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.

Aims
  • 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.
Methods

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 
  • Helen Trevena, Senior Policy Analyst (Food Policy), NSW Ministry of Health (Centre for Population Health)
  • 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
Events

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  | Program

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. Read a blog about the event, or the full report

Healthy, sustainable, equitable food systems: The role of local government

Friday 19th November 2021
During this half-day online forum we shared findings and resources produced by this project. The event was also a forum for researchers, advocates, and local government representatives to share experiences, and to discuss challenges and opportunities for local government action on food system issues. We had over 300 people register, and over 150 people attend on the day, who raised some important points about how the role of local government in food system issues can be strengthened. Watch the event recording if you missed it or want to listen again. You can find a summary report of the key themes arising from participant discussion groups here.

 

Strengthening food systems governance at the local level: Victorian initiatives

Friday 10th June 2022, 8:45am (AEST)
This half-day hybrid (in person and online) forum showcased research and initiatives in creating a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system, with a focus on the role of Victorian local governments. The event featured presentations of research, as well as the launch of the Consensus Statement: Towards a Healthy, Regenerative and Equitable Food System in Victoria. This event was hosted in partnership with IPAN (Deakin University), and Sustain: The Australian Food Network. Watch the event recording. 

The role of civil society in food system governance: Comparing Canada, the United States, and Australia

Friday 3rd June 2022, 9-11am (AEST)
This webinar and interactive conversation focused on how civil society organisations in Canada, the United States, and Australia are working collaboratively to influence food system policy change and decision making. This event is the first of two partnership forums between researchers in these three countries. See the next listed event for more information and to register for “Equity, Justice, and Indigenous-Settler-Relations in Food Systems Governance”. With over 300 registrations and approximately 150 people attending online, this event was a lively discussion of the work being undertaken by civil society organisations in the three countries, as well as the challenges and opportunities civil society faces in food system governance. Watch the event recording if you missed it or want to listen again.

Equity, Justice and Indigenous-Settler Relations in Food Systems Governance in Canada, Australia, and the United States

Wednesday 15th June 2022, 9:30-11am (AEST)

This event explored the issues of equity and inclusion, as well as Indigenous/settler relations, in food system governance, comparing the three national contexts of Canada, the US, and Australia. In this context, food systems governance includes, but is not limited to, policy, laws, and regulations that shape and influence the nature and orientation of our food systems. It also includes the implicit practices, customs and assumptions related to who and what are considered part of the food system, who should be included in decision-making, and in what ways. Watch the event recording if you missed it or want to listen again.

Healthy Cities Ilawarra’s “The Friday Forum” #9 – Building a more sustainable, resilient, and local food system

Friday 17th June 2022

The research team was invited to speak at this event, alongside Berbel Franse – Coordinator of community coalition Food Fairness Illawarra – about our research and potential pathways for building a more sustainable, resilient, and local food system. Watch the event recording if you missed it or want to listen again.

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).

Achievements 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 (both are now available below). 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. Our survey of civil society organisations involved in food system governance was open March-June 2021. Responses to the civil society survey (Part 3) have been recorded and were initially analysed by Rebecca Smits, the Honours student working with us. Rebecca also conducted interviews with participants from one civil society organisation to form one of the case studies for Part 4.

Amy presented at the Public Health Association of Australia’s Annual Australian Public Health Conference (virtual in 2021) on the findings of the policy mapping study. She was the recipient of the Early Career/Young Professional Award for this presentation.

We hosted a very successful, well-attended workshop on 19 November. Read more and access a recording and summary report of the event above. We recruited and began interviewing civil society organisations to participate as case studies for Part 4.

Achievements 2022

Our journal article for the policy mapping study (Part 1a) was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, and a manuscript reporting on the Council survey (Part 1b) was published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia. A ‘plain language’ report of the six Council case studies (Part 2) is available. We submitted a manuscript reporting on the case studies to the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, and a manuscript reporting on the survey of civil society organisations (Part 3) to Public Health Nutrition. We completed recruiting and interviewing civil society organisations (nine in total) for Part 4 of the project, and are in the process of analysing the data.

Amy, Belinda, Karen and Nick each provided a submission to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Food Production and Supply. On behalf of the project team, Belinda drew on the findings of our local government research phases to present a case for the importance of local governments in addressing the urgent issues created by 21st century food systems. Karen spoke at the hearing on 21st March on behalf of Dietitians Australia, Nick on 25th March on behalf of Sustain: The Australian Food Network, and Amy and Belinda on 9th May.

Amy presented at Community Gardens Australia’s event, ‘Local Everywhere! Gathering and Growing in Makuru‘ in July, with a presentation ‘Local governments as the gatekeepers to community gardens: What does “support” mean?’. She was also invited to be the keynote speaker at the ‘Victualis Sustainable Food Dinner‘ in Canberra. This talk was incredibly well received by the audience, which included a range of ministers, Regional Development Australia representatives, investors, food innovators, academics, community champions, food producers, and more.

Publications Associated with the Project

Summary report of the Council policy mapping study (Part 1)

The role of Australian local governments in creating a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system:
Results of a policy mapping study in New South Wales and Victoria.

Click here to view the report in a single page format.

Click here to view the report in a spread (book-style) format.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Click here to view full-sized.

 

 

 

 

 

Report on the half-day workshop hosted by the research team in November 2021

The role of Australian local governments in creating a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system:
Discussion themes from the workshop, ‘Healthy, sustainable, equitable food systems: The role of local government’.

Click here to view the report.

This workshop was held in November 2021. You can watch a recording of the event at the video, linked above on this page.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary report of the Council case studies (Part 2)

Food system innovation and policy at the local level: A report on six local governments in New South Wales and Victoria.

Click here to view the report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary report of the “Healthy and Fair Food for All Summit”, held 27 July 2021

This was an ‘independent dialogue’ event as part of the global process leading to the first United Nations Food Systems Summit. The event attendees explored key challenges  and opportunities facing Victoria’s (and other local Australian food systems) food system now and in the coming decades, along with concrete actions that needed to advance an agenda of progressive change.

Click here to view the report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journal articles

Carrad, A. Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I., Rose, N., Charlton, K. & Reeve, B. 2022. Food system policy making and innovation at the local level: Exploring the response of Australian local governments to critical food system issues. Health Promotion Journal of Australia. Publication 

This paper reports the results of the survey sent to all local governments in NSW and Victoria. N = 64 responses were received. The findings demonstrate local government involvement in a variety of food system issues, particularly food waste, food-related social/cultural activities, and providing potable water. Local governments were enabled by internal local government support, human resources, external funding, and partnerships. Barriers included a lack of community interest, short-term and/or project-based funding, internal governance, and state government planning frameworks.

Carrad, A. Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I., Reeve, B., Rose, N. & Charlton, K. 2022. Australian local government policies on creating a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system: analysis in New South Wales and Victoria. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Publication 

This paper reports the results of the policy mapping study (Part 1 of this project). We examined policies from all local governments in NSW (n = 128) and Victoria (n = 79) relevant to creating a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system. With a final sample of 2,266 policies and strategic documents included, the research demonstrates the wide variety of actions local governments are taking in relation to food system issues. It reports the areas for action that are most common, least common, and draws comparisons between the two states, and between metropolitan and non-metropolitan local governments.

Rose, N., Reeve, B. & Charlton, K. 2022. Barriers and enablers for healthy food systems and environments: The role of local governments. Current Nutrition Reports. Publication

This paper provides a review of some of the principal barriers for the design and support of healthy food systems and environments, as well as some key reforms that can be adopted to address these barriers, with a focus on the role of local governments.

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.

Conferences

Carrad, A., Smits, R., Charlton, K., Rose, N. & Reeve, R. 2022. ‘Survey of Australian civil society organisations engaged in food system governance’, Food Futures Conference. Public Health Association of Australia. 16-17 March.

Carrad, A., Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I., Rose, N., Charlton, K., & Reeve, B. 2022, ‘Local governments as gatekeepers to community gardens: What does “support” mean?’, Local Everywhere! Gathering and Growing in Makuru. Community Gardens Australia. 27 July.

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.

In the media

Podcast: Public Health Nutrition from Foodies in the Field – Amy Carrad speaks with Sophie Wright-Pederson.

Growing the role of local government in supporting healthy food systems – Croakey Health Media, 29 November 2021.

State government reforms needed to drain ‘food swamps’ – The University of Sydney media, 19 November 2021. Republished in FoodMag, 22 November 2021.

Researchers ask states to act after finding councils failing to restrict unhealthy food – The Mandarin, 22 November 2021.

Fair Food Champion: Amy Carrad – Food Fairness Illawarra

Fair Food Champion: Rebecca Smits – Food Fairness Illawarra

Victualis dinner to showcase native ingredients at Queenies in Kingston – The Canberra Times