I’m writing to you at the suggestion of my colleague Julia Laidlaw, in relation to a proposed research project I am committed to carrying out in the second half of this year. The research is supported by the Churchill Foundation in Australia, and its aim is to investigate innovative models of urban agriculture in a variety of sites in Argentina and the United States, with a view to bringing back any lessons that may be of value in strengthening and expanding the nascent urban ag movement in Australia.
My decision to apply for a Churchill Fellowship followed on from case study research I was involved in with Griffith University (see the Burton pdf attached) in 2012, exploring the scale and nature of urban agriculture in Melbourne. I also have a strong personal commitment to working for fair and sustainable food systems in general, having been centrally involved in the People’s Food Plan process as the National Coordinator of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (the 3rd iteration of the PFP is attached – some further background is here - http://www.australianfoodsovereigntyalliance.org/peoples-food-plan/ - and some personal background is here - http://reclaimthecurb.org/2013/06/27/interview-nick-rose/).
Happily the Churchill Fellowship appears to be coinciding with a new post I began in September last year, to coordinate the establishment of a Food Systems Network for Victoria, with the Food Alliance (www.foodalliance.org.au). As Julia may have mentioned, I am working with her and many others on a project to establish an Urban Food Network for Victoria with a key focus being the creation of an Urban Food Charter. I am hopeful that the lessons I can bring back from the US and Argentina (my main interest there is the Pro Huerta movement) can enhance the momentum and enthusiasm we’re already creating with the Urban Food Charter project.
I have approximately 2 – 2.5 weeks in the Great Lakes Region, and my thinking was to divide this time between Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee, visiting perhaps 3–5 organisations in each city, and conducting interviews and / or focus groups with managers / workers / trainees and growers. I would like the discussions to be open and wide-ranging, including broader issues of socio-economic context and structural disadvantage; though I am particularly interested in two questions:
What is the potential of urban agriculture to make a substantive contribution to food security and food sovereignty of the families, communities and individuals involved and / or supported by these organisations and their projects?
What is the potential of urban agriculture to be a source of community development, in terms of generating employment and additional income for hard-pressed family budgets, and helping to establish self-sustaining local and regional food economies?
I would be extremely grateful for any recommendations about organisations that you believe it would be good for me to visit. I would be aiming to arrive in the third or fourth week of August this year.
Thank you for your time. If you would like any further information about this project, please let me know.
Dr Nick Rose
Project Coordinator, Food Systems
Food Alliance, Deakin University
I did something similar with an urban ag activist a couple of years back - http://reclaimthecurb.org/2013/06/27/interview-nick-rose/ - and happily now I get to re-tell my story in the form of an anthology about the emerging Fair Food movement in Australia, which the University of Queensland Press have just offered me a contract to edit. I’ve attached the synopsis, chapter outline and my intro for your interest. I would welcome your feedback.
The Sovereignty Never Ceded photo I took on Tuesday while in front of Parliament House, Canberra, at the Tent Embassy https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aboriginal-Tent-Embassy/210730945611610), for the start of the Students of Sustainability conference (1–5 July) where I was one of the speakers (http://www.studentsofsustainability.org) at the plenary on Wednesday morning.
Godsil. You have won a Churchill Fellowship and now book contract from your Great Work on the food sovereignty movement in Australia and beyond, guided by the proposition that “(t)he global movement for food sovereignty is perhaps the foremost 21st long tradition of human struggle for freedom, diversity and equality.” Has this movement in Australia become part of any major political leaders’ policy agenda? If so, do any positions stand out for possible inclusion in USA party policy prescriptions? (I am hoping to inspire some food sovereignty activists to win a place in the 2016 Presidential primaries).
Rose. “Yes – to some extent.
The two main parties (Coalition Liberal / National – conservative political grouping, and Australian Labor Party – traditionally the party of the trade unions) have said that they want a strong agriculture and food sector in Australia. However there has for some decades been bipartisan agreement in favour of a policy agenda of free trade, increased commodity production and deregulation, to ‘let the market rip’, as it were. This has fostered a ‘get big or get out’ dynamic which has seen an exodus of farmers from the land (an average of 7–10 per day over the last three decades, likely to double in the next decade) and increasing levels of stress and anxiety, linked to high debt levels of unfavourable terms of trade, for many of those remaining. The recent National Food Plan of the ALP (2010–2013) and the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper of the Coalition (2013–2014) largely entrench this trajectory.
The National Party was formerly called the ‘Country’ party and its main constituency has always been farmers and rural and regional communities, although with the extreme urbanisation of Australia during the 20th century this political base has shrunk a great deal. Conscious of the hardships that many farmers are experiencing the Nationals have recently raised concerns about food sovereignty-related issues such as increasing external ownership of Australian farmland and infrastructure, the impacts of cheap imported foods on local producers and manufacturers, and the power of the supermarket duopoly (Australia’s two main supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, control between them 75–80% of the grocery sector – the most concentrated in the world – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxGsu4lkcIc&app=desktop).
The food sovereignty agenda, as we developed it in the Peoples Food Plan (http://www.australianfoodsovereigntyalliance.org/peoples-food-plan/), was to a significant extent embraced and adapted in the food and agriculture policy that was taken by the Federal Greens party: http://greens.org.au/policies/sustainable-agriculture. This speaks of recognition of the value of urban and peri-urban agriculture, of support for agro-ecology, and the need to invest in localised food systems.
This policy agenda was and is supported by many farmers and rural communities. There is however a deep sense of loyalty to particular parties amongst certain constituencies, even when their policies and platforms run directly counter to the best long-term interests of those very constituencies.
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, as a non-aligned and non-party political organisation, does not affiliate itself with any political party. Obviously we were pleased to see the Federal Greens adopt so much of what we had developed. Our challenge now is to work to make increasing parts of this agenda ‘common sense’ across the food system.