Food for thought: Challenges and opportunities for farming in Melbourne’s foodbowl

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Melbourne is surrounded by a highly productive foodbowl that is important to the food supply of this rapidly growing city.

Previous generations have managed the resources of the city’s hinterland to maintain the capacity of the land, waterways and ecosystems to feed the city’s residents.

However, rapid and continuing growth since the Second World War has threatened the capacity of Melbourne’s hinterland to feed the city.

In the early 1970s, city planners acted to protect the open spaces and natural resources of Melbourne’s hinterland, creating the city’s green wedges.

This vision was reaffirmed 30 years later with the introduction of legislation to formalise and strengthen the green wedges, and the city’s urban growth boundary was created.

These important steps preserved some of the most productive farmland in the state and maintained a source of fresh, high quality foods close to the city that contribute to the city’s liveability and support its reputation as a great city of food.

A recent report by staff in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne identifies the policy challenges that need to be addressed to strengthen Melbourne’s foodbowl and the opportunities that could be leveraged, focusing on three key policy issues: protecting farmland, strengthening the viability of farming and increasing water access.

The report finds that the planning legacy to protect Melbourne’s foodbowl is being put at risk. Multiple expansions of the city’s urban growth boundary since its introduction have led to significant losses of farmland, and the weakening of green wedge regulations has allowed a wider range of land uses in the green wedges, increased land fragmentation and made it more difficult to farm in the region.

This has undermined stakeholder confidence and certainty in the future of Melbourne’s green wedges and peri-urban areas, limiting investment by farmers and government in the region. Concerns about water availability and pressures on farm viability add to the challenges for farmers on Melbourne’s fringe.

Yet the report finds that there are also new opportunities emerging for farming in the region. There is growing interest from consumers in food provenance and sourcing locally grown foods, new opportunities for agri-tourism, and direct sales, and increasing demand for ethical, sustainably-produced foods from smaller scale producers on Melbourne’s fringe.

If these opportunities are to be realised, new policy approaches are needed to secure the future of farming on Melbourne’s fringe and to preserve the legacy of the green wedges, so that future generations can continue to meet some of their food needs from the highly productive foodbowl around the city.

Read the full report here


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