Fresh food choices for local communities
Victorian councils are taking the lead in improving access to healthy foods with the State Government’s VicHealth ‘Food for All Program’. The program is designed to increase regular access to, and consumption of a variety of foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, by people living in disadvantaged communities.
It encourages councils to improve integrated planning of things that influence access to food, such as transport, housing, economic development and land use.
In the past, most of the strategies to improve access to healthy eating for vulnerable groups have focused on short term emergency food relief or individual counselling and health education.
Research shows that people on low incomes cannot afford to choose to eat a variety of food easily and many are more likely to be overweight or even obese. There are also reports that increasing numbers of Australians have been experiencing food insecurity in the last ten years.
Food insecurity is much more common than is thought, and it has much broader consequences than just diet – it impacts on people’s physical, mental and social wellbeing.
Under the Food for All program, funding was open to Victorian councils with 20 per cent or more of their population living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
As one of eight councils to receive funding, Melton Shire Council in Victoria’s west has just completed a three month trial giving residents of smaller townships the opportunity to purchase fresh produce close to home on a regular basis. There are approximately 5,700 residents living in the Melton’s small township areas of Diggers Rest, Rockbank, Toolern Vale, Exford and Eynesbury, whose fresh fruit and vegetable access issues need to be considered.
Council worked with not for profit organisation Cultivating Communities to deliver the trial.
Initially, community consultations were conducted with each township to ascertain the best way forward for each community. Initiatives like local market stalls, mobile food vans and increased fresh produce availability in local general stores were discussed.
The consultation also looked at how Council can best support local businesses, for example, by tapping into local growers to provide most of the produce, and only using Melbourne’s wholesale markets to complement this.
As a result of the consultations, a new market stall has already been established in Diggers Rest, with local volunteers trained to run and organise it each week.
Not only do residents save time on travelling ten kilometres to the nearest supermarket, but they are picking up fresh fruit and vegetables at more affordable prices.
Produce is bought at the Melbourne Wholesale Market, but there is a potential for it to be supplied by local farmers in the future.
A mobile fruit and vegetable van has been trialled at Exford, a fruit and vegetable cooperative was trialled in Toolern Vale, and a Community Garden has been the flavour for Eynesbury.
There is also the possibility of stalls being set up within existing local stores or as an order service.
Melton Shire Mayor Councillor Justin Mammarella said the program will help residents access fresh produce without having to travel to major shopping precincts.
“Council is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of our community through programs such as this,” he said.
“Fresh fruit and vegetables are important for a healthy diet and this program will provide residents of our small townships with improved access to fresh produce.”
For further information contact Venita Mackinnon in Council’s Social Development unit on (03) 9747 7200 or visit www.vichealth.vic.gov.au for more information on the Food for All program.