The ACT is reliant on food produced elsewhere. It is estimated that 90% of our leafy greens and fruit alone come from the Sydney region. People buy most of their food from supermarkets, sourcing low levels of locally grown food. Changing this situation needs concerted efforts by producers and consumers alike.
It’s already happening! ACT has urban and rural food and fibre supply chains
We have urban food production, value adding (such as using milk from the region to make cheese) and other activities within the ACT. There are backyard gardens, a growing number of community gardens and urban farms with vegetable, seedling and egg production, to name a few.
We also have enterprises along the food supply chain. This includes farmers markets and direct sale businesses like those offering fresh food and produce boxes. There are bakeries, breweries and wineries that use local produce as well as restaurants with ‘paddock to plate’ ethos.
New and innovative industries are developing, such as truffle and olive production. Alpaca wool is becoming one of the world’s most valuable and sought-after fibres, and the ACT has one of the largest alpaca districts in Australia at its doorstep in southern NSW. Hemp fibre is an emerging opportunity and varieties can also be grown for food. Traditional fibres have been used by Aboriginal people. For example, native flax lily, wild flax and Lomandra species are used to weave baskets.
Food and fibre production is responding to emerging markets and policy drivers
Agriculture production is changing across the globe, including in and around the ACT. Changing community attitudes to food are one of the main factors driving these changes.
There is a growing demand for local food and food produced with environmentally conscious practices. Although Australia is one of the most food secure countries, COVID-19 demonstrated the fragility of supply chains. The demand for native Australian food continues to grow. There is an opportunity to increase the Aboriginal participation in the bush food sector.
In fibre industries, similar drivers of sustainability and locality have emerged. Intensive research and development efforts have led to changes in the wool industry. There are product innovations like merino wool denim and wool fur available to consumers. There are also emerging products like wool-based packaging materials that can be used for food transport, amongst other purposes.
Agricultural production, processing and consumption are impacted by policies at all levels of government, particularly as food security, water security and energy security are interlinked. In Australia, some examples are policies regulating land and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity conservation, biosecurity, agricultural chemicals and food safety.
Food for thought
Food and fibre production within the ACT has been limited by the number of people who undertake farming activities. This includes people using urban land such as backyards, community gardens and city farms. We need to encourage broader participation and help ensure new enterprises are financially viable and sustainable. Supporting new agriculture-based businesses can generate valuable employment and economic diversification for the ACT.
Currently, agricultural land occupies about 15% of the ACT. As Canberra’s population grows, this area could be reduced due to urban growth, and we also need to pay attention to the more fertile soils found in our suburbs. As a result, the urban contribution to primary production will be increasingly important as it can be highly productive. Water is a limiting factor. We need to increase water efficiency in cultivation and improve rainwater capture, particularly in urban areas.
Canberra’s relatively short growing season limits the variety of conventional crops and demands consideration of native and new foods and varieties, and new ways of growing. Commercial outdoor market gardens have greater establishment costs for polytunnels or hot houses for year-round cultivation of vegetables. Similar issues arise for orchardists in preventing frost damage to trees. These challenges can be overcome by indoor growing, but we need to think about energy efficiency. There are ways to heat greenhouses using solar energy, thermal mass and even compost.