Page 1675 - Week 06 - Thursday, 3 June 2021

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When Brisbane was hit by the major floods a decade ago, it was just three days from running out of food. We saw last year how severe fires can affect our transport routes, and all of us have felt the pain of higher fresh food prices during times of major disaster when it affects food supply. This reliance on Sydney also speaks of a lost opportunity for our current and future farmers, food manufacturers and retailers. Growing a food bowl in Canberra is the way to seize that opportunity, and we are fortunate that we are blessed with all the right ingredients to create one. We can grow more food, social connection and equity, community happiness, jobs and prosperity.

Our city is surrounded by good agricultural land, close to key centres. Some 15 per cent of agricultural land in our territory enjoys strong environmental stewardship from our farmers, thanks to them working in partnership with the Environment Directorate and Parks and Conservation and with each other and the wider community through our catchment and land care groups.

Our farmers are often overlooked in our focus on our city, but they are so important to our food future. Despite our love of farmers markets, there is much more we can do to connect local growers and local eaters. Over the last six months I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting with many of our region’s rural famers. What they need is security of tenure in return for their stewardship so they can invest with confidence and a new agricultural policy that spells out the opportunity and support we can offer to ensure they are the foundation of our food bowl. This would allow our rural leaseholders to explore new local supply and value-adding opportunities. They can also strengthen their vital part in our response to climate change by building healthy soil, storing more carbon and helping reduce the impacts of flooding.

A plan for the Canberra food bowl does not just benefit our rural farmers; it also is a benefit the budding urban agriculturalists and support industries in our city. Canberra is full of green spaces and green thumbs, and we already see innovative backyard businesses growing and thriving, and there could be so much more. I have seen this through visiting community gardens and growers and seeing the enthusiasm for our grants programs that have been helping them expand.

Our city can provide some of the key resources to grow a Canberra food bowl, and these are resources that currently go to waste. As we roll out collection of household organic waste, we have the opportunity to turn it into tonnes of compost to build the soil and the food enterprises that need it, from community gardens to market gardens and more.

In the same way, we can explore reusing wastewater to drought-proof our local agriculture and get a much greater return than just sending treated sewage one way down the pipe. The jobs and investment we can grow from local food is exciting, but we must ensure that at the heart of any new vision for our food system is food justice—that is, the right to healthy affordable food for all. We will have failed if we build a food bowl that is only good for producing high-end, expensive gourmet food, but does nothing to ensure healthy fresh food is accessible and affordable for every Canberran.

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