Wednesday, October 24, 2012
A community food project is a local project where members of the community are involved in the growing, production, distribution or cooking of food for their community
Last Wednesday the 17th of October we had our very first Community Food Projects Forum.
The forum was a great success with 55 people from local organisations, council, community health and community groups coming to CERES. We went on a tour of CERES Community Food System and listened to presentations from Peta Christensen from Cultivating Community and Mark Daniels from Social Traders. Mark spoke about social enterprise and Peta spoke about the different projects that are happening at Cultivating Community. Big thanks to Mark and Peta for giving up their time to share their wisdom with us.
Melissa Lawson, CERES Farm and Food manager showing a group the CERES Organic Market - the heart of our Community Food System.
For me, the most interesting and inspiring part of the day was the sharing of the challenges and successes. We asked people to break into small groups and discuss the challenges they faced when developing and implementing community food projects. We also asked people to share their good news stories - and these were lovely to hear. I'll report on both the challenges and good news stories below and in a future post. It was fascinating to learn that the challenges we face at CERES when we develop and deliver projects are universal - and so inspiring to hear and get ideas for new projects.
The morning ended with a delicious lunch upstairs in the Merri Table, cooked by the Seven Stars - a great opportunity for people to discuss what they'd learned and shared.
Lorna Pettifer, CERES Education and Training Manager, introducing Mark Daniels from Social Traders
We all know about the challenges we face when we develop and implement projects - and we don't live in a vacuum - everyone else has similar challenges. Here's what people said..
FUNDING.. this was the biggest one, nearly every single group identified funding as one of their major challenges.
"Funding to get big projects done at the beginning"
"Funding to get community gardens set up"
"Funding - establishment and maintenance"
"Funding to run a coordinator for community gardens"
"Funding for irrigation and initial set ups for new community gardens"
"Creating income stream to employ a co-ordinator part time to oversee it" (Community garden)
"Getting projects off the ground - money/management structure"
"funding - securing and sustaining"
"long term financial commitment"
Another common challenge amongst the groups at the forum is engagement, particularly the issues of how to attract and retain volunteers, how to get people to be active in groups, and how to share the workload equally between group members.
"Community capacity for taking on management of community garden
- needed volunteers
- needed meetings
- need more people to share the load
- a lot of excitement at set up but problem keeping enthusiasm going"
"attracting 'the right' people"
"attracting and retaining volunteers - our community garden is located in a rural area where everyone has adequate land for growing privately"
"lack of interest and engagement in growing own food/individually not as community garden"
"spreading the workload in a volunteer organisation"
"peer training for volunteers"
"to motivate people to move from passive interest to active - so we can get more done and not burn out (the small core group)"
"getting the balance right to capture goodwill of members (volunteers) and meet funding commitments to complete blog and infrastructure"
"fast-pace society - 'I don't have time'"
"small group - engagement of community - sustainability = champion/leader"
"how to keep focus of project ongoing and engaging new participation - how to bring ideas into action"
"there is a core of dedicated regulars but what about everyone else? How to you create a story that engages everyone else in the community"
"starting a community garden - personal time available"
"sustainability - group feeling confident that group can carry on after community garden is established"
"reliance on volunteers"
"divergent values and worldviews of project participants"
"decision making in community gardening - to organise meetings - what to plant"
"imbalance effort: pay back"
Engagement is not only a challenge for members and volunteers of groups, but also when developing programs and projects for others - how do we engage them? Do they want to be engaged? Here are some of the challenges people identified in this area:
"time taken to work through community consultation"
"solution/product needs to match the market (not just a good idea)"
"marketing problems - needs special approach for low income"
There were many community gardeners at the forum, and they identified challenges of land and access.
"limitations of land in inner urban area"
"long waiting lists in inner city community gardens"
"government selling off public housing land for development"
"inner city location - lack of understanding of importance of food recycling priorities of setting up compost areas"
"so much public open space that is deemed unsuitable for growing productive (food) plants. How can we persuade the community and local government to support and encourage using it for this? Health, sustainability food sovereignty benefits and more"
"refugees who have previously grown lots of food now housed in apartments"
"lack of edible trees in public areas"
A tour group in Honey Lane Market Garden
Connected to this are issues of government policy, unwieldy bureaucracy, and a perceived lack of government support:
"no support for elderly people who can't garden anymore (Italian and Greek communities)"
Bureaucracy - the 'can't' factor, permit for food swap? How to deal with council and regulations"
"lack of strong policy for urban agriculture (Yarra - good, eg. planter boxes)"
"regulations, time taken to work through government regulation"
"government policy not supporting feeding people"
"collision between planning and support, preserving personal and public needs"
Another issue is the 'can't factor' that has been mentioned in a comment above. How can we overcome people telling us that 'its not possible'?
"food co-op and community garden. Looking to develop community kitchen. An apathy and negativity, especially from older community 'it can't be done' etc. It's disheartening"
"transcend - embittered culture"
Now, for the rest of the challenges that don't fit into a clear category:
"sharing backyard produce"
"watering community planter boxes"
"big corporations making profits and not supporting FareShare etc"
"lack of publicity of Cultivating Community"
"Cooking classes and support for community groups to cook socially"' **Talk to me about the Community Kitchen at CERES - perhaps we can help with this one!
"creating mission statements"
"demographic in Anglesea and Torquay - fluctuating populations - tourist area - hard to get a movement going - also an ageing population"
"distribution of foods - issues of scale and small scale production. Challenge for smaller groups in outer suburban areas"
So there's a lot of different challenges there. We certainly can't pretend that its always smooth sailing or that our great ideas easily translate into a great, engaging project. Despite our best efforts, sometimes it seems that the odds are stacked against us or that the world is just not ready for our exciting idea.
Some ideas that came from our panel discussion around funding (I wish I took more notes) included signing up for the Our Community 'Easy Grants' newsletter - this is a monthly newsletter with information on current philanthopic and government grants. Seeking partnerships with larger organisations is another good idea, as is having a business plan even if your project isn't a business; consider the market, the 'product' you are offering, your competition and who your audience are. Looking at your project through this lens can be really useful.
If you have any more suggestions for ways to combat the challenges listed above, we'd love to hear them in the comments.
Don't despair though - I'm now going to get together the good news stories to publish. There are in fact, some good news stories that relate directly to some of these challenges, coming some way towards solving them. Watch this space.