A local or regional food economy suggests food that is grown, processed and sold primarily for local or regional markets, contrasting with commodities produced for national and global markets. The term ‘creative food economy’ is being used to represent the emergence of vibrant sectors of small-to-medium sized food enterprises adaptively catering for rapidly changing consumer preferences and niche markets. In many regions, this segment of the food economy has been the most dynamic and innovative sector of the food economy for the past two decades, ‘comprised mainly of specialty, local, ethnic and organic food-processing firms that are thriving in response to consumers’ demands for high-quality, local, fresh, ethnic and fusion cuisine’ (Blay-Palmer and Donald 2006).
Southern Melbourne – Fertile Ground for Melbourne’s Creative Food Economy
The food and farming sector in southern Melbourne is in transition, as are food systems all around the world. These transitions are being driven from behind – by conflicts over prime farmland, changing resource prices and physical constraints of some key inputs, the pressures of global competition for trade-exposed sectors, skilled labour shortages, and a rapidly changing climate. But they are also being pulled from ahead.
The rapidly expanding populations of Casey, Cardinia and Mornington Peninsula – along with the northern parts of the Southern Melbourne region (reaching into Melbourne) represent opportunities – there is a large and increasing segment of this population that want healthy, ethical, sustainable and locally produced food.
A local or regional food economy suggests food that is grown, processed and sold primarily for local or regional markets, contrasting with commodities produced for national and global markets. The movement for local and regional food – alongside demand for ethical and sustainable food production practices – is growing rapidly, both in Australia and around the world. In North America, Japan, the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, it has grown so rapidly that it is possible to speak of a still young but maturing ‘creative food economy’.
In many regions, these have been the most dynamic and innovative sector of the food economy for the past two decades, ‘comprised mainly of specialty, local, ethnic and organic food-processing firms that are thriving in response to consumers’ demands for high-quality, local, fresh, ethnic and fusion cuisine’. Demand for local and regional foods is especially strong, driven in part by the ‘dissociation between traditional large firms and the local consumer base’, itself a consequence of a globalised food system that produces ‘food from nowhere’.
This is all good news for economic development in southern Melbourne. Given a market of four million customers on its doorstep, projected to reach six million or more by 2030, the opportunities for the creative food economy in this region are immense. This emerging ‘creative food economy’ can exist and flourish alongside a more traditional food sector – it is not a choice of either / or. Building momentum in creative, entrepreneurial food businesses in this region, attracting and retaining diverse agricultural and value-adding businesses will increase the vibrancy and prosperity of the region as a whole, attracting businesses and investment, creating thousands of new jobs, supporting the necessary transition to healthier eating and living, and encouraging producers to move towards ecologically sustainable methods of production.
An Economic Argument – What Can We Do?
VEIL and the Food Connect Foundation were contracted to review the evidence and possibilities of Local Food Economies as an input to the development of a Regional Food Plan for the Southern Melbourne RDA.
This work explores the impacts and tactics of a selection of regions that have chosen to actively regenerate their local / regional food systems. Their motivations, actions and results vary, however through incorporations of global-scale issues such as climate change, food security and population growth into their local-level food planning and/or economic development approaches, many cities and regions are generating new jobs and economic sectors.
The reports and presentations from this work, completed in September 2013, are presented below.
The review presents:
- Definitions: of this new approach to food economies, described as ‘local food economy’ or ‘creative food economy’;
- Evidence: A summary of the evidence pertaining to economic impacts of these approaches;
- Case Studies: An exploration of motivations, actions and impacts in case study areas that have actively regenerated their local food economies, and an assessment of their comparability to Melbourne; and
- Tools and Approaches: A framework of the type of actions being taken elsewhere and examples of particularly successful initiatives; and
- Notes / Recommendations: Notes on applicability in the Southern Melbourne Regions and suggested next steps.
There is already impressive evidence of the economic benefits of local and creative food economies, in terms of revenues, job creation, and business development and diversification. This is despite this being an early stage of the phenomenon, with impacts of emerging innovations yet to be seen (e.g. serious focus on reducing carbon emissions, energy costs, wasted food etc). Local food economies in Australia are less mature than those in the USA and Europe, as well as seriously under-researched. The figures in this report are drawn from results elsewhere and are indicative of the scale and benefits that could be expected from a strategic focus on this sector.
This review found that there are five key areas where action can be taken by the RDA and member organisations. These are outlined below, and illustrated through case study of the type of approach or initiative that could be taken. Each area potentially has many more approaches, and a range of examples are included in the tables in the attached document.
Leadership: Recognition, articulation and clear direction
Business Support and Incubation: Create a fertile environment for creative, socially and environmentally focused food businesses to establish and operate in the region.
Harnessing markets: Building demand and community engagement / participation (connect with health agencies etc)
Education: Training, Research and Education
Appropriate Regulation: Supportive regulatory and tax environment (for areas within your reach)
Summary of the above . . with pictures.
 Blay-Palmer and Donald 2006
 Ajayi et al 2010
 Blay-Palmer and Donald 2006
 Bové and Dufour 2001, 55