Global Learnings…Local Applications

local food word imageThings are all systems go at the moment here at AFHN HQ (as much as we have a HQ) in preparation for the upcoming visit from Chris Walsh of Manchester Veg/Kindling Trust in the UK, the upcoming Agrifood XX Session devoted entirely to food hub practitioners,  our own South East Food Hub project while trying to keep abreast of all the developments that are rapidly taking form in the local food distribution realm all over the place.

In light of all of this, and reflecting on many of the conversations I’ve had with farmers and local stakeholders across South East Victoria, I’ve been thinking about learning/referencing/drawing inspiration from everything that’s going on overseas and how this can be digested and best applied to the specific local contexts that many of us are operating in.

It’s an easy fall back for skepticism and doubt – and I’ve heard this in many conversations over the past 15 months –   that food hubs and innovations of that ilk work overseas, are suited to the particular population and conditions of the US or Europe but won’t fly in Australia – ‘it’s just too different’. There’s much that is valid about this critical lens and I definitely think it needs to be applied, but with it comes a risk of striking out innovations before they have a chance to adapt and evolve to local conditions. The main thing about this line of food system innovation (and partly what makes it so complicated to communicate concisely) is that all these efforts of re-localising, simplifying, shortening, ‘transparentesising!’ take incredibly diverse forms. Food Hubs as discussed in other blog posts have people developing a range of typologies to try and capture the differences that are springing up between one valley and the neighbouring state.

This fantastic recent article by Rowan Jacobson, profiling the Mad River Food Hub in Vermont captures this complexity:

‘Food hubs are increasingly bringing local foods and small-scale delights like Vermont Salumi to outlets and neighborhoods that for years have eaten straight off the Sysco truck.

Some simply bundle the produce of multiple small farms to reach the consistent volumes and product diversity required to supply local markets.

Some are purely virtual marketplaces that allow chefs to find available produce from regional farms and buy it directly.

Some have a social mission to not only bring foods to underprivileged neighborhoods but to increase food literacy as well, or to guarantee fair prices to farms and farmworkers.

And some specialize in incubating new producers…

Perhaps the only thing all these food hubs share is a conviction that there is value in preserving regional identity, artisanal character, and sustainable practices—in saving some products from the great meat grinder of industrial food distribution.’

And that, I think, is the reference point when looking overseas, when tapping into the incredible knowledge bank and hands on nous developed in other places and bringing it back here to Aus – for this diversity is dictated by the specifics of a place- landscape, community, agricultural traditions, farming practices, food culture, economy…

We engage, learn, draw inspiration and knowledge from what’s happening ‘elsewhere’  but this doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It happens in a place, with a community and all those hands and heads and soil and words and wheels and energy and ideas and skill combine together to form initiatives rooted in the local.