Seattle was the first stop on my trip, and provided the perfect introduction to the world of US food co-ops and what they’re achieving in their communities and for their local food systems. This post is focussed on the work that is being done by a couple of those co-ops to make significant and proactive investments in sustainable farming in their region, something that my co-op Unicorn can certainly relate to.
I’ve been working in the world of sustainable food for over ten years, as a worker-member of Unicorn Grocery (Manchester’s wholefood grocery co-operative), as a volunteer, director and comms worker at Kindling, and as a founder member of Abundance Manchester as well as various other community food initiatives and campaigns.
I'm now back in the UK and so this is going to be my last blog post on my Australian adventure.
Ive met some very wise people on my travels and had many drunken conversations. We have talked a lot about food and climate change and power structures and ultimately how our democracy is failing the majority of us.
In fact I was in Australia for 29 days and Ive been in a pub 23 of those nights and not a Fosters in sight! To sum up – the three significant snippets of wisdom Im returning with are:
I've been visiting numerous community gardens in Melbourne and its surrounding towns and the number, diversity and strength of them has been really refreshing.
Over my many years I've been the guest of gardens in New York, Havana, Copenhagen and it has given me the opportunity to reflect on community gardens in Manchester. Periodically, we ask the question: what is it with our community gardens? -they just don't quite cut the mustard.
Don't get me wrong there are some fantastic spaces, people going heroic things and groups who are showing it can be done well.
The reason I was invited to Australia was to work with VEIL was to further explore new trading models to confront the inherently unsustainable system we have for farming our land and feeding ourselves. It is a system that has concentrated power in the middle, in-between farmers and customers. The two have been driven apart with huge profits made by supermarkets, processors and wholesalers whilst small-scale farmers are paid less and less and consumers see rising food prices.
One of the very first sessions at the Agri-Food Conference someone* was giving a presentation and said that they had been comparing the size of the 'alternative' food sector with the global food industry that dominates our discussions and is providing a bad deal to both farmers and consumers.
I was sat next to a colleague and we both looked at each other. Neither of us wanted to see the next slide. We knew what was coming a huge black circle representing the global food industry and an infinitesimal small, almost un-see-able green dot of our puny efforts.
My visit to Australia coincided with the 20th Agri-food Conference at the University of Melbourne. Over four days, professors and graduates introduced their papers and recently published books and discussed their finding and conclusions.
I was particularly excited to visit Les and others from the Goulburn Valley Food Coop because I had heard about the inspiring work they had been doing in and around Girgarre in response to Heinz closing a local food processing factory.