By Kerry Miller, first published on arc-Community.net.au
What would happen to your family, if there was a breakdown in Australia's food distribution system? As a nation, we rely heavily on a highly centralised system to supply food for our plates. Most Australians have little or no connection with the actual producers of their food, and an increasing number of voices are raising concern about this. It's an issue we at arc-Community have touched on previously (see our story on the Goulburn Valley Food Co-op), and one which affects every Australian and every community.
The way our food system is structured has implications for farmers, distributors, retailers, and of course — consumers of food. The bad news is that our system is unsustainable, and visibly failing. The good news, however, is that there are a number of individuals and groups who are creating change. New, resilient, localised systems are emerging and succeeding.
The Fair Food movement is aiming to encourage a grass roots reformation of our Australian Food system.
Fair Food — the documentary
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance describes itself as "a national alliance of farmers, food entrepreneurs, public health professionals, community gardeners, farmers market coordinators, journalists, researchers and local food advocates who share the vision of a fair food future for all Australians".
They have produced the documentary, 'Fair Food', as a way of raising awareness of the issues surrounding Australia's food security, as well as showcasing some of the successful alternative models that are emerging.
The film is screening around Australia in selected locations, hosted by community groups, food co-ops, community gardens and other small organisations. I attended a recent screening in Bowral, hosted by Bundanoon Community Garden. There was a panel discussion following the screening, with special guest, Rosemary Stanton, and local representatives from agriculture, the food industry and the community.
Both the film and the discussion afterwards were well worth the experience. The film is not a professional production, however it covers a variety of issues clearly, and as a springboard for discussions about local issues, works extremely well.
A brief summary
For those who don't have the opportunity to see the film (and I recommend you do so, if you can). here is a brief summary of some of the issues covered in both the film, and the discussion afterward.
Care of the land is integral to clean, good quality food, and to sustainable production. More and more, scientific research and innovative farming methods are stressing the vital importance of managing the ecosystem and replenishing the land, for continued good production.
Production-oriented farming practices deplete and degrade farmland, rendering it infertile over time. The use of high volumes of fertilisers and other chemical inputs cause problems with salination and dieback of trees, and requires constantly increasing inputs to maintain the same level of production. This makes farming expensive and un-sustainable.
Our food distribution system is controlled by two major supermarket chains. These big players control not only the stock they buy and sell, but most of the production and distribution of food, all the way down the chain.
Whereas decades ago, farmers had control over pricing and were able to keep around 90 percent of the profit from the food they produced, pressure from the rising costs of conventional farming, and from supermarkets who control the distribution, means farmers receive about 10 percentof the profits of their labour. As an example, the recent milk-price wars were cited, where milk sold for a dollar per litre was below cost to the farmer — yet they do not have an alternative market for their product.
Farmers continue to be forced from the land in large numbers, because they are no longer able to make a viable living. Younger people are not taking up farming as a vocation.
Although there is a challenging transition period from conventional farming using pesticides and fertilisers, to wholistically managed farming, sustainable farming systems are cheaper to run once established.
Australia produces some of the cleanest, best quality produce in the world, yet we are becoming increasingly reliant on imported food to feed our communities.
Our very centralised food distribution system means local food is often not available.
Successful small farmers are developing their own supply chains and networks, outside of the centralised system. This gives them control over pricing, so they can remain viable.
Successful local food production depends on relationships. Successful small farmers depend very much on community connections and establishing relationships with other individuals and local businesses. A striking feature of these small local food networks, is the way they are negotiated, so that each stakeholder is able to take what they need from the system, in order to continue giving back.
In the discussion that followed, local issues were identified. In the Southern Highlands, there is no regular farmers market, and only one local market gardener making produce available locally. There is a definite need for some form of local distribution. Bundanoon Community Garden have made themselves available as a connecting point for further discussion and development of ideas. It will be interesting (and hopefully, exciting) to see what develops from this.
If you are interested in connecting with the fair food movement contact the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance.
If you are interest in showing or viewing the Fair Food The Documentary…
[button_link url="http://www.justfoodfilms.com" target="blank" style="" title="" class="" id="" onclick=""]Visit Just Food Films website[/button_link]
If you are a Southern Highlands local, and wish to connect with others interested in establishing an accessible local food system...
[button_link url="http://www.bundanooncommunitygarden.org.au" target="blank" style="" title="" class="" id="" onclick=""]Visit Bundanoon Community Garden website[/button_link]