Sowing the Seed
A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 4th May, 2013.
On Wednesday this week I was in Melbourne attending VicHealth’s ‘Sowing the Seed’ information day at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
VicHealth – the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation – is a semi-autonomous state government agency, funded through alcohol and tobacco taxes, that was established in 1987 with a mandate to promote good health for all Victorians. Over a number of years, VicHealth has funded significant research and food security projects that, cumulatively, have contributed to substantial increases in levels of awareness about these issues in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
In particular, VicHealth made a major strategic intervention with the launch in 2005 of a five-year, multi-million dollar project entitled Food for All. A primary objective of this project was to bring about policy change with regard to raising the prominence and priority of food security in council policy processes and documents. As I discovered last year while investigating urban and peri-urban agriculture in Melbourne, and its role in meeting climate change and food security challenges, the lasting impacts of the Food for All project can be seen in several Melbourne councils.
Sowing the Seed is a competitive grants program that VicHealth launched a few weeks ago. Up to $100,000 is available for the two best projects that address the ‘challenge question’:
“How do we improve fruit and vegetable supply and access, as well as develop and promote a culture of healthy eating in Victoria?”
Unlike Food For All, Sowing the Seed is aimed mainly at non-profit and community groups, as well as small businesses. Attendees heard from some leading Melbourne-based innovators already working in this field, such as Chris Ennis from CERES Environmental Park and Organic Farm in Brunswick, Andrew Twaits of the veggieswap.com.au website, Cassie Duncan of Sustainable Table, and Bruce Neal, co-developer of the FoodSwitch app at Sydney University’s George Institute.
Criteria for successful projects are centred around innovation, collaboration and utilisation of digital technologies. Andrew Twaits’ Veggie Swap is a good example of how all three can be combined. The concept is simple: to encourage backyard gardeners to share and swap their surplus. Andrew, a new backyard gardener, had attended a couple of the neighbourhood veggie swaps that have begun to emerge in different parts of Melbourne in recent years, and was inspired by the range of produce that was available, as well as the social possibilities of these sorts of gatherings.
But he also saw there were limitations: the relative infrequency of the swaps which meant that some produce might not last that long; the common experience of an over-abundance of a few items which meant that often you walked away with many bunches of, say, kale that you didn’t necessarily want; and the lack of any commercial element which meant that non-growers couldn’t buy produce.
So Veggie Swap was created as an online harvest swap to overcome these sorts of issues. Members can see who is growing what in their neighbourhood, and organise their own swaps when and where they want. Non-growers can connect with growers to purchase some of their surplus. And physical swaps can be supported by greater coordination amongst participants, so avoiding the glut of a few items.
Innovative, collaborative and making great use of new technology. Veggie Swap has members Australia-wide, and is even spreading overseas.
With over 100 creative and passionate people wanting to submit applications, there’s every chance the Sowing the Seed challenge will generate the next Veggie Swap, or Sustainable Table. As the song says, “From little things, big things grow…”
Update – March 2014
About 3000 acres:
“We’re trying bridge the gap between traditional grassroot methods of growing food and city planning policies.
Sometimes, when people want to start a community garden, it can be hard to find a site or know who to talk to for access or planning approval. We’re helping to connect gardeners with empty land, and also with the right people in local government, to make sure everyone can work together.
Our website provides a map of actual and potential community garden sites around the city of Melbourne, Australia. A team including representatives from local government review potential sites and help make suitable land easier to find.
We provide ways for people to get in touch and organise around their community garden, as well as resources to help get started and make connections with land owners, local councils, and a whole range of resources.”
About the OFN:
“The Open Food Network is a community of people working together to build a free and open source platform that provides an open marketplace and supply network for local food, so that:
- Eaters can “know their farmers” (where they are, how they farm, exactly what price they get) while still having wide choice and the ease and convenience of local pick-up and access.
- Farmers can set their own prices, tell their own stories and choose who they trade with.
- Ethical and diverse food enterprises rebuild local economies by supporting these farmers and eaters to distribute food”.