As is my habit during the course of a Saturday morning I did our weekly food shop at the local Eveleigh Farmers’ Market. When I returned home I made a cup of tea, and settled in with the lunch I bought: gluten-free mushroom, kale and leek tart made from, the friendly stall-holder informed me, market ingredients. At the computer I arbitrarily clicked on ABC News. The first headline I saw was
“The Federal Government has scrapped the $1.5 million Community Food Grants program.
The funding was announced last May by the former Labor government as a key initiative of the National Food Plan.
It would have seen money invested in projects such as farmers markets, food co-operatives and hubs, community gardens, and city farms across the country.
But applicants have now been advised by letter that the program has been reviewed and a decision made that it won’t be continued due to the ‘tight fiscal environment’…
…The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance is also disappointed. The alliance’s national co-ordinator, Nick Rose, says it was the first time that work by the community food sector had been recognised at a federal level…
…A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture says the Australian Government remains strongly committed to a vibrant, innovative and competitive agriculture sector…
This is why the government is developing a White Paper Agricultural Competitiveness, which will drive long-term agricultural policies and ensure Australia’s agriculture sector remains a significant contributor to the national economy and local communities.
The White Paper will take into account the analysis done for the National Food Plan, in the context of the government’s agriculture and food related policies.
A priority of the White Paper will be to generate jobs, boost farm gate returns, investment and economic growth in the agriculture sector…”
So, the Federal Government is ditching a scheme where 364 applicants have gone to the trouble of placing submissions for grants. Instead of fulfilling it even to some extent, simply by virtue of a change of government more time and money will be diverted to a White Paper to reinvent the wheel. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water could they not reassess the submissions and at least make some grants?
If the government insists on the White Paper, I suggest a field trip to Eveleigh Farmers’ Market, both to buy great fresh produce and to talk to the stall-holders/producers.
Maybe they could interview Mr Apples, who I’ve had enough conversations with to know a little about. He’s been a farmer his whole life. At one stage he expanded operations buying neighbouring properties. His adult kids have jobs elsewhere. One of the first chats I had with him he said it wouldn’t make sense for his kids to be farmers. Too much work. Too little income. He makes more money now since he downsized his orchards and sells at farmers markets rather than to the supermarket chains. His farm at Batlow is 4 and a half hours drive from Sydney. He & his wife leave on Saturday mornings to be in Sydney in time for the market’s 8am start. Sometimes his wife does the Sydney markets and he goes to other markets on Saturdays, and they go to markets on Sundays also.
Last year I was paying $5 per kilo for his fruit. This year it’s $6. I spent $4 on 8 white peaches and apples but the shopper after me bought 1 apple. As an exercise I think a good but possibly unlikely case scenario, if 200 people bought a kilo of his fruit over the course of a weekend - 200 kg is lot of apples, it would gross $1200 cash. Out of that we have to assume costs – fuel, accommodation, farm costs, tax…
How many kilos of fruit would Mr Apples need to sell to earn the equivalent of our incomes?
Mr Apples has one advantage. He’s established. Instead of getting out of the industry completely he made a change to his business. Many farmers walk away. If they all walk away, if no new producers are encouraged, where will the food come from?
Eveleigh Farmers’ Market is a hugely popular market in the middle of Sydney. We are incredibly fortunate to have these producers spend time and money bringing their produce to us.
Conversely, when the G.O. and I spend time in the country at Taylors Arm, despite it being an agricultural region, we don’t have access to weekly farmers’ markets, and those markets that exist need more support. I see few enough shoppers at the local markets to believe the stall-holders show up out of principle rather than profit. Already the monthly Medlow School Markets and the weekly Nambucca Valley Farmers Markets’ which started during the last 5 years in the Nambucca Valley no longer operate. It’s not like the producers don’t make the effort; I see Ausbuff from local Eungai, 5 hours drive from Sydney, at Eveleigh Farmers Market every week.
I enjoyed the cup of tea and the tart but not the article. The politics left a bad taste in my mouth.