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FoodPrint Melbourne

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At a glance

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Five years ago, Dr Rachel Carey and colleagues Kirsten Larsen and Jen Sheridan at The University of Melbourne began a comprehensive research project known as FoodPrint Melbourne to investigate the future of Melbourne’s food growing capacity and its ability to feed a rapidly growing population. Over the years, the project has developed significantly and is influencing current government policy on protecting the future of Melbourne’s foodbowl.

Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation first provided a grant to The University of Melbourne to support the vision for a resilient and sustainable Melbourne in 2015 and the Foundation continues to be the only external philanthropic funder of FoodPrint Melbourne.

Dr Carey says, “At the time we were concerned about the loss of significant amounts of farmland and the impact it would have on Melbourne’s foodbowl in the future. It was time for the government to act, however there was a lack of evidence to support the policy change that was needed.

“We were trying to build a public conversation about food sustainability in the context of the changes that were taking place. We began by creating and publishing a map of Melbourne’s food growing areas. The response by stakeholders was very positive and we soon realised that there was significant public interest in the issue.”

This initial map became a double page spread in the Herald Sun newspaper and generated interest from other media outlets.

Understanding Melbourne's foodbowl

With the support of the Foundation’s funding, the Phase 1: FoodPrint Melbourne research resulted in the launch of a public report, Melbourne’s Food Future. The research showed that Melbourne’s foodbowl meets 41 per cent of the city’s food needs - an extremely positive outcome for a city of its size and something to be protected. However, the research also revealed that if Melbourne continued the current trajectory of development, with an expected population of seven million by 2050, it would only meet 18 per cent of its overall food needs.

The FoodPrint team continually asked: “If we want to continue to eat fruit and vegetables grown locally in 2050, what do we need to do now to make it happen?”

Dr Carey said that the Foundation’s funding came at a critical time and was a crucial factor in the success of Phase 1.  “We needed time to explore the answer with stakeholders and begin to build on the knowledge we were gathering. The Foundation’s grant enabled us to do this.”

Developing a roadmap

Building on the successes of Phase 1, in 2017 the Foundation provided a subsequent grant for Phase 2: Roadmap for a resilient and sustainable Melbourne foodbowl to investigate the challenges and opportunities for Melbourne’s city-fringe farming. It also outlined what was required to protect the future of the city’s foodbowl and food growing capacity as the population increases.

“Our vision for Melbourne is to be resilient and sustainable, and with emerging climate change challenges we asked how could we achieve this?” 

Dr Carey and her team worked with key stakeholders to develop a food policy roadmap with five key pillars of action that were included it in the final report.

Dr Carey notes that the research has been successful in bringing awareness to the food sustainability issue. The Victorian Government’s Plan Melbourne report refers to the importance of food security, while also recognising the impact to food security from climate change. 

During the 2018 State Government election, political parties were referring to the FoodPrint research while advocating to protect and strengthen Melbourne’s city-fringe food growing areas, farmland and the increased use of recycled water.

City of Melbourne’s Resilient City Strategy, which began as part of the 100 Resilient Cities initiatives funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, also draws on evidence from the FoodPrint research.

“We are now beginning to see how the research is influencing policy development on food sustainability.

“Our FoodPrint newsletter is emailed to a database of 1,000 stakeholders who believe our city farmland should be protected. Public support and interest in Melbourne’s foodbowl is evident.”

The online reach of the FoodPrint project through print and online media has been one of its outstanding successes, added Dr Carey.

Entering the classroom

The FoodPrint team worked with the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria (GTAV) to develop and trial a set of teaching materials for the Year 9 Geography unit, Biomes and Food Security. The teaching materials, including Geographic Information System (GIS) maps, were released into Victorian secondary schools in 2018 and received an Australian Geography Teachers Association award in 2019.

“This teaching unit was a great way to create awareness among secondary students as they will be the ones affected if we do not plan and act now.”

The Year 9 GIS maps now provide information to a wide range of stakeholders to inform planning for food production, preparation for food system shocks and stresses, and to support policy decisions. 

“The GIS maps can have overlays applied and can show the strengths and vulnerabilities of the city’s food system. This was a surprising outcome for a project resource that was initially developed for classroom learning,” added Dr Carey.

Building resilience

Recognising the impact of the FoodPrint project, the Foundation has provided supplementary funding in 2020 for Phase 3: Building the resilience of Melbourne’s food system. This will provide further evidence and encourage actions to strengthen the capacity of the city’s food system to endure shocks and stresses including drought, fire, floods and more recently, pandemics. 

“When we began this third phase of the project, we could not have predicted the events of the first six months of 2020 – in many parts of Australia drought was followed by severe flooding or   bushfires, and then the COVID-19 pandemic began,” says Dr Carey.

The FoodPrint team have now expanded the project to include pandemics as a stress trigger to food systems and have pivoted the project to inform policy, strengthening resilience to all types of shocks and delivering critical information for future events. 

“We are definitely in a stronger position than we were five years ago thanks to the Foundation’s funding and support to achieve our vision for Melbourne to be a sustainable and resilient city,” says Dr Carey.

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