Making cities edible is an idea whose time has come. We live in an era of systemic crisis. On a daily level we hear stories of the inherent unsustainability of the many systems that govern our lives, politically and culturally.
The current food system is a visible manifestation of the unsustainability of our times. It is ‘normal’, for example, for basic food commodities to be transported thousands of kilometres from their place of production for processing and packaging, then shipped thousands of kilometres more to their final points of sale and consumption, imposing costs at every step.
The current food system is undermining the ecological and hydrological qualities of the planet, both directly and via its significant contribution to climate change. Biodiversity is threatened through land clearing and monocultural crops, soils are being eroded and degraded through industrial farming techniques, landscapes are being destroyed by the mining and processing required to produce agrichemicals, waterways are being depleted and polluted by over-extraction, and oceans are being acidified and polluted by agricultural byproducts. Meanwhile, approximately 40% of food produced globally goes to waste each year, intensifying greenhouse gas emissions and creating a further raft of problems.
The crisis is also manifest in social, physical and mental health impacts. Dietary-related ill-health is the biggest public health issue facing Australia. Our daily lives are relentlessly fast and busy, yet increasingly people report high levels of social isolation. More than ever before, we are disconnected from the social reality and ecology of our food system, and from each other.
It is in acknowledgement of this disconnection that we have come together to discuss ways that these problems can be addressed through necessary and urgent changes to the current food system. We believe that a vital part of a positive new system is sustainable urban agriculture.
"The Melbourne Statement"
We, the attendees of the Sustain Urban Agriculture Forum (23-24 February 2018), meeting on Wurundjeri Land, acknowledging elders past, present and future, call on the Victorian State Government to acknowledge and support a grassroots renewal of the Victorian food system to:
- Acknowledge that FOOD IS FUNDAMENTAL TO LIFE and the industrial food system is inconsistent with Victorians’ desire to enjoy a healthy and happy life, in connection with other people and nature; and satisfaction that the environment is cared for and nurtured now, and far into the future.
Recognise and celebrate that sustainable urban and peri-urban agriculture enhances ecological health and recognise the critical need for a food system that builds soil health, increases ecosystem resilience, encourages biodiversity and regenerates polluted
waterways (“Regenerative Food System”):
- 2.1. To protect our lands, waterways and ecosystems;
- 2.2. To renew efforts to connect people with the source of their food;
- 2.3. To serve the interests of all Victorians, now and in the future;
- Recognise and celebrate the leadership that many Victorian and Australian farmers at all scales and in all places – rural, regional and urban / peri-urban - are providing to help us transition to a Regenerative Food System that is ecologically sustainable, economically prosperous, and culturally connecting and healing.
- Understand that FOOD IS BASIC TO ECONOMIC PROSPERITY and the ways in which we engage with farmers, farm workers, market gardeners and other food producers, distributors, retailers, cooks and consumers is key to food system transformation.
- Recognise that FOOD IS CENTRAL TO CULTURAL VITALITY and learn to value the importance of a food system in which all children know where their food comes from, appreciate different food cultures, and learn how to eat well so they can flourish and enjoy every day.
- Recognise that FOOD IS DEEPLY POLITICAL, that it affects us all and therefore we must all have a voice in its current and future direction; and fundamentally that we need a food system that nourishes and sustains all of us, not one that makes us sick.
Recognise the critical role that sustainable urban and peri-urban agriculture plays in achieving an ecologically sustainable food system, to be achieved through;
- 7.1. Explicit recognition of urban agriculture as a permitted use of land in residential, commercial and mixed-use zones in the Planning and Environment Act;
- 7.2. Comprehensive mapping and permanent protection of all remaining high-value farmland within 100 kms of the CBD;
- 7.3. Creating and resourcing of dedicated urban farms and market gardens, and associated public produce markets, throughout our towns and suburbs
- 7.4. Encouraging every primary school to have a kitchen garden;
- 7.5. Instigating food system literacy targets for all Victorian school children;
- 7.6. Supporting and expanding the handful of pilot programs connecting school children with farms; and
- 7.7. Creating an urban agriculture fund to support community groups, not-for-profits and social enterprises working in the field.
Embrace the expansion and support of urban and peri-urban agriculture as an integral and fundamental cornerstone to achieving existing Victorian Government policy relating to health, wellbeing, and environmental protection, achieving these aims through:
- 8.1. Amending the Planning and Environment Act to make assessments of the health, wellbeing and environmental impacts of fast food retail outlets mandatory in planning approvals, and place the burden of proving no harm on applicants;
- 8.2. Prohibiting the opening of new fast food outlets within 1 km of educational and / or healthcare facilities;
- 8.3. Committing to reducing the density of existing fast food outlets clustered around educational and healthcare facilities, recognising that lower socioeconomic areas are particularly vulnerable; and
- 8.4. Developing and resourcing a strategy to support market gardeners and farmers to transition to sustainable and regenerative forms of horticulture and agriculture.
 ‘Fast food’ is here defined as ‘energy-dense, nutrient poor’ and predominantly pre-processed and prepared foods in a take-away / drive-through restaurant: Prentice, A.M. and Jebb, S.A. 2003. Fast foods, energy density and obesity: a possible mechanistic link. Obesity Reviews 4(4), 187-194.