Get Stuffed - the beginnings

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(This article was published in Gippslandia, April 2017)

In 2016 Reactivate Latrobe Valley was a finalist in the VicHealth Latrobe Valley Community Challenge with a plan to build a Future Food Network in Latrobe Valley. The local food movement taking shape reflects global movement toward sustainability, health and well being and resilient local economies in our rapidly changing world. We think the Latrobe Valley can add its weight to this movement, don’t you?

Get Stuffed began as a solution to a problem, as many great initiatives do. The 50 Mile Farmers Market team were finding a lack of producers from Latrobe Valley. Our 50 Mile Farmers Market limits market stalls to goods grown and produced within a 50 mile radius of Latrobe Valley where the markets are held. The intention is to support the local economy and nurture small local producers to take their produce and product to market. This has now been digitised as the 50 Mile Directory - check it out!)

After a bit of digging we uncovered some validating statistics, some well known others less so. In Gippsland 75% of adults are overweight or obese (1) and in the Latrobe Valley 8.4% of residents are unemployed (2). 25.5% of our youth are disengaged from study, training or employment (3). The Latrobe Valley is home to a number of ‘food deserts’ which means that fresh and healthy food is not accessible to many members of the community. For every 1 fresh food outlet there are an average of 3.7 takeaway food outlets (4).

We started to imagine what tied these issues together, and how food - the one thing that all of us have in common - could start to tell a new story in the Latrobe Valley. Get Stuffed began taking shape.

Reactivate Latrobe Valley assembled a team of stakeholders. We shared what we knew and looked at the barriers to getting locally produced food into Latrobe Valley homes. We knew many backyard gardeners were producing food and feeding families and wondered how to share their knowledge and experience with others and bring produce to market. We found that food production was already being used as a learning tool in our schools and training institutes and wondered how we could connect these classrooms to the local food supply chain. We cast our net wider, telling our story to our Gippsland neighbours already getting excited about what the local food movement means for our regional communities.

We have over 120 restaurants in the Valley and from conversations held with many of them we discovered those who buy locally grown food and who want to but can’t access supply. There is a market.

 Ian Onley with a  Soil Sessions  workshop group

Ian Onley with a Soil Sessions workshop group

We’re bringing seasoned gardeners together with interested community members to offer classes. In 2016, John Mauger facilitated Tuesday afternoon gardening classes at The VRI to groups of up to 25 interested gardeners. In 2017 we have Ian Onley continuing John’s work to teach and inspire our community to grow food. Want to go from mower to grower?

We have #GetSwapped boxes in locations across Latrobe Valley for people to swap or share excess garden produce. Through these trading posts we get to see all sorts of goodies from backyards in our neighbourhoods, and we reduce waste. Do you know a place that could be our next GetSwapped box location?

 The Get Swapped box at the Yinnar General Store

The Get Swapped box at the Yinnar General Store

We’re trading fresh cut herbs from a handful of local growers through our 50 Mile Farmers Markets in Traralgon and Morwell. Our aim is to build our supply chain with more small, medium and large growers, distributing their produce through the monthly market, local shops and beyond. Do you grow herbs or know someone who does?

Our ethos is simple: Growing good food and local jobs in the Latrobe Valley. If we strengthen the local market through these initiatives the market will become visible. If we reduce waste and redistribute excess, inequality in food access will shrink. If we share local know-how, skills and tools food will become more abundant and, with it, our ability to provide for ourselves. If we rethink the way we get food on our tables, we can make space for countless food jobs of the future. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

As we kick off into 2017 we’re hoping to grow into what we’ve already started, and expand into new territory. To make that possible we need hands on deck, and many voices in the conversation. If you’d like to volunteer, get in touch. If you own or work at a food outlet, let us know. If you’re keen to weave food into your teaching, we want to hear from you.

We imagine a Latrobe Valley in which everyone can feel good about where their food comes from, and know that with every bite they are supporting their local growers, traders, chefs and service providers. We want to see a Latrobe Valley that celebrates the diversity of food and its rituals so that our many cultures have a place at the table. We want to connect our community to our climate so that we get excited about seasonal changes in our menus.  

We want our local community to get stuffed with locally grown food.

For more info or to get involved visit the Get Stuffed homepage

References:

1. In Focus Healthy Communities (2013); Overweight and Obesity Rates Across Australia; accessed October 3, 2016 at http://www.myhealthycommunities.gov.au/Content/publications/downloads/NHPA_HC_Report_Overweight_and_Obesity_Report_October_2013.t=1457049600026pdf

2. Australian Government Department of Employment (2016) Victoria - Unemployment Rate by Labour Force Region; accessed October 3, 2016 at: http://lmip.gov.au/default.aspx?LMIP/LFR_SAFOUR/VIC_LFR_LM_byLFR_UnemploymentRate

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011); Latrobe Valley Region Summary; accessed October 3, 2016 at: http://stat.abs.gov.au/itt/r.

4. Healthy Together Latrobe (2014); Shifting the System: Food Access and Availability in Latrobe City.; Accessed on October 2, 2016 at: http://sustainabilitygippsland.com/