For many of us, the food we eat is doing us no good – about half of Cardinia Shire’s population is obese or overweight thanks mainly to the food choices people make. But the food we take in and the waste we throw out is being tackled by a community-driven movement that aims to change what goes over our teeth and gums, while also tackling food security, agriculture and enrironment issues. ANDREW CANTWELL reports.
There’s a quiet revolution going on in the kitchens and yards of homes, schools and community organisations across Cardinia Shire.
It’s a community-led fresh foods program with a simple aim – to get us as a local community to be more engaged with the food we eat – and takes a ‘more or less’ approach … more good food from our gardens and farms, more fresh food in our bellies and less food waste gunking up our bins and landfills.
And Cardinia needs it.
The figures tell us that 94 per cent of us don’t eat the required amount of fresh fruit and veg to maintain good health, 25 per cent of our population is obese and 29 per cent overweight, and 30 per cent of what we send to landfill is food waste.
Alarmingly, convenience food outlets in Cardinia outnumber ‘essential’ food outlets six to one.
Worse, many of us no longer have any idea where our food comes from – there’s a disconnect between farm and table with many of us only knowing that cans, packets and plastic-wrapped punnets somehow keep appearing on supermarket shelves.
The health challenges and waste from our poor food choices are costing us more than we realise, and so the need for a change in our thinking and habits is more needed than ever.
The Cardinia Food Movement and the closely aligned Cardinia Food Circles project want to help with those changes.
They’ve been running for over two years and plan to run for several more, and have already made an impact through the Pakenham Secondary College gardens, African United Farms, the Pakenham Living and Learning Centre’s community grocer market, a Sikh Kitchen project and ‘Country Kitchens’ program.
But in keeping with the movement’s ‘no logo- no ego’ approach, you won’t find them claiming credit for these successes. The emphasis is squarely on the collaborative and productive efforts of all involved for the required change.
The movement is backed by the Cardinia Shire Council, which provides $100,000 a year, and the return to the community has already been measured just in State Government ‘ Pick My Project’ grants well in excess of that amount. Food network expert Sustain Australia is also a key backer.
The scope for the movement is actually much bigger than backyard gardens and local growers’ markets, and challenges all in the Cardinia region to think about what’s going into the ground, into the plants’ development, into their diets, and finally what gets recycled or composted and what goes to landfill.
The people behind the project want as many individuals, groups and organisations involved as possible, to create as great an impact as possible.
Food Circles collective impact facilitator Tanya Massy said there were about 20 organisations involved to date, including universities, local health services, the Farmers’ Federation as well as local community groups and schools.
The local farming community is not forgotten, and one of the many aims of the project is to increase the opportunities for on-farm or farmgate sales and supply into local food networks, as well as foster changes to farming practice that promote healthy, sustainable and low-impact agriculture.
The protection of our key agricultural land and food security is also a priority as those behind Melbourne’s sprawl look hungrily at our flat, open fields.
Community markets are another easy means of linking local growers and shoppers – which also meets the affordability aim of the movement. Prices for fresh fruit and veg are reportedly, on average, about half those found in the major supermarket.
The movement has, apparently, been attracting attention in all the right circles.
Tanya, who has qualifications in community development and ag science – and is studying for a PhD in food systems, said the Cardinia program had attracted the interest of other local government areas, who were keen to replicate the successes.
But for now, the focus is squarely on the local community … and with good reason.
Every community garden, every school garden and every kitchen garden started is bringing more people into the sphere of the project and pushing them closer to the project’s aims.
Tanya said she had been touched by how well the local community had taken to the project, and at how passionate so many were about their involvement.
To get involved, visit online at cardiniafoodmovement.org
Food for the future
The value and diversity of Cardinia’s agriculture was also being studied by Deakin University.
Cardinia is already recognised as second only to neighbouring Baw Baw Shire for the value of its agricultural production within the Melbourne foodbowl.
This is significant, as the experts expect 16 per cent of Melbourne’s foodbowl land will disappear in the next 30 years.
The State Government has this year launched an inquiry into protecting and preserving agricultural land within the foodbowl – land within a 100km radius of the CBD – considering the impacts of climate change, crop diversity, soil fertility and degradation, and water availability and re-use.
A large swath of land to the south of the Urban Growth Boundary in Cardinia and the neighbouring Casey Council area are key considerations in that study, given the broadacre areas involved.
Much of that land is included in a management plan for the Westernport Green Wedge, which was launched earlier this year and endorsed by both Cardinia and Casey councils.
These big ticket investigations will inform larger scale agriculture and food security strategies well into the future.
The Cardinia Food Movement is keen to pursue actions that can be taken now, and taken locally, in pursuit of the same broad aims.