This article was first published on Oxfam’s 3things website on 7 May 2013. It was written for Oxfam’s GROW campaign, which creates awareness of the changes needed to fix the broken food system. Supporting small-scale farmers is the second of six steps to a better food system. This article is Australian-centric but it translates to our international food habits. Read the first series of my GROW method blogs here.
Our food system is in a pickle. Soon, there’ll be nine billion people on the planet and we’re struggling to feed the ones we’ve got. Oh boy.
Take a look around you, do you see any farms? I’ve watched my neighbours’ chickens run up and down the hill and my friend once had to stop her car for a chicken to cross at a crossing, but until this year I’d never looked eye-to-eye with my local farmer (they’re out there waiting to say howdy).
Here’s the problem: we’ve got to start in our own backyard if we’re going to change the broken food system. This means changing our attitudes, shunning the supermarket and packing our granny trollies for the farmers’ market, or, better yet, visiting CERES in Melbourne.
This week I talked with Melissa Lawson, the group manager of CERES in Melbourne. This is my run-down of our chat on fair food and giving small-scale producers a fair go, a mission that translates globally and speaks to a secure future of eating fair food.
What is CERES?
CERES (pronounced ‘series’) – the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies – is a not-for-profit environmental park located on 10 acres in East Brunswick, Melbourne. It has been built on land that was originally landfill (the soil is safe in case you’re wondering). CERES was established in 1981 by local residents who wanted to create social and environmental awareness and it was opened in 1982. Melissa says, “Over the course of 30 years, CERES has become a vibrant community park and socially-driven organisation.” They have all different enterprises including a nursery, market, shop, café, permaculture nursery, farm (including chickens), workshops, tours, and education programs open to the public.
CERES’s mission is to:
- Address the causes of climate change
- Promote social wellbeing and connectedness
- Build local and global equity
- Embrace and facilitate rapid change
Response to CERES
Over 400,000 on-site visitors including 70,000 school visits each year is a damn good response, don’t you think? Melissa says they’ve also seen changes in the way people are thinking about the environment and their food choices. “On a personal note, even in the last four to five years, I’ve seen a real shift in thinking back to basics,” she says; “people are going old-school,” they even want to make their own bread again. Melissa says it has a lot to do with community engagement.
Keeping perspective and building community
Reality drags on my shoulders at times but it’s nice to know it doesn’t need to. CERES is committed to tackling the big issues in food sustainability and security simply and easily, and their holistic approach is admirable (they even have composting toilets). Visitors have the opportunity to eat at the park’s café, find fresh produce at the market, learn how to farm it themselves through CERES’s workshops, and then buy the seedlings for their own garden from the nursery. Melissa says CERES has “quite a strong system on site” and through the relationships they form and the community’s engagement, the bigger issues become accessible. She says we shouldn’t make it hard and be loaded with guilt; instead, like their visitors do, we can discover the reward that comes with buying from small producers and building a community that will secure a better food-future for us all.
On the global scale
Nine billion humans by 2045 seems absurd (yeah, it is) and although it seems impossible for small-scale producers to cope with the demand, they still play a huge role in the world’s food security, and so do we, through the attitudes we have towards food and hence the food we buy. CERES Fair Food is committed to giving the small-scale producers a fair price and when I asked if their mission translates globally, Melissa said “yes… it translates for every farmer [because] they need to be treated fairly.” Melissa says that our food choices along the line make the difference.
Get CERES about fair food, CERES-ly! It’s high time to GROW!
What else can you do?
Your GROW challenge for May
Take a photograph of yourself at your local farmers market and upload it to Oxfam Australia’s Facebook page or via Instagram. Even sign up to GROW if you’re feeling up to it!
Do you wish CERES was near you? I do! Let us know what changes you want to see in the food system.
*Photos by Bink Baulch