Local Food Launchpad 2016

Musings on Food Supply in Greater Melbourne

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the second annual Local Food Launchpad in Melbourne. There is no doubt to those who have stopped to think about it, that sustainability in food supply and food security is rapidly declining. Cities get bigger, farmers get pushed further and further out – and now we’re looking at a future of mass job loss as automation picks up pace over the next 10-15 years.

If food production gets pushed further away, transportation costs increase, shelf life goes down, and the overall quality of food available to inner city dwellers at an affordable price goes down. It will be the most vulnerable to suffer first.

It’s great to see an initiative like Local Food Launchpad where entrepreneurs are advised, and guided, to take matters into their own hands, in an enterprise system that is not wholly reliant on philanthropy, but still has a social focus. How can we best utilise urban areas, train the vulnerable on new skills, and counter the disturbing trends – in Greater Melbourne alone, the inner foodbowl currently supplies 82% of the cities fresh vegetable needs, but with increasing population and decreasing food production within the area, that number could drop to as low as 21% by 2050.

We’ve seen the implementation of community gardens (or as they are known in the UK, allotments), but the reality is that many lack the skills to fully utilise small garden beds, and on top of that the costs of renting these plots on top of maintaining a home and other living expenses, still puts them out of reach of many. They require both immediate proximity (how far would you travel to tend to your garden several times a week?), affordability, and sufficient knowledge. Permaculture will become a more important feature but again requires specialist knowledge to utilise on this very small scale.

One of the concepts presented was a food waste recycling concept, looking to pick up scraps from restaurants to be composted – perhaps this could be used in conjunction with community gardens or other similar initiatives. We certainly have an expansive country at our disposal, but lack the food production focus that older countries (think the Mediterranean Garden or French Provincial lifestyle) have, with generations of history of farming the land or producing their own bread, cheese, and small goods.

Another looked at crowd farming and crowd harvesting – those with gardens sharing their excess and working together to share knowledge, labour, and resources. This is another potential route for community gardening, but if those with nothing provide the labour while those more fortunate provide the land, I wonder if we could end up with something that looks like a pocket sized version of landholders and peasants in the not too distant future.

Yet, we are ‘the food capital of Australia’ – a thriving multicultural hub with more restaurants and cafes per capita than anywhere else in the world. It’s clear we need to make these changes and quickly.

I’m shortly off on a European adventure and look forward to learning more about how other cultures view food and it’s role in their identities.

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