Cardinia Food Circles
In 2050, all Cardinia Shire residents are eating from a food system that nourishes the land and themselves, and is a beacon of inspiration
Cardinia Food Circles stakeholder roundtable and project update, Cardinia Shire Council, July 2019
Students from Pakenham Consolidated Primary School working with students from Pakenham Secondary College to harvest produce from the Secondary College edible garden, June 2019
Local Food and Farm Directory of Cardinia Shire profiling major productive areas and local food and farm businesses. Created by students at Pakenham Secondary College as part of a state-government funded initiative, Growing the Future: Pakenham Community School Farm
United African Farm Coordinator Thuch Ajak with local MP Jordan Crugnale and Sustain Community Engagement Coordinator Max Godber, first Harvest Festival, May 2019
Members of the United African Farm with Sustain Community Engagement Coordinator Max Godber, June 2019
Members of the United African Farm, working bee, Longwarry, June 2019
United African Farm vision, generated by the community members
United African Farm - feature video after receiving Australia Post Community Grant, November 2019
Students from St Patrick's Primary School exploring the abundance of the kitchen garden of award-winning farm-to-plate Beaconsfield restaurant O.My.
The Kitchen Table Talks - the participatory, inclusive and convivial process that led to the creation of the vision for the Cardinia Shire Community Food Strategy (2018-2026)
The socio-ecological model of health that guides our work as we seek to achieve transformative change through different levels and layers of the food system
The shared food system vision created by 500 residents in kitchen table talks held in 2018 and endorsed by Cardinia Shire Council in December 2018 as its first Community Food Strategy - one of the first such strategies of its kind in Australia
Cardinia Food Circles vision created by residents in a participatory workshop in 2017
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Sustain: The Australian Food Network
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Cardinia Food Circles is a long-term, Collective Impact initiative. Sustain shares the backbone role with Cardinia Shire Council and our multiple stakeholders include schools, universities, businesses, philanthropists, media, health organisations, farmers, faith + community groups.
These include: Monash Health, Monash University, RMIT University, Koo Wee Rup Regional Health, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Victorian Farmers Federation, Tarago Valley Organics, O My restaurant, the Cardinia Food Movement, Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority, Casey Cardinia Libraries, Southern Migrant Resource Centre, The Community Grocer, United Africa Farm, Aligned Leisure, Victorian Farmers Federation – Cardinia Branch, Country Women’s Association of Victoria (5 local branches), Ripe for Change philanthropy collaboration, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Pakenham Secondary College, St. Patrick’s Primary School, Lakeside Lutheran College, Beaconhills College
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Cardinia Shire, south-east Melbourne - 1,283 km2, population 107,120 (2018)
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Sustain is passionate about transforming Australia's food system so that it nourishes and sustains human and non-human life for generations to come. This is our raison d'etre. We are deeply connected to Cardinia Shire and its residents, having worked in close partnership with Cardinia Shire Council and multiple organisational stakeholders as well as hundreds of community members since November 2016.
Cardinia Shire matters to us because what happens there will in many ways determine the future course of Australia's food system as a whole. Many of the most critical issues with our food system find their most acute expression in Cardinia Shire. The driving impetus of the project is the higher than state average rates of obesity in the Shire, with other critical and interlinked issues including a fast food-dominated local food environment with a ratio of 6:1 of non-essential to essential food outlets, higher than state average rates of takeaway consumption, and higher than state average rates of food insecurity in parts of the Shire. This is playing out in a local government area that is one of Melbourne's primary 'foodbowls': Cardinia's production accounts for 21.5% of Greater Melbourne’s agricultural output, yet farmers are facing increasing challenges in the face of rapid urban expansion with approximately 7 families moving into the Shire every single day.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
O My kitchen garden farm to table restaurant, Beaconsfield, Cardinia Shire
Pakenham, main town, Cardinia Shire
Rows of kale, Thriving Food Farms, Koo Wee Rup, Cardinia Shire
Thriving Food Farms, Koo Wee Rup, Cardinia Shire
Asparagus farm, Koo Wee Rup, Cardinia Shire
Cardinia Shire is a unique peri-urban location, with the main centre, Pakenham, located 55 km from Melbourne’s CBD. Cardinia Shire is one of 10 ‘interface councils’ located around the perimeter of Melbourne (Australia's second biggest city with a population of 4.5 million) where the city literally meets, and eats, the farm. Comprising 1283 km2, this local government area is uncommonly geographically diverse: starting in the north in the iconic Dandenong Ranges with towering mountain Ash forests, filtering down to dairy, potato and apple country, then to rapidly growing urban growth areas of Pakenham, Beaconsfield and Officer, to the asparagus flats of Koo Wee Rup where 90% of Australia’s asparagus is grown. At the southern coastal border of the Shire is Westernport Bay. With a rich agricultural history, and some of the most fertile soils in Australia, farming is still the predominant land use activity, with some farms spanning 3-4 generations. The main types of farms are dairy and beef cattle ranches, horticulture and some viticulture. The region is temperate, with temperatures reaching 42 degrees celcius in Summer and 0 degrees in Winter. The average rainfall for the Shire is 841mm.
Culturally-speaking, around 20,000 people currently living in Cardinia Shire were born overseas in countries including Sri Lanka, India, Mauritius, Ireland, the United Kingdom, South Sudan, South Africa, China, Burma, and Bangladesh. Many people from these communities have to travel up to an hour to find shops which offer their culturally-appropriate foods.
Cardinia Shire has been undergoing a process of rapid transition over the last three decades, from being a predominantly rural, agricultural shire on Melbourne's fringe, to one of the fastest-growing new suburban areas, with farmland being rapidly converted to residential and commercial development usages. The influx of new residents is driven by the dynamics of the real estate market in Melbourne, where the cost of inner city housing has risen very sharply. Land and housing is still relatively affordable in Cardinia Shire. However the population growth has not been matched by appropriate economic development and job creation, meaning that more than 55% of Shire residents must commute long distances to work, for some up to two hours daily. The rapid growth of new suburbs has been accompanied by 'big box' commercial shopping centres; fast food outlets are ubiquitous, and many cluster close to kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. Combined with a very permissive regulatory environment that sees almost no controls on the ability of these companies to market their products to children and youth, as well as cut-price meal deals that explicitly target school lunchtimes, the result is an 'obesogenic' environment that is leading to increasingly poor health outcomes for individuals, families and the community as a whole.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
NOW: 2020 The Cardinia Shire food system is shaped by the supermarkets. The two largest players - Woolworths and Coles - are a 'duopoly' with more than 70% of the market share. Their power determines the prices local farmers and other suppliers get paid; and their marketing strategies play a major role in shaping residents' diets. Further, these large retailers inevitably bring with them an array of fast food chains outlets leading to a saturation of the built food environment: for every 1 fresh food outlet there are 6 fast food outlets. This is possible because of a key policy gap: State government planning laws do not allow local governments to take into account the health and wellbeing impacts of the fast food sector.
Another key policy gap is the permissive marketing environment at the Federal level, which places no controls on the ability of the companies to market their products to children. At a cultural level, this normalises corporate branding and fast food with sport and 'fun times', creating an association between the two in the minds of youngsters that leads to preferences for unhealthy diets. Combined with a fiscal policy ‘cheap food’ regime (i.e. externalising health and environmental impacts), this leads to poor population health and environmental outcomes.
Long commutes for the majority of residents leaves them tired and more inclined towards easy and convenient food options at the end of the day. The technology of apps and uber eats also drives the preferences for fast food, combined with a planning environment that is heavily oriented towards individual car use. As people rely on these easy options, they begin to lose the habit and practice of cooking.
A major environmental challenge is high levels of food waste: audits show that 30% of waste in garbage bins in Cardinia Shire is food waste, consistent with similar findings across Melbourne. The methane emitted from organics in landfill is a significant contributor to GHG emissions driving the climate emergency. Such high levels of food waste stem from the linked cultural challenges of a widespread failure to value food properly, which in term stems from a widespread lack of food systems literacy.
Climate change - in the form of extreme weather events and drought - is also becoming a significant challenge for food producers.
Future: 2050 Our region contains some of Victoria’s most fertile farmland, but considerable production areas are at risk as Melbourne expands. 16% of farmland across Melbourne’s foodbowl is likely to be lost by 2050 as Melbourne grows to an estimated 8 mn.
If current methods of farming continue with high levels of chemical inputs and constant cultivation, our soils will become severely degraded. Should the warming and drying pattern of climate change continue, the incidence of extreme weather events will become more frequent creating very serious challenges.
Further, if the current pattern of food retail development continues, levels of obesity and dietary-related ill-health will increase, leading to reduced quality of life and life expectancy for more residents.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision addresses these challenges in the following ways:
Diet, policy, economy & culture: What is 'normal' now is a retail and built food environment that is 'obesogenic': it actively contributes to poor health outcomes. It is supported by a regulatory, planning, urban design and policy environment that actively militates against good health and wellbeing outcomes. That policy and planning environment reinforces a market dynamic in which economic power in the food system is concentrated in the hands of a few powerful actors; and in turn that economic power inhibits the likelihood of effective reforms to curtail it by, for example, the exercise of powerful lobbying to ward off initiatives such as a sugar tax.
This may seem to many to be a Gordian knot. In our vision however it is transformed through the shifting and transformation of the underlying food culture. If at present an obesogenic environment is normal, then our vision embraces a future in which the opposite prevails: the built and retail environment, and the lived experience of the residents, takes place in a context that actively enhances health and wellbeing in all ways possible. We transform the dietary preferences for unhealthy foods into dietary preferences for healthy foods. We raise levels of consciousness so that the majority of residents become actively engaged food citizens, fully cognisant of the central importance of food in their lives and their communities. These food citizens will demand major changes and they will do everything in their power to bring about a transformed food citizen. They will become an unstoppable force that will cut through the Gordian knot that currently entrenches obesogenic environments.
Environment and technology: The cultural shift that our vision embodies will similar flow through to the environmental sphere. As the numbers of food citizens in Cardinia Shire increases, so too will the pressure to reduce and eliminate food waste. Composting will become the norm and food 'waste' will become a source of nutrients for building healthy soils. This in turn will support the shift to regenerative agriculture that will enable producers to develop a relationship of care and stewardship of the land, moving away from chemicals towards sustainable agricultural practices. Levels of soil carbon across Cardinia Shire will increase rapidly, helping to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and in the process leading to highly productive, economically viable polyculture farms that support biodiversity and produce large amounts of nutrient-dense foods. All of this supports our vision of a healthy and thriving food system in which all Cardinia Shire residents eat and live well.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Cardinia Shire is a liveable, resilient community where the environment flourishes and residents are healthy, included and connected. Cardinia Shire is world renowned as a vibrant, connected local food region that fosters pride in residents, nourishes people, nurtures country and provides fair food for all. In the same way that Belo Horizonte became famously known as 'the City that ended hunger', Cardinia Shire will become known as the 'Shire that ended obesity'. It will embody the story of a community that unified around the vision of a healthy, sustainable and flourishing food system in order to transform one of Australia's most obesogenic environments into one of its healthiest. Cardinia Shire will recover and celebrate its indigenous heritage, acknowledging stewardship of these lands by the Bunurong, Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri peoples for tens of millennia, living in harmony with their country and each other. The recovery of this history and this wisdom, this knowledge of how to live and eat well in this country now called 'Cardinia', will form the basis of a deepening ecological and cultural understanding amongst the residents of Cardinia Shire; of a deepening appreciation of the country and growing sense of connection to place. Healthy food and healthy food systems will be at the heart of this process of transformation, as Cardinia Shire residents both understand and feel in their hearts that their health and wellbeing, and the wellbeing of their children, is fundamentally intertwined with and dependent upon the health and wellbeing of the myriad wonderful life forms that constitute thriving and flourishing soils, waterways, farms and ecosystems. So the process of transformation will unfold and a new culture will emerge.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Our vision is grounded in the lived experience and realities of Cardinia Shire residents, many of whom we work with and support in the growing Cardinia Food Movement (CFM). In a participatory process supported by us since 2017, hundreds of local residents and members of the CFM have co-created a vision and key objectives for what they want their food system to be, and this is supported by a detailed action plan that includes 67 actions across five key strategic areas:
- Protect and utilise fertile land as a source of fresh food for current and future generations
- Grow a vibrant local food economy which supports growers and enables people to access locally produced food
- Enhance food knowledge, skills and culture within schools, workplaces, clubs and the wider community
- Reduce and divert food waste from landfill and reuse water to grow food
- Build capacity across the community to lead, participate in and support work on food systems
This vision addresses the key challenges we have outlined above, namely:
- the creation and expansion of an obesogenic environment that has been normalised through permissive regulatory, planning, policy and fiscal regimes, as well as excessive market power in the food system in the hands of a few actors
- the ongoing loss of valuable farmland
- excessive levels of food waste contributing to climate change
- environmentally unsustainable farming practices
- the lack of knowledge and awareness about these issues, together with the lack of a sense of agency that 'ordinary' residents are able to do anything to change them
Our vision is bold and transformative. We are aiming for nothing less than a food system that nourishes all life, at all times.
In terms of how our vision addresses the six themes:
Environment: We have influenced policy at the local and state level to ensure that farmland is permanently protected for future generations. At the same time we have supported farmers to transition to sustainable and regenerative forms of agriculture, enhancing and preserving soil fertility and contributing to the national and global effort to sequester carbon from the soil. These regenerative farms will themselves be more resilient and adaptable to the challenges posed by an unstable and uncertain climate future.
Diets: We are working hard to support the transition to healthy diets, raising levels of food systems and health literacy so that Cardinia Shire residents embrace the transition to more plant-based diets, taking into account the need to ensure the wide availability of culturally-appropriate foods for Cardinia’s increasingly multi-cultural community. The shift to these diets will be facilitated through the massive expansion of edible food growing throughout Cardinia's towns and suburbs, utterly changing what residents perceive as 'normal'. The growing number of highly productive regenerative farms will be making available to residents food that is nutrient dense and tastes delicious; and residents will abandon the 'cheap hits' of processed and fast foods in favour of real local food that tastes good and is good for them.
Economics: We are supporting farmers, local food businesses, schools and vocational training providers to create more jobs and training opportunities for young people to stay in the region and obtain opportunities in the food and farming sector. We know from the experience of places like Vermont that integrated, whole-of-system frameworks that unify many stakeholders around a shared agenda for change are very effective at revitalising local economies, creating thousands of net new food and farming jobs and businesses. In the process we are cutting commuting numbers and times, enhancing residents' quality of life and supporting the revitalisation of a culture and practice of cooking and convivial food enjoyment.
Culture: By supporting a mass expansion of fresh food growing at every level, from the household to the street verge to community and school gardens, public spaces and market gardens, we will shift what is ‘normal’. What is normal now are suburbs characterised by a retail food environment dominated by fast food outlets. What will be normal in the future will be fresh and healthy food everywhere. Children, youth and adults will delight in harvesting their daily salads, greens, herbs and fruit from backyard, community, school and street edible gardens and orchards. We will enable the growth and expansion of the United African Farm, and other initiatives like it, so that new migrants to Cardinia can feel like they fully belong, are connected to the country and the community, and can make a wonderful contribution by growing culturally appropriate fresh food.
Policy: We will expand on the work we have commenced with the Cardinia Community Food Strategy, making it a living document that responds in an effective and timely way to changing circumstances and residents' needs and priorities. We will work with Cardinia Shire Council, the Cardinia Food Movement, the South-East Group of Councils and the broader public health and food movement to address the key policy gaps and achieve the necessary reforms to orient the food system to support flourishing human communities and healthy ecosystems. We will work with the growing numbers of active, engaged and motivated food citizens who want to assume control of their food and farming system so that it sustains and nurtures human and non-human life.
Technology: We will work with and amplify the efforts of businesses such as Soilkee, which are injecting carbon into soils thereby enhancing crop yields and nutritional density as well as addressing the climate crisis (https://soilkee.com.au). We will support and expand existing efforts to use treated Class A recycled water from wastewater treatment facilities for filling dams, irrigating farms and gardens, and all other rural non-potable water uses. The water is from Melbourne Water's Bangholme treatment plant, and could irrigate the greater Cardinia Shire region, significantly expanding its productive capacity, leading to a major increase in fresh produce as well as creating many businesses and employment opportunities for Cardinia Shire residents. We will support peer-to-peer learning networks to fast-track the growing movement towards regenerative agriculture.
In 2020, Australia faces a profound crisis at many levels; and the crisis in Cardinia is one manifestation of that bigger crisis. The way through this crisis lies in a fundamentally transformed relationship with the land, its history, its culture and its food systems. As Yuin author and historian Bruce Pascoe says, "We've abused this continent of our refusal to fully understand the land's needs. Now is the time for us to look carefully at this continent, turn respectfully to Mother Earth, apologise for our abuse and consider how we might live within the means of our soil and climate, and treat Australia as if it were itself and not somewhere else. Let's grow Australian plants and develop a truly Australian cuisine. And not just the condiments of mountain pepper and bush tomato, but the staples as well, the grains and tubers, most of which are perennial and drought tolerant and thus kind to the soil and less demanding of our precious water. Our environment will thank us and so will our tastebuds and bellies."
It's time for us to come home - to be at home here - with care, respect and love. And the way to do is through a transformed food system. There is no better place to do it than Cardinia Shire. And we've already begun.
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