Urban model food for thought

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Small landholders learnt about capitalising on land use opportunities at a series of recent workshops.

Held in the Swan Valley, Bridgetown, Bunbury, Kalamunda, Dwellingup and Perth, the new opportunities for urban and peri-urban agriculture workshops attracted hundreds of WA food growers.

NSW Department of Primary Industries urban agriculture leader David Mason spoke about a multi-faceted approach to food production.

"There is a lot more to agriculture than just growing food," he said.

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Mr Mason spoke about agriculture's complementary industries, including tourism, health and on-farm ecology.

He likened WA's food production zones to the Hawkesbury district in New South Wales where he spearheaded a campaign to improve the region's sustainability.

Hawkesbury, viewed as Sydney's 'food bowl', is the largest local government area in the Sydney metropolitan region and covers 2800 square kilometres.

The Hawkesbury harvest district spans seven local government areas and up to 80 properties.

In 2000, the region was threatened by the encroachment of urbanisation, which prompted the community to form the Hawkesbury Harvest group.

The group created the Hawkesbury farm gate trail, a series of itineraries that highlight producers in the region, allowing tourists to sample locally produced foods at their source.

The trails, which span hundreds of kilometres, also include accommodation sites.

"Hawkesbury Harvest stimulates economic activity by delivering alternative income streams," Mr Mason said.

"The Hawkesbury region is valued locally, nationally and internationally for its products, heritage and as a place to live," he said.

He said growers in WA were well positioned to create a similar space, likening the Hawkesbury district to the Swan Valley and Margaret River.

Mr Mason said the Hawkesbury model encouraged a trend towards local produce, which worked to growers' financial advantage.

He pointed to Coles' low price food campaign and said cheap food would lead to environmental and social degradation.

"This business of 'down, down, down' is social and environmental vandalism," he said.

He referred to international examples of where consumers drove the food chain in a positive way.

"In Canada, 42 per cent of people regularly purchase local food because they believe it helps the economy," he said.

Mr Mason also spoke about areas of Europe and North America where there was a growing trend to local and slow food production.

WA Department of Agriculture and Food land use planning officer Rod Safstrom said Mr Mason's ideas could be applied in WA.

"With increasing interest in food security and Perth's growing population, new approaches are needed to preserve the State's important horticultural areas," he said.

Mr Safstrom highlighted the Swan Valley and Warren Blackwood region as priority areas for investment.

He said the multi-functional agricultural model practised in Hawkesbury not only created economic opportunities but decreased the reliance on sub-division.

·For more information about the Hawkesbury Harvest model, visit www.hawkesburyharvest.com.au

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