2015 President’s Report
It’s been an exhilarating and challenging year as President of AFSA as I’ve worked with an amazing team of committed fair food activists to further the interests of food sovereignty in Australia.
Part of the focus for the five-year-old Alliance this year has been to improve our internal operations with clearer processes for decision making and communications, and better financial management. I am delighted to be finishing the year with a surplus and a healthy bank account, largely thanks to the fundraising made possible by the Fair Food documentary screenings, DVD sales, and generous support from the City of Melbourne. As at the end of the 2014-15 financial year, the doco had profited AFSA $6,679.
Both the Fair Food doco and anthology edited by AFSA Secretary Nick Rose have greatly helped spread the word of the good work happening across the country as producers, chefs, connectors, knowledge workers, local governments, and activists build a new, fairer food system for all. We have hopes of crowdfunding a second documentary focusing on the plight of farm and food workers in Australia, and how these systems of exploitation prop up the duopoly and concentration of power here and globally. Watch this space.
The year has seen AFSA leading the fight for fair and consistent regulation of the food system, with participation at the Regrarians-led #EatBuyGrow rally a highlight. Speaking alongside lunatic farmer Joel Salatin on the many ways in which ‘folks, this ain’t normal’ and the need to contest the orthodoxy of industrial food was both an honour and a great opportunity to amplify the message locally.
We’ve worked to spread the word of the plight of dairy farmers in Victoria affected by the Government’s hasty decision to make it more difficult to sell raw milk, as well as the difficulties faced by livestock producers in processing and distributing their produce, especially in Victoria, where we’ve helped trigger a review of the meat regulator PrimeSafe (yet to report). I visited the Executive Director of the America Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund in Kentucky to learn how we might build such a fund here, and work is well advanced towards the establishment of a legal defence branch of AFSA.
I’ve already recounted the #epicfairfoodtour I made of the US in June, where AFSA’s food sovereignty relationships and networks were further developed with some of the most popular voices in the movement, including Joel Salatin, Temple Grandin, Dan Barber, and Michael Pollan.
Back home, I was delighted to host the inaugural Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering(conceived by fabulous farmer Fraser of Old Mill Bio Farm in NSW) in August with the able assistance of local Sarah Chignell. Two days of discussing the issues and opportunities in production, connection, regulation, and regeneration of the food system were heralded by fair food pioneer Costa Georgiadis as ‘the Woodstock of Australian agriculture’. We recounted and plotted, feasted and posited, and frankly talked fair food ‘til the cows came home. The high proportion of young farmers and future farmers was especially encouraging – just goes to show how much more appealing fair food farming is than industrial agriculture! I’m already looking forward to the next one (perhaps somewhere a tad warmer...)
In the first week of September I had the honour and privilege to attend the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) meeting in Gujarat, along with my comrade Nick Rose. You can read our separate report on the outcomes of the meeting here. In short, the meeting clarified the need for AFSA to stand up to our own government in solidarity with our comrades in the Global South, to protect them as well as our own producers from the ravages of free-trade agreements that benefit nobody except large, transnational agribusiness. The impact of cheap imports is devastating for farmers everywhere – from fruit growers in Victoria to small-scale beef producers in Kenya.
Our involvement with the IPC has also connected us to the ongoing dialogue with the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, where we can add our voice to the global movement for agroecology and the fight against industrial livestock production, amongst the many other issues.
In spite of the continued centralized control of our food system, especially by the duopoly Coles & Woolworths, and in spite of the burdens and unfairnesses of regulation for small-scale, transparent food production, and even in spite of the ongoing exploitation of the labour of farm and food workers across Australia, I feel hopeful.
I feel hopeful because more people are choosing to buy directly from farmers and leave the duopoly out of their shopping bag. I feel hopeful because we’ve got the regulators’ attention, and reform seems possible. I feel hopeful because of the work of Four Corners to expose the treatment of farm workers and the tireless work of the NUW to support workers everywhere. I feel hopeful because I’m a tragic optimist who takes every tiny grain of hope and plants it deeply in the rich soil of this fecund movement.
I am especially grateful for the work and support of Secretary Nick Rose, Communications Officer Alana Mann, Memberships Officer Michele Lally and our wonderful intern Katarina Munksgaard, who have contributed tirelessly all year.
Thank you also to Vice President Jeff Pow, Treasurer Nadine Ponomarenko, and Louise Abson for your contributions, and finally thank you to the members who resigned earlier in the year due to challenging circumstances, Clare Richards and Michael Croft. And of course thank you to long-term volunteers and co-founders of AFSA Russ Grayson and Fiona Campbell for your many years of work to build and support the movement through the website and AFSA communications with members.
So long as we all continue working together, we’ve got this. Here’s to another great year for the fair food movement!
Viva la revolucion!
Secretary & National Coordinator
2015 saw AFSA celebrate its fifth anniversary. When I think back to where we were in July 2010, when the concept of a national food sovereignty alliance was first being discussed, it's amazing just how much has been achieved. As a 100% volunteer-based organisation, with a small core of committed activists, these achievements have been all the more remarkable. At times it's been far from easy, but five years in, we're here, and working hard together to build the fair food movement in Australia. Our networks and relationships are spreading and strengthening, both in Australia and internationally.
This year has seen us make enormous strides, thanks in no small part to the enormous passion, energy, commitment and leadership of AFSA President Tammi Jonas, ably supported by the National Committee, in particular Communications Officer Alana Mann and Memberships Officer Michele Lally. I stand in admiration of them all, and feel grateful that AFSA is in such strong, experienced and capable hands – this is a great legacy for both myself and all the previous Committee members and long-time volunteers that have worked for AFSA and the cause of fair food in Australia.
So much of what we have done has been as a team. This has been especially the case regarding the coordination and screenings of the Fair Food documentary. With the support of 263 people and organisations that crowd-funded $32,675 in September-October 2013, and in collaboration with the Field Institute, we produced Australia's first food politics feature-length documentary. It premiered to a sell-out audience of 200 at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne on 2nd December, 2014. From February to October 2015, over 40 public screenings have taken place in community venues around the country, in a diverse array of rural and urban settings, most recently in Mildura (Victoria), and in Lakeland and Cooktown (Far North Queensland). We estimate that the film has been now been seen by over 3000 people, and several screenings are scheduled for Fair Food Week. AFSA representatives have attended more than half of these screenings, and I personally have attended and spoken at 18. On every occasion, the documentary has met with an enthusiastic response, and has provoked sustained discussion and debate about key issues facing our food and farming system. Common themes have included the lack of abattoirs and regional processing and distribution facilities; the continuing exodus of farmers from the land in the face of ongoing consolidation and corporatisation, as well as increasing foreign ownership and control; the difficulties faced by small-scale producers and artisanal food businesses as regards food safety and related regulatory regimes; and the exercise of concentrated corporate power, above all the supermarket duopoly.
Importantly, the screenings have also provided the opportunity for local community members to share stories of grassroots initiatives and leadership, generating inspiration and hope amongst those present. The screenings have been universally positive experiences, with many groups and individuals thanking AFSA for our leadership and vision in making this resource available. We have no doubt that many positive initiatives and projects are already underway as a result of discussions following screenings, and so the documentary has already made an important contribution to the building of a fairer food system.
Another significant milestone this year was the publication of the Fair Food anthology: Australia's first volume documenting the emergence and growth of a national food sovereignty movement through personal stories of several of that movement's leading actors. I am the editor of the book, and it contains chapters by past and present AFSA Committee members, including current President Tammi Jonas, and so in several respects is also a history of AFSA itself. The book, published by Queensland University Press, was launched at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 26th August, and again at Avid Reader in Brisbane's West End on 10th September. It has been reviewed favourably in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Saturday Paper and Pip Magazine, amongst other print and online media; and during September reached No.1 in the Independent Category in the Courier Mail's listing of new books. The book is being stocked in airports around Australia, in mainstream bookstores like Dymocks, as well as in a wide range of independent bookstores. We expect it to be an important and permanent resource that will inspire existing activists and supporters to strengthen and deepen their engagement with the Fair Food movement; and that will encourage and inspire new and younger people to join the movement. As the SMH review concluded, “These heart-on-the-sleeve manifestos have something urgent and important to say.”
Fair Food Challenge
Inspired by the Real Food Challenge, an initiative launched and led by university and college students in the United States in 2008 with the goal of getting higher education institutions to pledge to source 20% of their food from 'real' (i.e. local / ethical / sustainable / fair) sources by 2020, in June 2015 AFSA began working with students leaders at RMIT (Ben McMenamin) and Melbourne University (Sophie Lamond) to develop a similar campaign here. A campaign website was built (www.fairfoodchallenge.com) and launched in July 2015, garnering the immediate support of organisations like 3000 Acres, Open Food Network, Youth Food Movement, Melbourne Farmers Markets, and many others. Relationships have been established with the coordinators of the Real Food Challengeand the aligned Meal Exchangecampaign in Canada; extensive outreach has taken place with students at many other campuses in Australia; and meetings and presentations have taken place with university sustainability officers and managers. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In June 2015 AFSA submitted a grant application to the City of Melbourne for $20,000 to resource the campaign in 2015. Next steps will include a detailed examination of the meaning of 'fair food', so that we can begin to develop criteria which can guide purchasing decisions within the higher education sector, and beyond (e.g. local government, health, schools).
Food Sovereignty pilot, Cook Shire, Far North Queensland
This visit was undertaken from 23-26 September at the invitation of the Cook Shire Council and Cape York NRM, and in collaboration with Kym Kruse of RegenAg, as well as Sustain. The significance for AFSA is that the Cook Shire Council is, as a result of this visit and ongoing discussions, committing itself to a review of local laws with the aim of preparing a food sovereignty by-law, the aim of which would be to exempt small-scale producers and local food businesses from certain labelling, inspection and licensing requirements that inhibit the expansion of the local food economy: see MR_CookShireFoodSovereignty_121015_vf. This would be along the lines of the Food Sovereignty Ordinances (16 of which have now been passed by Councils in Maine), the Wyoming Food Freedom Act (passed in January 2015) and the 2013 Californian Homemade Food Act. We see this as a highly significant development that supports the AFSA regulation campaign (see Tammi's report) and will likely set a precedent for other local councils to follow – as well as being a resource for other AFSA / FFFU members and fair food supporters to use to push for change at the local level.
IPC and Fair Food Week
As mentioned in Tammi's report, and in our separate report to members (forthcoming), I attended with her the 2015 meeting of the International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty, (in Gujarat, India). An inspiring experience that made us realise we are truly standing on the shoulders of giants, and following in their footsteps, in our work to build the food sovereignty movement in Australia. I have also worked with Alana Mann in getting Fair Food Week off the ground in 2015, and it's exciting to see that as of the writing of this report, nearly 50 events have been listed from every state and the ACT, including for the first time a National Fair Food Convergence. Significantly this year we have commenced discussions with the National Union of Workers around joint work and collaboration on their major Fair Food Campaign (www.fairfoodaustralia.org), targeting Coles and Woolworths over the exploitation of farm and food system workers in Australia. Through existing relationships we secured $2000 sponsorship for FFW from the City of Melbourne, and in-kind support worth $3000 from the William Angliss Institute (WAI). In addition to the Fair Food Convergence, AFSA is jointly hosting (with WAI and Sustain: The Australian Food Network) a unique one-day workshop on 19 October, Democratising Food Systems.
Speaking and media
As detailed in the reports of Tammi and Alana, AFSA continues to build its profile in the media and in community, government and professional forums and debates. I have spoken at more than a dozen this year as well as given many radio interviews. Highlights include the Municipal Association of Victoria's Local Food Forum (Melbourne, 10/9), the Real Food Festival in Maleny (12-13/9), EATology panel discussion about a Food Plan for the ACT alongside ACT Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, Shane Rattenbury, and AFSA/FFFU member and local producer Penny Kothe (Canberra, 30/9), and the Great Southern Sustainability Festival in Albany, WA (4/10).
This year 2015 has been a period of transition for AFSA and the Communications area has been no exception. Key tactical activities have included:
- the promotion of screenings of the Fair Food documentary and the Fair Food edited collection
- the updating of resources including the AFSA printed flier and the Fair Food Week artwork (by volunteer Sharon Lee)
- publication of news releases and position statements on hot issues including the food safety regulation and the Trans Pacific Partnership
- rich content on social media including key events such as the highly successful Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering.
Fair Food Week (Oct 16-25) is promising to be a success with the partnership of the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network (ACFCGN) and Permaculture Australia (PA) who are ably promoting the Week around Australia.
Work in progress
The handover of web assets from long-time volunteer Fiona Campbell has been on ongoing process that has highlighted the need for a multimedia editor/web manager. This role is currently ably filled for the Fair Food Week website by volunteer Kate Raymond but the AFSA web site is still without technical support. A new hosting arrangement for the site is in train.
The next steps for the Communications Officer include the development of a comprehensive communication strategy based on outreach to target audiences, including community-based food organisations and individuals in remote areas such as Northern Australia. Research into the needs and expectations of these stakeholders is needed. The development and timely delivery of rich multimedia content for subscribers is a high priority that will be facilitated by a skilled multimedia editor.
What a delight it has been to work with a group of passionate fair food advocates and farmers. In my first year on the National Committee, my passions to lead in membership and communications as well as utilise some of my commercial and branding experience for the group has been both rewarding and challenging.
This year’s KPI to increase membership by 30% was like eating lemons and drinking lemonade all at the same time. While both challenging and fruitful, with a final increase in membership by 50%, delivering this KPI well above what was expected has not been by chance. Our team located around the country has worked hard and with much enthusiasm, to bring a united message of leadership by advocating directly and using social media to involve and encourage participation from new areas that have not yet been exposed to AFSA. We have all utilised the Fair Food Documentary and other events to inspire more eaters to get closer to their food sources and highlight the advocacy our group participates in. With increased activity and interest from outside of usual channels comes more interest and membership to our wonderful organisation, and thus, a strong increase in membership has been realised.
Our challenge in the membership space was our system and process. Our systems have not geared up just yet to provide a seamless and viable option to be run by busy volunteers, and the next project that will be undertaken, includes seeking a membership system that has increased automation options to provide an enjoyable and professional experience for all of our members. This will link in further with increased participation through events and communications and will then provide the framework to offer more to our members and provide a valuable resource to our committee for targeted campaigns and communications release in a timely manner.
With South Australia as my locale, I have worked hard to bring several screenings of Fair Food to our state, as well as engagement with several food groups and advocacy groups who are feeling the pinch of decreased voluntary availability. I continue to advocate and work on creating South Australia into a more resilient Fair Food state, although, we are several years behind the passion that is seen along the Eastern Seaboard, participation and interest will be the key to the coming 12 months.
I have also been involved in the Legal Defence Fund, inspirational Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering, involved with a new Poultry producers Risk Management strategy and looking further at indigenous food security as corporate centralised food distribution continues to make high quality food unavailable to some in remote areas.
It’s been both inspiring and uplifting to have the opportunity to be a part of such a dynamic and innovative team and connect with such passionate and inspiring people in our peer group. Thanks must go to Tammi, Nick and Alana who have supported me so professionally in my first year with AFSA.