In Randwick’s Permaculture Interpretive Garden, August 2013, Costa Geogiadis, host of ABC Gardening Australia, tells us about the first Fair Food Week event held at the Randwick Community Centre by Randwick City Council as part of the Fair Food Week’s range of events around the country.
Story by Russ Grayson, September 2014
Advocacy and insects… strange fellow-travellers, for sure, but they really are related.
It’s not any old insect I’m referring to, it’s a special insect — the dragonfly. Why this? Because the dragonfly is configured to be highly manoeuvrable… it’s omnidirectional… four independent, wispy wings allow it to move in any direction. They act independently but in concert. In other words, this small flying habitue of the streams and swamps is adaptable. And that’s exactly what we need in making a national fair food advocacy.
Fair Food Week
I’ve just finished flicking through the growing list of events planned around the country for Fair Food Week, and in doing that, that insect came to mind.
I’m not surprised that it did because the dragonfly is the avatar for the process of creating a social movement. That’s not my idea. It comes from a book called The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith and I’ve adopted it because it conceptualises the main phases of setting up a social movement in a simple and sequential manner. It’s simple, is devoid of convoluted theories and is applicable.
As I read through that list of Fair Food Week events I realised that all four of the phases represented by the insect are happening simultaneously around the country… different locales are at different stages in the continuum… they’re flying on different wings.
First, though, the four phases of the butterfly effect. Each sequential phase corresponds to a wing of the insect… independent but connected for cooperation in manoeuvering. Here they are:
- focus — having a single, clear focus for your movement
- grab attention — let people know that you are here and what value your movement might be to them, their own values and organisations
- engage — make contact and find ways to work with the people whose attention you have grabbed; you might need to let go your ownership of the movement to some extent so as to accommodate other ideas and methods
- take action — what could you do together to move towards those things you want to see?
Wing 1: Focus
Let’s think about focus.
The range of Fair Food Week activities indicates that there already appears to be a loose agreement as to the focus of the fair food movement… it is built around definitions of ‘fair’:
food that is fair to farmers, food processors and eaters
farmer-fair food implies that the farmer receives a price for the food that makes possible a viable livelihood
fairness for food processors — the industry that processes food not destined for immediate consumption… fresh, but for bottling, drying or canning; Australia has had an industry around this but closures in recent times put it at risk, something that can often be put down to corporate owners offshoring their processing and importing processed foods from countries that have lower costs and lower food standards
fairness to the people who buy and eat the food implies that the food must be of good nutritional quality, must be affordable and accessible.
Wing 2: Attract attention
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance started attracting attention when it was set up at the end of 2010, when it produced a letter to the federal agriculture minster about including small-to-medium farmers as well as the small food enterprise and community food sectors in its proposed national food plan (an idea trashed by the present mob in government).
We knew we were starting to attract attention when the anticipated dozen or so organisatons we thought would co-sign the letter to the minister suddenly swelled to more than 110.
Later, the development of the Peoples’ Food Plan, intended to reform the anticipated but stillborn National Food Plan and provide an alternative to it, attracted attention as ideas were crowdsourced across the continent.
That leads us to 2013 and the first Fair Food Week. That was a success and we thought we could build on it, thus the Fair Food Week planned for October 2014.
Wing 3: Engage
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance is engaging with farmers, food buyers, urban growers, universities and other advocates to the extent that is possible with a voluntary organisation.
There’s room for improvement but doing that depends on member’s time and energy being available. That’s why the Alliance publishes a regular enews to subscribers and maintains a website and Facebook.
At the regional scale, food initiatives are engaging with people in the region, whether that’s commercial community-supported-agriculture enterprises (CSA) like CERES Fair Food, Brisbane Food Connect or Sydney’s Ooooby, or whether its social enterprises like Bondi Food Collective or the food co-ops that have populated our cities since the 1970s.
Then there are the community-based initiatives that engage with their memberships and audiences.
Wing 4: Take action
The Alliance is already taking action to advocate for fair food systems, supplementing at the national scale what regional organisations like Sydney Food Fairness Alliance are doing at the regional scale.
Other means of taking action are those enterprises I mention above, the small food businesses and social enterprises serving Australian produce where available… the community food systems we find in our towns and cities, the community food gardens, the chefs doing interesting things with Australian foods, the small food distribution services like CSAs, food co-ops, organic buyers groups and the like. They’re taking direct action in creating the things that people want. The Alliance’s focus on advocacy nicely supplements that by working towards a legislative framework that would make it easier for those enterprises and ideas to set root and propagate.
These four wings of the fair food dragonfly are happening at the same time though different locales are at different stages of the Butterfly Effect continuum. Melbourne seems the most advanced in popularising fair food systems and in the range of smaller enterprises and community initiatives engaging with the idea, and far exceeds poor old Sydney in this.
Let’s build a stronger movement
How can we build these different and geographically distributed initiatives into a more cohesive social movement?
I have no answers, just a few rough ideas. I would like to hear your answers and ideas too (add them to the Comments window at the end of this article).
One is that we need local initiatives because they are connected to their constituents in their own, but limited, areas. This is good, but a national fair food movement requires a national presence so we somehow need to develop a connected localism when it comes to local food initiatives like the food co-ops, community gardens and all the other varied citizen initiatives. To do this is to scale-up.
The constraints on developing fair food systems are national, even international in scope and we need something of similar scale to help the organisations that are responsible for imposing those constraints, whether they are deliberate or are the collateral damage of some other initiative of theirs. A national fair food movement needs the capacity to modify their behaviour when it is injurious to good food futures and to the national interest of our continued supply of quality foods and the wellbeing of our people.
Another idea, this one about focusing what we do with our local or regional food systems, whether business, social enterprise or voluntary community initiatives. It’s about coming together. The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance already brings people together, mostly through its social media, the media with the greatest reach.
Online media is a great enabler of cooperation and it is made even more effective, as is the movement, when it is supplemented by people meeting in the 3D world. A national conference as well as city, state or bioregional conferences or gatherings are a proven means to doing this. There’s nothing quite like personal contact to get to know each other, something that is supplemented by online media.
What such gatherings — I like that word better because ‘conferences’ can bring to mind those boring, sit-on-seats-in-rows events we’ve all been subjected to — need some purpose like the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance had for its Food Summit a few years ago, when the conference took its Declaration On Food the NSW Parliament.
So… a butterfly. A flying creature those independently-controlled wings enable it to hover, wait and watch but that also allow it to dart forward to some new site of opportunity. So, how do we build our own dragonfly of a social movement?
During the recent Students of Sustainability conference at the ANU, Simon Cunich, director and producer of the food sovereignty film Growing Change caught up with rugby union star and Fair Food Week champion David Pocock, and AFSA national coordinator Nick Rose.
There are rumblings across the country. Murmurings and whisperings of plans afoot as preparations for Fair Food Week gather pace. Buoyed by the success of last year, organisers are putting together fun and innovative events that capture the themes of the week.
One interesting collaboration is being planned in Victoria. The Sunbury Community Health Centre, as part of the Healthy Together Hume program, is arranging a whole week of events culminating in a progressive dinner on the final Saturday night.
“We’re planning a dinner across three restaurants in O’Shaunessy Street, which has become a little dining strip in Sunbury. An entree at one, a main at another and culminating in desert at Just Planet,” says Bernadette Hetherington of Sunbury Community Health. “The progressive dinner is really about the discussion along the way. We hope people come ready to talk about the food system around them.”
It’s part of a program of events that aim to raise awareness of the local food system and support community members to take an active approach it. They will also host a produce swap, a raw cooking class and a film night to engage the community with the Fair Food Week theme ‘Supporting Local Food Projects’.
“For us Fair Food Week is about Showcasing what Sunbury is doing to promote a healthy food system,” says Hetherington.
[button_link url=”http://fairfoodweek.org.au/event/fair-foodies-progressive-dinner/” target=”blank” style=”” title=”” class=”” id=”” onclick=“”] Visit Fair Food Week website for more detail [/button_link]
Story by Russ Grayson, May 2014
“Bring some warm clothes, it’s getting cold in the mountains this time of year… and, oh, we’ll se stopping at Penrith where I have a job interview… shouldn’t take more than half an hour”.
And so a somewhat convoluted and lengthy journey to the Blue Mountains starts when Virginia picks me up from home that warm afternoon in late May and we navigate our way across town to Parramatta Road.
The Great Western Highway starts where Parramatta Road stops, and we follow it to the once-was-a-town, now a suburb, of Penrith.
I wander the main street while Virginia does her job interview. It’s been years since I’ve set foot in the place though I’ve bypassed it many times on my way west to the mountains, yet as I walk the main strip in search of a decent-looking coffee stop I quickly realise that Penrith is an economically depressed sort of place… there are few people on the street, business seems slow in the underpopulated shops I walk past and the place has that seen-better-days feel. It was later that Virginia told me that the region around Penrith is low-socioeconomic. I believe her and, I wonder, what sort of economic development program could lift the prospects of local people?
Fortunately, I find a decent cafe at the end of the main commercial strip… black walls, dim lighting, two smart young women, friendly and clad appropriately in black dresses competently running it. The rest of my time in town I spend sitting in the park as the fading light of day tinges the canopy of the cabbage tree and Canary Island date palms yellow, as day heads towards evening and as Virginia’s half-hour job interview passes the hour-and-more span.
Then it’s off towards the Blue Mountains… only… only… “Oh, I forgot… I forget to get wine in Sydney… and petrol too… look–we’re running on empty!… I’ll drive carefully so we don’t use much of whatever fuel might be left… I’m sure we’ll make it to the service station at Glenbrook”, Virginia says with an air of surprise in her voice as we exit Penrith, turn onto the highway again and as Virginia accelerates with what seems to me to be somewhat less than ‘careful’ in regard to consumption of our remaining fuel. I retain my skepticism at her optimism.
On to Lawson
Some might call it preaching to the converted, my talk about the work of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance with Permaculture/Transition Blue Mountains there in the community centre in Lawson that night. To think that, though, is to misunderstand how social change works. Just as throwing a pebble into a pond produces ripples of energy across its surface, so talking with groups already involved in the sort of things you are talking about is akin to that pebble spreading ripples of knowledge and motivation across the social milieu… that’s why it’s called the ‘ripple effect’. Those sort of talks are essentially educational and motivational rather than informational.
First things first, though, and it’s the shared evening meal that provides the tasty introduction to the evening. After that I ask a couple questions designed to gauge the readiness of the group for what I would talk about—what their level of knowledge is. Here’s the questions:
- What is your interest in food (other than the obvious)?
- What do you understand by the term ‘food sovereignty’?
The response influences what you talk about and how you talk about it. So, I spoke briefly about:
- the history of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance as an accidental organisation set up to write a letter to the agriculture minister back in 2010 to encourage him to include small business, community food systems and family farmers in his proposed National Food Plan, and how that led to its establishment as a food education and advocacy organisation
- the Alliance’s activities, projects and campaigns.
That done, it’s time to stop talking and to start people acting. So, with the assistance of Virginia and Katoomba online maven and community gardener, Kat, I set three different questions to people at three different tables for them to work on. After awhile, they swap tables and after doing that twice they have all had a go at all of the questions. And those questions:
- What are some of the issues around fair food in the Blue Mountains?
- Which organisations are contributing to food sovereignty in the Blue Mountains?
- Fair Food Week—what could we do were our organisation to choose to participate in Fair Food Week 2014?
Those in the know about this sort of stuff will recognise the first two as ‘mapping’ questions devised to describe the existing situation. The latter is speculative.
The event was quite convivial, with all there avidly participating. The ideas, written by participants on sheets of A1 flip chart paper, I brought back to Sydney to write up, retaining a copy for the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and returning a copy to the host organisations for their own use.
For the Alliance, the information paints an image of the state of the fair food movement in the Blue Mountains. It will feed into what we do and how we do it.
Plum trees and farewells
It’s been good, after overnighting at Virginia and Fraser’s house in Katoomba, to go with her for a look at the Blue Mountains Community Garden with its collection of heritage apple trees.
The apples and fruit trees there, the plums and the nuts and the hazelnut trees, have by this time in the season shed most of their foliage, bringing a cold and almost forlorn look to the community garden. That’s brightened, though, by the appearance of Michael and Fred, two friendly middle aged guys who spend two days a week each in the garden working on their projects. Seemingly, community gardens cultivate social friendships as well as fruit and nuts.
Farewells are usually sad affairs even when they’re temporary. That’s how I feel now that I’ve said farewell to Virginia and watched her turn her vehicle westward towards Blackheath, as I turn on foot to check out the city, something I haven’t done for some time. It’s good to find Katoomba’s long-running food co-op still there behind its shopfront, to have a conversation with the guy at Summit Equipment about how they manufacture adventure equipment right here in Katoomba and, unlike Penrith, to find a multitude of coffee shops dotting the main street.
Oh, yes… that warm clothing Virginia told me to bring, it stayed in my bag all the time I was there (even the locals commented on the unseasonably warm weather)… and that journey running on empty from Penrith to Glenbrook… my pessimism was wrong and Virginia’s optimism was right… we just made it… maybe her driving was more careful and moderate than I thought. I never mentioned that to her and, if she ever reads this, I guess I’ll have to offer her an apology for ever having such dire thoughts about her driving.
Download presentaton handout and conversation cafe notes
[button_link url=”http://afsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/AFSA-presentation-blue-mtns.pdf” target=”blank” style=”” title=”” class=”” id=”” onclick=””] Download 655 KB pdf of AFSA presentaton Blue Moutains — May 2014 [/button_link]
[button_link url=”http://afsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/AFSA-presentation-blue-mtns-notes.pdf” target=”blank” style=”” title=”” class=”” id=”” onclick=””] Download 879 KB pdf of AFSA presentaton notes — Blue Moutains, May 2014 [/button_link]