Healthy, sustainable, and equitable food systems: Growing the role of local government?

Beginning in 2019, this ARC Discovery project aims to investigate the role of law, policy, and regulation in enabling local governments and communities to contribute to healthy, sustainable, and equitable food systems. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, it will analyse policies and initiatives developed by local governments and communities in New South Wales and Victoria ​that aim to contribute to a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system. The knowledge created by this project will inform recommendations for policy and legislative reforms that will empower local governments and communities to respond to food system challenges at the local level.

  • Ascertain the enablers and barriers to local governments contributing to healthy, sustainable, and equitable food systems, including law and regulation;
  • Ascertain the barriers and enablers to community-based initiatives that contribute to healthy, sustainable, and equitable food systems, including law and regulation; and
  • Identify pathways to strengthen the role of local governments and communities in creating healthy, sustainable, and equitable food systems, via an integrated set of recommendations for policy and legislative change at state and local level, as appropriate.

This project is based on a food systems approach, which reflects a growing awareness of the interconnections between food production and consumption, environmental sustainability, and health outcomes, and the need for governance approaches that addresses these interactions. By adopting a food systems lens, the project moves out of a “siloed” approach. This multi-methods project incorporates:

  • critical legal analysis of the legal and regulatory framework that establishes and empowers local governments;
  • in-depth case study analysis of local government food polices and community-based initiatives, and the barriers to and enablers of implementation, using qualitative research methods; and
  • the identification of options for policy and legislative reform to enable local-level governance of food systems

Part one of the project will involve creating a database of local government policies on food system governance in all local government areas in NSW and Victoria. Part two will involve working closely with approximately three to four local governments in each state to understand practical implementation of these policies, and the barriers and enablers to action by local councils “on the ground” to effect food system change. Part three of the project will identify civil society organisations engaged in food system governance in Australia through a survey that was open March-June 2021. Part four will involve a case study of approximately five to eight of these initiatives, focusing on the barriers to and enablers of their success, including partnerships, law, regulation and policy.

Research Assistants

Dr Amy Carrad

Dr Ikerne Aguirre-Bielschowsky

Lizzy Turner

Rebecca Smits (Honours Research Student 2021 – University of Wollongong)

Advisory Committee
  • Berbel Franse, Health Promotion Officer (Food Security / Food Sustainability), Healthy Cities Illawarra 
  • Callum Champagne, Farm manager, Green Connect 
  • Deanne Condon-Paoloni, Member of Public Health Association of Australia and Food Fairness Illawarra. Honorary Fellow, School of Health and Society, University of Wollongong 
  • Greg Jacobs, Team Leader Health Department, City of Melbourne 
  • Heather Yeatman, Professor of Public Health, School of Health and Society, University of Wollongong 
  • Jen Alden, Councilor, City of Greater Bendigo. Chair, Bendigo Regional Food Alliance  
  • Linda Martin-Chew, Consultant/Director Plan-it Rural PL and Senior Strategic Policy Planner at City of Whittlesea 
  • Mahlah Grey, Co-owner, The Pines Kiama 
  • Michael Buxton, Emeritus Professor Environment and Planning,School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University
  • Phil Baker, Alfred Deakin Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Health, Deakin University

THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED – Food for thought: Courageous leadership in food systems
1-day forum featuring Jake Claro, Director of Vermont Farm to Plate Plan
University of Wollongong Innovation Campus 

This one-day conference brings together policymakers from all tiers of government, health professionals, food producers, business owners, researchers and community members to advance a comprehensive regional approach to addressing food systems and food security. The conference will involve a plenary session by internationally prominent Jake Claro, presentations on food systems research and initiatives, and themed workshops.

Flyer  | Programme

Fair and healthy food for all: Victorian Independent Food Systems Dialogue

1-day online forum hosted by the William Angliss Institute of TAFE, in partnership with Sustain: The Australian Food Network, Right to Food Coalition, University of Sydney and University of Wollongong.

This event was held as part of the United Nations Food Systems Summit process. The Victorian Independent Food Systems Dialogue invited participants to explore key challenges and opportunities facing Victoria’s (and other local) food system now and in the coming decades. With the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 as well as intensifying non-linear climate change revealing significant vulnerabilities in our food system, the need to engage in collaborative discussions across sectors to strengthen food system governance is vital. The Dialogue took place in the morning session, followed up a food systems research and practice workshop in the afternoon, during which we presented the findings of the Council policy mapping study and case studies.

Achievements 2019

This year, we set up the project, established the steering committee, held two advisory meetings, and hired two research assistants. Next, we focused on conducting the policy analysis (Part 1). As part of this process, we identified the principles of a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system based on international reports; finalised our framework of recommendations to code policy documents; tested our methods by double-checking results for the City of Melbourne with council officers; and started to analyse council policies all across Victoria and NSW. Finally, in collaboration with the City of Melbourne’s Health and Wellbeing Branch, we developed an online survey on food system policies and projects, which will be sent to Councils in NSW and Victoria at the end of 2020 and early 2021.

Achievements 2020 to early 2021

In 2020, we completed the initial analysis of Councils’ policy and strategic documents and we began distribution of the Council survey by sending it to NSW Councils. In light of the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria, we decided to delay distribution to these Councils until early-mid 2021. We participated in the Vermont Farm to Plate webinar series in December 2020, hosted by Sustain: The Australian Food Network by presenting initial findings from the Council policy analysis. We have conducted the Council case studies (Part 2) and have Ethics Ethics approval to conduct case studies of civil society organisations engaged in food system governance (Part 4). Our survey of civil society organisations involved in food system governance was open March-June 2021.

Achievements to August 2021

We completed the Council policy mapping analysis (Part 1) and will be publishing an academic journal article and ‘plain language’ summary report later in 2021. These will be listed below when are available. You can access a visual summary of the policy mapping data here. Analysis of the six Council case studies (Part 2) is almost complete and we are in the process of drafting publications through which to share these results. We presented the results of the policy mapping and Council case studies at the Victorian Independent Food Systems Dialogue as part of the UN Food Systems Summit process on 27th July 2021. Responses to the civil society survey (Part 3) have been recorded and are being analysed by Rebecca Smits, the Honours student working with us. Rebecca has also conducted interviews with participants from one civil society organisation to form one of the case studies for Part 4.

Publications Associated with the Project

Lourival, I. & Rose, N. 2020. From Nar Nar Goon to Koo Wee Rup: Can participatory food policy making processes contribute to healthier and fairer food systems in the Australian municipal context? A case study from Cardinia Shire, Melbourne’, Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. Publication

This paper is a reflective analysis of the process that led to the creation of Cardinia Shire’s Community Food Strategy in 2018, one of the first food system strategies of its kind in Victoria and nationally. The participatory creation of the Strategy was a core focus of the first phase of the multi-year Cardinia Food Circles project, which Council have integrated as central to the achievement of their statutory obligations under the 2008 Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act. Given that the Strategy’s vision is the establishment of a ‘fair, sustainable, resilient and delicious food system for all residents of Cardinia Shire’, the paper and the associated qualitative research provide an important contribution to the goals of the ARC project in terms of supporting governance and policy mechanisms that contribute, at the local government level, to a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system.

Reeve, B., Thow, A. M., Baker, P., Hresc, J., & May, S. 2020. The role of Australian local governments in creating a healthy food environment: An analysis of policy documents from six Sydney local governments. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 44(2): 137-144. Publication

This paper reports the results of a pilot study informing the design of the ARC project. The researchers (including Belinda Reeve, lead investigator on the ARC project) examined policies from six local governments in NSW relevant to promoting a healthy food supply and consumer food environment. While a small-scale project, the research indicates that NSW local governments are already taking action to support improved nutrition in local communities, although there are further opportunities for action.

Visual summary of the results of the Council policy mapping study (Part 1)

Click here to view full-sized.



Carrad, A., Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I., Rose, N., Charlton, K. & Reeve, R. 2021. ‘Mapping food system-related policies within New South Wales and Victorian local government’, Australian Public Health Conference. Public Health Association of Australia. 23-24 September.

Turner, L., Carrad, A., Rose, N., Charlton, K. & Reeve, R. 2021. ‘Implementing local level food system policy: Case studies from NSW and Victoria’, Australian Public Health Conference. Public Health Association of Australia. 23-24 September.

Reeve, B. 2021, ‘The role of Australian local governments in creating a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system’. Just Food: because it is never just food Conference. Association for the Study of Food and Society, Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society, Canadian Association for Food Studies, and The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. Roundtable discussion ‘Participatory food system governance and action research in Canada,
the USA, and Australia’. Online. 15 June.

Reeve, B., Rose, N., Charlton, K., Carrad, A. & Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I.  2021. ‘The role of Australian local governments in promoting urban agriculture’, Urban Agriculture Forum. Sustain: The Australian Food Network. Melbourne, 22-24 April.

Carrad, A., Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I., Charlton, K., Rose, N., Magnusson, R. & Reeve, B. 2020. ‘Local government policies to enable healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems’, Preventive Health Conference: Can do prevention, effective action in a volatile world. Public Health Association of Australia. Online (due to COVID-19), 13-15 May.

Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I., Carrad, A., Reeve, B., Charlton, K. & Rose, N. 2019. ‘The role of Australian local government in promoting a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system’, ECRP Event: The Future of Food. Future Earth Australia and the University of South Australia. Adelaide, 9-11 December.