Thanks for the opportunity to engage and apologies for the delay in getting into the discussion.
In the 1990s in Sydney's Inner West, I set up what I believe was Australia's first CSA with the support of a grower from the Central Coast. This went for a number of years and though small, taught valuable lessons. Later I began operating a certified organic retail store called Granny Smith Natural Food Market in 2002 in Sydney. This business operated for 12 years before I moved to rural Victoria in 2014.
Like Kylie, I have a MSc (Food Policy) through City University of London. I am excited by the diversity and vitality of the food space in NE Victoria where I now live. There is a lot going on in a region of Australia that should be able to feed itself but is, like others, reliant on centralized city aggregation and transshipment for its food supply.
I think we continue to believe innately that rural areas are generally well-supplied with fresh foods. It's where farmers live, don't they? However I suggest that most rural and regional areas provide components of full diets which they (generally) ship to cities. There are few opportunities to aggregate at a small wholesale level in rural Australia. Instead of being terminal markets, the cities are increasingly the places where these parts are aggregated and transshipped back to rural areas as whole diets: cities as food suppliers to rural Australia.
The bits of a healthy diet that we need to eat more of - fresh vegetables - are often produced in the peri-urban areas close to cities such as Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, while rural areas often produce the commodities that are focused on export markets. It does not make for a very safe, sustainable or diverse food system and can go hand-in-hand with decreasing rural employment opportunities, stagnating communities, withdrawal of services, increasing inequity and concerning trends around social health and wellbeing. Both federal and state tiers of Australian government are focused on supporting an export, productivist paradigm, with few advocates at official levels for regional and local food systems.
While a lot of interest is in urban food supplies, I am interested in how regional areas can develop sustainable, adaptable food systems that deliver options and prospects for growers, employment opportunities, healthy foods and strong communities.
Is it local governments' role to enable this shift? Is it reasonable to expect them to do so? Does local government have the capacity to achieve this against overwhelming state and federal policies, especially in (generally under-resourced) rural areas?
We are exploring options and developing local strategies in a series of consecutive workshops in Wangaratta listed here under NE Vic Local Food Lab series. Please attend if you're in the area!