The 2018 Urban Agriculture Forum, From Resilience to Liveability, was two days and nights of thought provoking, inspiring and delicious conversation and knowledge-sharing amongst a diverse sector of farmers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, activists and advocates (and farmers’ markets organisations!)

Uncle Perry welcomed attendees to the Wurundjeri land which the Forum was being held on, before Dr Lenore Newman from Fraser Valley University gave a powerful keynote address to begin the Conference and get the passion juices flowing. Farming in the Anthropocene and the current fight for the world’s farmland to stay agricultural in the face of land use change pressures were two of her take home messages. She gave an enlightening account of the Agricultural Land Reserve in British Columbia, where all agricultural land in the State has been protected for the last 45 years from being turned into housing  due to the concurrent Urban Containment Boundary. With a progressive food and farming focused policy being maintained for so long, famers have has the security to invest in the physical and cultural infrastructure needed to make smaller scale, local farming profitable. Agritourism is alive and well in BC and farm gate sales are high.

Lenore is also on the board of Directors for Vancouver Farmers Markets  VFM)– who are kind of like us! Since inception in 1995 VFM now runs 12 farmers markers (FMs) across the city, and Vancouver’s local government wants to see a farmers’ market in every neighbourhood – within walking distance of every resident, no less! To see this kind of political support for the FM sector overseas is incredibly encouraging and motivates Melbourne Farmers Markets (MFM) to continue to increase the access that all urban eaters in Melbourne have to fresh, local, sustainable produce.

The session on Cardinia Food Hub in Melbourne’s south-eastern peri-urban fringe demonstrated the diversity and spread of activities that could be undertaken as part of a food hub tackling many collectively felt problems for a particular community. Tanya Massey from Sustain: The Australian Food Network, highlighted the processes she’s used to understand how the food system within the community is felt and experienced by residents. Simon McPherson from Global South stepped out what the Cardinia Food Hub might look like in terms of its wholesale, retail, mobile retail, infrastructure and financial structures (a ‘not for profit’ still needs to float financially and make money, remember!) and the challenges it faces (being price competitive to supermarkets, having convenient food access points etc). He also mentioned future Food Hubs in the pipeline, include the Alphington Community Food Hub! Vicki Jones of CSM Organics – the family-run company which raises the cows and produces the delicious products under the Tarago Valley Organics label – gave a beautiful story of the partnership between her family’s farm and Packenham High School, where disengaged students come out to the dairy and learn through doing farm jobs such as fencing (maths, science) and carpentry. It highlighted her deep belief that farms and farming are good environments for children who struggle in mainstream schooling. Bronwyn Horn from Melbourne University gave MFM some reaffirming words on transparency as a transformative value for food organisations, based on her Masters thesis:

Shorter, localised and clearly documented food supply chains enable customers to be empowered to support food systems that embed values that they hold. Physical … market set ups can achieve this.

Natalie Abboud, Greens Councillor at the City of Moreland shared her story of ‘housewife turned farmers’ market advocator turned Councillor’, which resulted in our beloved Coburg Farmers’ Market getting established 4 years ago! At the beginning of her journey she was given the advice:

“If you’re talking about wanting a farmers’ market, you need to go talk to [MFM Founder and Director] Miranda Sharp”

We wouldn’t agree more!

The highlight meal of the Forum was undoubtedly Friday evenings’ dinner ‘in conversation’ with Ben Shewry & Bruce Pascoe, which was catered by MFM utilising Victoria produce direct from our local farmers. Covering land, sea and every region surrounding Melbourne throughout the 5 course meal, the team of qualified and trainee chefs led by Miranda delighted the tastebuds of everyone lucky enough to be there.

Longstanding friends Bruce and Ben gifted all attendees with an honest, intimate and thought-provoking conversation of food history, culture, meaning and belonging on this country. Knowing that the vast majority of farmers who supplied the dinner, attend farmers’ markets and farm in Australia are non-indigenous, what role do these landowners have in helping to make amends for the wrongs committed against our indigenous population over the past 230 years? Bruce’s answer: to build a generation of indigenous farmers in this country, those who truly deserve to benefit from the commercialisation of indigenous foods, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is physical access to land. We need more non-indigenous landowners unafraid of losing ‘their’ farming land and instead offering opportunities for would-be indigenous farmers to re-learn how to grow native foods. The cultural, social and ecological transformations which could result from a landowner offering up the back paddock for a few trials of murnong (yam daisy) in this way are without doubt, profound.

There were so many more inspiring presentations and conversations which had a lasting impact on attendees over the two days. Despite their diversity what everyone could agree on is that at every scale – backyard, nature strip, urban farm or broadacre – change is possible and needed in how we feed ourselves. We need to work together, continuing to build bridges and partnerships where they may not currently exist so that our country and people can all thrive into the future.

 

– Sophia Christoe
Stallholder Coordinator and Administration Assistant with Melbourne Farmers Markets