Alliance to act on food security

Posted on 20. Jul, 2009 by in Articles, Resources

Jill Finnane reports October 2006…

Hidden Hunger in the Lucky Country was the theme addressed at the launch of the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance in NSW Parliament House on 17 October 2006.

Jill Finnane, on the education team of the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, works with the Edmund Rice Centre and wrote the book From Lawns to Lunch - Growing Food in the City (2005; New Holland Publishers, Sydney.  ISBN 1 74110 209 X)

Jill Finnane, on the education team of the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, works with the Edmund Rice Centre and wrote the book From Lawns to Lunch - Growing Food in the City (2005; New Holland Publishers, Sydney. ISBN 1 74110 209 X)

The title was prompted by the findings of a 2004 survey of low income households in South West Sydney that:

  • 21.9 per cent of households experienced food insecurity
  • 30 per cent of households with children were food insecure
  • 45 per cent of single parent households were food insecure.

Food insecurity might include episodes of food shortage or constantly feeling hunger.

The Sydney Food Fairness Alliance promotes community food security and sustainable food systems.

Address the macro and the micro – Disney

Professor Julian Disney, Chair of Anti- Poverty week, affirmed the goals of the Alliance when he stressed the importance of taking a ‘bifocal’ approach to addressing poverty.

Professor Disney said that our community needs to focus on tackling the macro issues (like competition policy and tax) when discussing food prices and availability in supermarkets, while searching for frontline experiences and action.

Addressing himself to the welfare and media sectors, he claimed they focus too much on quantifying the poverty line and lack of income as a root cause of poverty. “Is this helpful?” he challenged.

Professor Disney claimed that there are many structural issues that need addressing. He pointed to the difficulties created by our tax system that has made investment in housing so profitable that there has been a huge escalation in the price of housing in urban areas.

He believes that one way of tackling poverty is to develop medium sized cities with populations of 0.5 – 1 million residents.

“Our topography is well suited to medium sized cities and it would bring people closer to food sources and growers, helping to retain urban agricultural land.”

Would there be the political will to explore these structural issues? Professor Disney thinks so. ‘Australians do care about poverty.’ He said.

Sydney’s urban fringe farms – a migrant success story

Associate Professor Frances Parker from the University of Western Sydney also explored the structural threat to food security by pointing out that 40 per cent of Sydney’s 2000 market gardens are in designated growth areas. This raises the question: ‘Why do we always choose the most productive land for development?”

Professor Parker felt we should also ask: ‘How many of the policy makers and planners have been out and met with Sydney’s farmers?

The professor has met extensively with Sydney’s farmers and her research on farming in the Sydney Basin shows that Sydney’s agriculture:

  • is worth over $1 billion annually
  • employs 12, 000 people
  • has the largest number of horticulturalists in Australia and the largest number of non-English speaking horticulturalists.

Sydney market gardeners currently produce:

  • 90 per cent of Sydney’s perishable vegetables
  • 100 per cent of the supply of Asian greens
  • 80 per cent of its mushrooms
  • 70 per centof fresh tomatoes
  • 91 per cent spring onions and shallots.

She found that not only do they provide so much of Sydney’s fresh food but the market gardens also provide a significant source of employment for migrants and, as such, are an important anti-poverty strategy. This has led her to ask: ‘How do we frame Sydney farms? ‘Land Waiting to be Urbanised’ or ‘Migrant Success Story’?

She pointed out that if development goes ahead, the loss of this faming land will not only be turning Sydney’s green belt into ‘pollution-making, water-guzzling, commuter-making suburbs’, it will mean that farms will move further out to where there is less water and poorer quality soils.

Professor Parker made it clear: “the future of agriculture and Sydney’s food supply must be considered at the same time as urbanisation.”

We were left pondering many questions. What will happen to these farmers when the land they are leasing is sold? Will food grown under the poorer conditions, further out, cost more? Professor Parker reminded us that if we are to persuade the planners to preserve Sydney’s agriculture we still need to find where the houses can go.

Aunty Beryl – leader with an innovative eduational project

Dignity and identity through food were highlighted by Aunty Beryl as she told her story leading to the setting up Yamma Dhinawan, a new cafĂ© and training facility in Wilson Street, Redfern, that aims to address some of the underlying causes of poor nutrition. Growing up in Walgett, her family lived off the land and survived difficult times by caring and sharing; her dad was a shearer and they traded lamb for vegetables from a neighbour’s market garden.

These values of caring and sharing have been something she has tried to incorporate in her community work with hospitality and food. Yamma Dhinawan has been set up so that single mums, who’ve never had a job, or women wh ha’ve been out of the workforce for a long time can come for training and work experience.

So far, 20 women have signed up. Aunty Beryl can see the changes in the mum’s confidence and self esteem as they learn how to cook and shop, however she believes it is not enough just to teach people how to do this. “Looking after the land is critical”, she said .

Now, when Aunty Beryl returns to her family’s home in Walgett, she finds the river is dry and polluted.

“The cotton growers provide lots of employment but there are no fish left. People are reliant on takeaway from the local shop and feel shamed about bush foods”. She said it makes her sad.

New alliance – busy start

Russ Grayson explained that a key goal for the Alliance is to get food security on the public agenda. He described the progress the Alliance has made in the short time since its tentative beginnings in May 2005.

The Alliance:

  • is now incorporated
  • has made a submission to the Metropolitan Strategy
  • produced a series of discussion sheets
  • set up a list-serve and a website – all thanks to the hard work of the various Alliance teams.

The event was chaired by Joanna Savill, who appears on an SBS food program, and co-hosted by MLCs Penny Sharpe and Ian Cohen.

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