On the road with Chris Walsh and the South East Food Hub…

Well it’s been a whirlwind of a week since Chris Walsh touched down in Melbourne on Monday morning and this is the first chance we’ve had to make a flying update from the road!

First port of call was to update him on the South East Food Hub and the general lay of the land ahead of a community forum Tuesday afternoon in Berwick before sending him off to sleep off some jetlag.  Chris’ visit has come at a perfect time for the project in that after 16 months or so of  conversations and research, planning, co-design and the roll out of a mini food hub pilot  we’re moving out of preparatory mode into all stations ready set go – which this forum is part of.  And Chris got us off to a flying start, getting everyone at the forum up on our feet and talking in order to make a human map of where we all came from before settling in to chart a journey across Manchester and the different projects The Kindling Trust is unfolding in order to help realise their vision of:

generating a just sustainable future

-food equality

-a reconnecting of city and country


The city of Manchester is facing huge issues around health inequality, with health statistics reealing that the population has a 15 years shorter life expectancy than the southern areas of the UK, and a mix of economic and social factors including rising food prices, unemployment (15% higher than the national average) a huge increase in foodbanks, and one third of farmers earning less than the minimum wage. Kindlings approach to change when faced with these complex scenarios is to try and bring a whole range of diverse people with them by coming up with a multi-faceted range of projects that canvas animal welfare, fair trade, food equality/democracy and health.

Sounds good hey? The reality of the projects sounds even better- focusing on projects and events that inform and inspire communities through experiences rather than bringing in celebrities and experts for a flash in the pan hoo haa.

First up: Forgotton Fieldsan initiative that works with young people to explore the history and tradition of how Manchester was once fed, to re-enact how it used to be and in the process reconnect them to the country around the city through making them an active part in the journey from paddock to plate (planting heritage potatoes on an acre of land under the guidance of a traditional farmer, growing and tending them, and transporting them (by barge!) back into Manchester to be eaten.

forgotten fields



Second up: Manchester Veg Peopleanother project that got the room very excited!

We’ve profiled this food hub elsewhere but it was great to hear straight from Chris the whole process of its gestation and growth. At its core MVP is a coop of restaurants and buyers and organic growers who come together each December to plan the growing season and who’s goin to grow what. A fascinating point that Chris made is that their focus at MVP is to think less about price and more about relationship, for the aim is to get away from the market price of produce which is , in Chris’s words, ‘ really controlled by supermarkets’. Hence one of the rules of the coop is there’s no negotiation of price- the buyer will either buy it or not, but the price will not be dropped on the farm gate side.

Relationships underpin it all – farmers and chefs working closely, farmers coming into the kitchen to influence the menu and raise awareness around seasonality and growing issues and chefs spending time on farms to help shape what is grown.

manchester veg growers and chefs

Chris also touched  on the food equality issue with organics, similar to what we face in Australia ,in terms of the premium/elitist perception and pricing. The notion of food democracy drives this project, in that the vision is that everyone has the same access to quality produce – a psoh Michelein star restaurant gets the same as community kitchens- so fundamentally this food hub is ‘anout delivering food in an equal and fair way’.

Chris ended his discussion of this project with a focus on two key words: relationships and trust,words which echo the foundational lessons we’ve been learning in pulling together the range of farmers and partners we’re working with to initiate the South East Food Hub.

There’s more of Chris to come which will be covered in a later blog post, including the projects Feeding Manchester and Manchester Farm Start and the Land Army, but to keep this from turning into an epic I’m going to omit those bits here and skip onto the community discussions which were energetic, lively and inspired by the ideas and examples Chris threw around. We gave a brief update of where things are up to with the South East Food Hub, and than on each table we explored different food initiatives and projects that were already happening in the community and after mapping them out did a quick fire brainstorm of what people would like to see. See the South East Food Hub blog early next week for further details once we’ve collated all the info!

Farmers, chefs, community garden members and founders, local government bods and a range of other community folk than gathered round for some food and informal mingling before heading off with full bellies and buzzing heads.

And a final big thank you to VicHealth and the City of Casey who enabled the forum to be held and the attendees to be fed!

casey cardinia business group logovichealth logo