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Why growing food close to where we live is vital for healthy places and communities.

ImageThe Age newspaper has been running a series of in-depth articles about The Future of Food- our food. Commencing on Saturday 26 May, Royce Millar and Melissa Fyfe kicked off the series with the article: ‘City sprawl hits food bowls.’ 70 per cent of Victoria’s fresh vegetable production still occurs in and around Melbourne, however with changes to the zoning of agricultural land and planned subdivisions, this wonderful local cornucopia will disappear overnight. While food is not overtly recognised in Victoria’s planning regulations, the statewide planning policy does call for protection of farmland of “strategic significance”. However, it neither defines what such land is, nor explains how it should be protected.

“The challenge of residential development is not limited to sprawling Melbourne. An RMIT University study last year of the 150-kilometre ring beyond Melbourne’s perimeter — the “peri-urban” area — estimates that on current trends, subdivision of farmland is likely to lead to a doubling of dwellings and the decimation of one of Australia’s most food-productive regions.

The study’s co-author, planning specialist Michael Buxton, thinks things have gone too far, and is calling for long-term protection of highly productive farmland. Food is not explicitly recognised in the state’s planning regulations. “We’ve already built over the best soils in this state — the soils around Melbourne. Why would you keep building over it and subdividing it when in the next 50 years we’re facing an era of incredible uncertainty and major changes to climate, to fuel supplies and to energy markets?”

To date, Ted Baillieu and Matthew Guy have been forthright in their intention to release as much land on the fringe as they see fit to maximise Melbourne’s housing affordability. The government has committed to a review of the urban growth boundary every two years.

The mounting pressure on our peri-urban farmland exposes a dilemma we face as an advanced nation in the 21st Century. It begs us to think seriously and with foresight, and to be more creative in how we integrate the many needs of living sustainably in urban environments. It requires us to put a stake in the ground and publicly express what we value. How do we create mutually beneficial outcomes for farmers, in a way that values the work they do to produce our food by paying them a profitable livelihood into retirement? How do we preserve the best soil around our cities for food production, because we enjoy the fresh local produce, supporting employment and the reduced environmental impact and security of food grown close to where a majority of Australians live? How do we reassess affordable housing within the established confines of our city, not just the fringe which comes with its own subset of detractions such as limited transport, employment, amenity and services? We are at a critical point in the history of our cities, within the wider context of global mega-trends that will affect us in the decades to come. Where is the civic leadership that has the intelligence and courage to create policy and make decisions beyond immediate financial gain that will protect and enhance that fundamental and most enjoyable of life’s basic needs- our food?

To read the articles in full, visit:  http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/city-sprawl-hits-food-bowls-20120525-1zaeq.html

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