The Bad News
In Australia the industrial supermarket food system has almost killed off small-scale, local food production on family farms. On one hand, small producers are not in a position to grow the volumes required to sell into this system, and on the other the pervasive supermarket shopping culture based on price and one-stop convenience has trained our population so see supermarkets as the one and only provedore.
“Who cares? Everyone’s being fed economically,” some might say. But there is compelling evidence that this trend has not been to the benefit of our society. Supermarket food grown, processed, transported and sold industrially has a series of negative outcomes, payment for which is being unfairly deferred to future generations as this one gobbles cheap, convenient food.
- Soil health – industrial agriculture based on chemical inputs supporting unstable monocultures depletes and destroys our most valuable asset – topsoil.
- Quality of food – food grown in depleted soils with chemical fertilisers and poisons lacks both the essential nutrition required by our bodies, and flavour.
- Population health – a population fed on nutritionally-lacking food is more prone to a myriad of unnecessary and expensive health problems.
- Community health – company owned industrial farms depopulate rural communities leaving local businesses, shops, schools, clubs etc without the people needed to sustain them.
- Environmental health – from preparing the soil to selling the food an industrial food system uses huge amounts of energy, plastic and chemicals all of which contribute to our current environmental situation. Look to the air, the reef, the ocean, a landfill, the roadside. Look anywhere and see what industrial food is doing to our planet.
The Good News
There is an alternative that reverses all of these problems. Local, small-scale food systems. We know it works, it’s been working throughout human history and it’s still working in many parts of the world. In 2014, the UN’s International Year of Family farming, 72% of farms world-wide were less than one hectare and more than 80% of the world’s food was produced on family farms. Small farmers are more likely to be regenerating soil health and growing the most nutritionally dense and flavoursome food available, as close to the people who eat it as possible. In light of the problems listed above it is clear that Australia needs a massive return to this culture.
It’s a difficult chicken and egg situation. An alternative, healthier food system must grow its supply and demand concurrently. This can only happen gradually through education, connections and availability. There is no shortage of enthusiastic people ready and willing to take on the role of small scale farming, it’s a wonderful healthy life, but without a shift in our buying, eating and regulatory culture earning your living in this way is very difficult. We don’t have much time for networking, for educating, for connecting, for inspiring a change in food habits among the general population. Maybe we’re not even very good at these things.
Enter Food Connect and other food system innovators. These organisations are the catalysts for the change that we need. Networking, educating, connecting and inspiring are what these people are really good at and we the small farmers (and everybody else) need them to be able to do it as effectively as possible. Now.
The ideas, creativity, vision and action that flows from these organisations is amazing. With limited resources, they are helping people to reshape their food habits, their diets, their bodies, their farms. They are empowering people in the city and the country through education, opportunity and connection.
Food Connect and its contemporaries are a big part of the answer to our broken food system and the problems it has created. We all need them to grow (a bit) and to multiply (a lot).
Rohan, Fiona, Eden and Jethro Morris
Gleneden Family Farm