Rapid Needs and Value Assessment of the Community Food Enterprise Sector in Victoria
Community Food Enterprises (CFEs) are an essential component of a healthy, sustainable, regenerative, and just food system. In Victoria, CFEs have been recognised and supported as part of a growing food ecosystem.
However, the CFE sector in Australia is facing serious challenges, including lower sales, extreme weather events, limited funding opportunities, and exhausted volunteers. Some CFEs have already closed, while others are struggling with limited resources.
Thanks to funding from Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Sustainable Table, Open Food Network has worked in collaboration with several CFEs from across Victoria to rapidly assess the needs and gather evidence of the public value of the Victorian CFE sector. The recommendations from this report will inform a collective bid for funding and support from government and philanthropic sectors for the Victorian CFE sector.
IDENTIFIED PUBLIC GOOD OUTCOMES
Social Connection and Engagement
CFEs are community hubs that foster social connection and engagement through diverse programs. As one example of social engagement, Merri Food Hub exemplifies this by offering a range of activities such as food processing, aggregation, wholesale, a market stall, and community services.
Partnerships are vital in the CFE sector. CFEs benefit from various mutually advantageous partnerships with like-minded community organisations and businesses. These partnerships involve affordable rent arrangements, shared infrastructure and resources, and grants from local government.
CFEs prioritise enhancing food access and affordability despite limited resources. They are exploring approaches to address food access and equity. However, there is untapped potential for CFEs to reach and serve more of their community by securing external funding and program support.
“Veggie boxes are offered to those who volunteer, with many people improving their food security each week in this way, throughout the history of the Hub. There have also been two projects conducted with local food relief organisations, providing ‘voucherless vouchers’, giving access to weekly shopping for families. The Hub community is deeply committed to doing more of this food justice work, but hasn’t been able to accumulate the funds to do so.”
Baw Baw Food Hub.
Each CFE operates within a distinct geographical context. The report acknowledges that CFEs adapt to local needs, varying across the state. For example, Merri Food Hub serves a low socio-economic metropolitan suburb, while Bright Food Coop is located in an affluent rural town.
“I believe in the power of short supply chains, community resilience, and increased nutritional value in local food. Bright Food Co-op shares these values in promoting zero waste, local sourcing, and chemical-free practices. It stands in contrast to the conventional supermarket system, where food is often treated with chemicals unknown to the consumer, transported over long distances, and wrapped in plastic.”
Julie Savage, Lomandra Farm.
CFEs serve as enterprise incubators on multiple levels. Within the sector, there is a collaborative culture, with shared knowledge and support among operators. For instance, Baw Baw Food Hub is respected for their experience and willingly shares their insights through activities such as mentoring other organisations.
Participating CFEs strongly supported sustainable practices and prioritised minimising their environmental impact while promoting circular economy functions. Some notable initiatives and processes include:
- Regenerative Farming Practices
- Minimal Packaging
Values Based Supply Chains
As discussed in Sustainable Table’s “Regenerative Investment in Food and Farming report” values aligned enterprises working together across the supply chain can benefit each other and make it easier to achieve the social and environmental objectives they share toward building a better food system in their region.
CFES AS COMMUNITY CENTRES
CFEs play a pivotal role in building strong communities through prioritising connections and engaging in diverse activities. Their dedication to community development fosters meaningful relationships, shared values, and environmental consciousness. By spearheading initiatives and creating opportunities for connection and collaboration, CFEs contribute to a sense of belonging, wellbeing, and resilience in communities.
A key finding of this research is that CFEs acknowledge food as a element for community gathering, learning, connection, and growth.
To assist funders it is critical that CFEs can identify and articulate their role and benefits as local community centres, together with the distinct social and environmental benefits derived from their role in the trade and supply of food.
The report cards prototyped and showcased in this report are one tool that can be used to assist with this communication of value.
“I’ve come to realise that food is a unifying element that allows me to connect with individuals and communities on a deeper level. What drives me is the shared vision of working towards a bigger picture. Each effort may seem small, but when we join forces with others, we create a collective sense of being part of something bigger. We believe in the power of change on a localised level, and that belief unites us.”
Rach Kendrigan, Local Food Activator.
IMPACT REPORT CARDS
The impact report cards were created through a multi-stage process that involved inviting CFEs to participate, collecting data through online questionnaires and interviews with CFE beneficiaries, and analysing the data using a mixed methods approach. The methodology ensured representation of diverse CFE types and scales, and the analysis aimed to demonstrate the impact and potential of CFEs at individual and sector levels.
1. Develop impact report cards for more CFEs.
Using a streamlined version of the methodology and template developed through this project to enable improved evaluation and communication of the specific nature and benefits of CFE activities at individual and collective scale.
2. Provide dedicated CFE program funding.
External funding is required to support the diverse and locally responsive community services provided by CFEs.
3. Subsidise the food supply functions of CFEs.
CFEs generate social and environmental outcomes achieved through their activities and should be recognised and subsidised for this contribution to public good outcomes.
4. Encourage collaboration and synergy between different CFEs within a values-based supply network.
As outlined in the Moving Feast’s draft strategy, this includes:
– investing in activities that facilitate relationship building and collaboration among the supply network
– providing shared learning opportunities; and
– fund the development/growth of critical functions that are missing or underdeveloped in the supply network.
5. Provide CFEs with tailored one-on-one capacity building support to address the specific needs of CFEs (examples here).
6. Develop and pilot a specialised fund to increase CFEs’ ability to serve low-income households.
Such as a Food with Dignity Fund that funnels investment from government and philanthropy through, for example, voucher schemes (design recommendations here).