Leafy lettuce from Werribee, juicy cherries from Bacchus Marsh, plump strawberries from the Yarra Valley, vibrant green bundles of spinach from Heatherton. Fruit and vegetables just like these grow throughout Melbourne’s green fringe. This bountiful foodbowl is an important source of fresh food for Melbourne.
In 2015 Melbourne's foodbowl produced enough fresh fruit and vegetables to meet around 41 per cent of the city's food needs. Yet a changing climate, urban sprawl, spiralling population growth, bushfires and the recent pandemic have all placed pressure on this invaluable food source. However, by 2050 that figure could plummet to 18 per cent. How will Melbourne continue to produce the quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables it needs to feed itself when faced with such threats?
The Foodprint Melbourne research project at the University of Melbourne is working hard to provide the answer. Since its inception in 2015, funding from Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has meant it can undertake research that will ensure rapidly growing Greater Melbourne and its people have access to sustainably grown food for years to come.
According to the Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Catherine Brown OAM, “We see our role as tackling the big issues of the day. Since the beginning, the Foundation has been Foodprint Melbourne’s only external philanthropic funder.” This critical support has only continued as the project has grown increasingly more important.
According to Dr Rachel Carey, one of the founders of the research project: “If it wasn’t for the Foundation, we wouldn’t be here. There are few organisations that seven years ago saw the need to fund a project like this. And I can’t think of any other organisation that would understand the need for long-term funding.”
It has allowed Foodprint Melbourne to establish an understanding of Melbourne’s foodbowl, develop a policy roadmap for governments and, crucially, examine the shocks and stressors being placed on fruit and veggie growers. Work such as this will help build the resilience of Melbourne’s foodbowl, finding ways we can secure a healthy and sustainable food system for years to come.
“Local governments have made lots of use of our data,” says Dr Carey. “We see the project being referenced quite often in local government documents when they’re developing their food strategies and doing their planning. And a key impact was the Victorian Government’s decision to take action to protect Melbourne’s farmland. We know that people are using the resources.”
Foodprint Melbourne’s work has seen them become a world leader in city food systems, collaborating with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, Year 9 geography students across Victoria are using teaching resources the Foodprint Melbourne team developed together with the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria. So far, the Biomes and Food Security resources, which include printed resources, maps, and videos, have been used over 17,000 times.
Foodprint Melbourne came to the Foundation via the Innovation Grant round. According to Dr Brown: “They are aligned with the work we were already doing in food security for many years, but we wanted to transition to sustainable food systems – we wanted to solve the problem, not just address the food security issue. Foodprint Melbourne’s work is important because it looks at our city, where the pressures are, how much fruit and vegetables we can grow in our own backyard, and how it can be protected.
“It also shows how the Foundation works. We make initial grants and then when the outcomes are strong and the people involved reliable, we have moved on to further grants to grow impact. This is a classic innovation approach, test small and then scale up.”
This method has become increasingly important since COVID-19. Demand for food relief during the pandemic has doubled – Foodprint Melbourne’s current focus on the potential shocks and stressors to Melbourne’s food system couldn’t have come at a better time.
“As we’ve seen with the pandemic, there’s more people and more steps in long food supply chains, so there are more places where things can go wrong,” explains Dr Carey. “For the first time, people have seen that our food supply chains are vulnerable. Local food supply chains are less complicated, but we haven’t recognised that until recently. Now we’ve got the opportunity to rethink things. It’s a transformative moment.”
Foodprint Melbourne’s research is making a profound difference to our lives. Continued support from the Foundation ensures they build momentum. As Dr Brown says: “We find people with a great idea, the research skills and the ability to do community consultation, and we support them.”
The next phase of the Foodprint Melbourne project is underway and is focussed on Victorian food resilience planning.
The current project will build the capacity of local government, state government, civil society groups, and other stakeholders in Victoria to undertake food resilience planning. As experienced with the floods in New South Wales and Victoria, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical shifts are leading to food system disruptions, rising food prices, and growing food insecurity.
This project aims to strengthen the resilience of Victoria’s food system to the impacts of these shocks and stresses by providing evidence and guidance about how to undertake food resilience planning.
“The project will adopt a ‘co-design’ approach, collaborating with policymakers and other stakeholders to develop a ‘how to guide’ in food resilience planning. The project uses an integrated ‘food systems’ approach to food resilience planning and a human rights-based approach to addressing food insecurity, with Indigenous self-determination and food sovereignty as a core principle,” says Dr Carey.
The project is an extension of the Foodprint Melbourne work on the resilience of Melbourne’s food systems and will be completed by March 2025.