Grow your own food to protect city from disaster, Sydneysiders urged, Sydney Morning Herald, James Robertson, 17 November 2012
Turning back the clock … Sally Hill wants urban dwellers to to think carefully about how food is produced and where it comes from. Photo: Tamara Dean
SYDNEY’S fresh food would only last two or three days if a cataclysmic disaster struck, experts say.
Steven Newton, the chairman of the Retailers Action Working Group, which plans food industry responses to potential national crises such as pandemics or floods, said that ”fresh food would be the first thing to go in a crisis”.
He said the supply channels of Australia’s increasingly concentrated and commercialised farming industry were more vulnerable to disaster shocks than the dispersed small-scale farming model of 30 years ago.
Sally Hill, of the Youth Food Network, wants to turn back the clock to a time when fresh food came from local farms distributed across the urban hinterland and people grew vegetables in their backyards.
”The average distance food travels is 1500 kilometres,” Ms Hill said. ”If anything interrupts that flow you have a real crisis on your hands.”
The Youth Food Movement, which grew out of the global slow food movement, argues that sourcing food locally and from smaller farms would not only insulate supply from the interruptions of disasters but also alleviate longer-term threats to food security such as climate change.
”If we had a really broad network of people going through local [farmers] or growing it themselves in their backyard you have a lot more resilient system,” Ms Hill said. ”That tackles a whole lot of associated problems, like emissions from transporting food.”
She encourages young urbanites to think critically about where their food comes from and buy from local farmers – or grow their own.
But getting young people interested and involved in agriculture is a difficult undertaking.
The Bureau of Statistics has found the average Australian farmer is 55. Enrolments in agriculture courses are down dramatically. This year the University of Western Sydney’s campus in Richmond – formerly Hawkesbury Agricultural College – suspended its agriculture course due to low student interest.
Making people think about food and improving the prestige and profitability of farming, by cutting out the middle man, is her solution.
”We don’t know what it’s like to produce food,” Ms Hill said. ”If people grow one vegetable they will never look at food the same way and underestimate the value of the farmer.”
A change of mindset, Ms Hill said, would not just strengthen Australian food security, but was also required for action on the global food shortage.
”We grow around 6000 calories per person per day: enough to feed us all three times over,” she said.
”The issue is not food production; it’s food distribution.”
Mr Newton said urban farming was unlikely to ever substitute for a commercial system with economies of scale and meet the demands of a much larger population. But he agreed it should complement commercial farming and make Sydney less vulnerable.