutrition and diet-related health to food security.

About the Author

Amy Carrad is a public health researcher at the University of Wollongong. She is currently working on a project that is exploring the role of local government and communities in creating healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems and was previously involved in a systematic literature review of nutrition labelling policy around the world.