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Culturally relevant food for Fawkner

Project Lead: Merri Food Hub

Merri Food Hub logo

Background and purpose

Merri Food Hub is a community food initiative, based at the Fawkner Senior Citizens Centre. The Hub offers an affordable, safe and consistent supply of culturally relevant fruits and vegetables to Merri-bek residents sourced from local growers and suppliers who prioritise environmentally sustainable practises. The purpose of this project is to partner with the Fawkner Food Bowls to scale up access and supply of culturally relevant foods to the Fawkner population who are among the most diverse and have among the highest reported rates of food insecurity in Merri-bek.

Accessing culturally relevant fresh produce has been highlighted by food security groups as one of the most important needs of food insecure people but one of the most difficult to fulfil.

Culturally diverse foods are not widely available through the main wholesale market or food relief suppliers such as SecondBite or Foodbank. On top of that the price of fresh food generally has risen by over 12% over the last year due to Russia’s war with Ukraine, COVID-19 supply chain disruptions and interstate floods .

This project addresses these issues by supporting Fawkner Food Bowls to grow culturally diverse foods locally, which saves on transport, logistics and aggregation costs. Fawkner Food Bowls is less than 2 km from where the produce will be sold at the Merri Food Hub market, making high quality culturally diverse produce available on a weekly basis at a stable and affordable price.

By addressing affordability, quality and variety of food available rather engaging in food relief efforts, this project addresses the longer-term food security needs of the community.

Both Merri Food Hub (MFH) and Fawkner Food Bowls (FFB) are run by the local community, for the community. They have a strong existing relationship, through a hyperlocal food supply chain from propagation, growing, harvesting through to distribution and consumption. Currently, MFH prioritise sourcing produce for their low-cost fresh food boxes from FFB, and then look to other suppliers to fill any shortfalls.

The project will build capacity to extend the local supply chain to Growing Farmers and other local producers such as Merri Creek Urban Farm, Back Alley Bakes, Andre’s of Melbourne and Fawkner Wholefoods Collective, who supply culturally relevant food to the community.

Both MFH and FFB have a diverse team that have built relationships with the many cultural, language and ethnic groups in Merri-bek's north. The project will build organisational capacity by strengthening the MFH/FFB partnership and expanding the local food supply chain.

This project seeks to test two fundamental success factors for a community food hub model:

1. The development of a strong, mutually beneficial and sustainable relationship between a local distributor and producer; and

2. Strong engagement and buy-in from local residents and users of the community food hub.

The following project outcomes will inform the establishment of a community food hub:

  • Increased awareness in the variety and available quantities of culturally relevant fresh produce based on evidence-based data collection.
  • The capacity of a hyperlocal food supply chain to deliver culturally relevant produce.
  • Reduced administrative and aggregation burden: the logistics and coordination involved in localizing the food supply using existing infrastructure.
  • The viability of a food supply that is driven by locals at its core.
  • The benefits and impact of the program outcomes will be measured by surveying the recipients of the culturally diverse produce, surveying the volunteers and project team members and analysing farm production and produce sales data.

    North Merri-bek Farming Network

    Project Lead: Growing Farmers

    Three farmers in front of a vegetable garden in an urban backyard

    Backyard Farmers

    Background and purpose

    Growing Farmers Inc. is a community group in the north of Merri-bek that is developing regenerative farming capacity in urban communities and supporting a new generation of aspiring urban farmers. This project is a collaboration between Growing Farmers (GF) and Fawkner Food Bowls (FFB) to supply food to the Merri Food Hub. It aims to increase the amount of nutritious food that is socially and equitably available to the North Merri-bek community. A network of 6 urban farms will be formed by coordinating growing and harvesting of crops between 5 existing farms in the GF Backyard Farmer project and the larger farm at FFB. Over 6 months the project will test a model of networked farming that supports cost effective practices, short supply chains, diversity of growing spaces and the ability to add further growing spaces to the network in future years with minimal effort.

    The majority of the proposed farming network (4 of 6 farms) are located in Fawkner, which has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Merri-bek. Access to fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the biggest challenges for people experiencing food insecurity.

    Connecting the 6 farms in a network and installing a coolroom for short-term storage of the harvested produce facilitates shared and more efficient use of resources and less double up of food security effort. It also supports a consistent supply of safe, high quality fresh food.

    This project prioritises local supply and strengthens existing resources within the community. It aims to help address the issue of reliance on long food supply chains which are vulnerable to disruption causing inconsistent supply and volatile prices . MFH currently sources a proportion of its fresh produce from farmers in regional Victoria. This project aims to increase the amount of local food supplied to the MFH and which can be accessed by the community.

    Growing Farmers will combine its strength in facilitating urban farming collaborations with the strength of partners FFB and MFH in engaging inclusively with local diverse communities. Data from FFB and MFH community consultations will be used to collaboratively to inform crop plans.

    The project is building on the success of other local food initiatives. The project team has learned from being involved in Fawkner Commons where 16 partners worked together to deliver low-cost food boxes at the Fawkner Bowling Club during the height of the pandemic. This combined experience will benefit the delivery of this project, as will sharing training resources and volunteers.

    The project will build the capacity of the local community to support food security. GF’s 11 backyard farm growers and the FFB volunteers are all locals. They are learning skills that will be invested in the local food system. The project also employs two local residents providing learnings for future employment pathways in the local food economy.

    This project tests the assumption that by coordinating food growing across existing North Merri-bek farms, and streamlining distribution via a local food hub, we will increase access to fresh, equitable, locally grown, culturally appropriate food. At the project conclusion there will be a prototype of a networked model of farms across North Merri-bek, with systems and processes to enable collaboration between growers and local organisations, and coordination of the growing, harvesting, processing and delivery of crops, thus increasing the efficiency of operations.

    Data will be collected to measure the:

    1. increase in farm viability and control in supplying producers

    2. creation of local supply chains

    3. increased availability of healthy sustainable, local food

    Merri-bek City Council acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional custodians of the lands and waterways in the area now known as Merri-bek, and pays respect to their Elders past and present, as well as to all First Nations’ communities who significantly contribute to the life of the area.

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