Published 15 October 2020
In 2014, my grandmother gave me a crisp $20 note at Christmas to spend on something that would remind me of her. It was very sweet. Naturally, I galloped straight into my local nursery and bought a small orange tree that was aptly named Betty, after her. At the time Betty was just about the size of a coffee mug and too small with its wafer-thin branches to produce any fruit. Year after year, I painstakingly forced myself to remove the little green bulbs forming out of its angelic flowers in order to help the tree focus on its leaf growth so that it could one day bear oranges by the bucketloads. It wasn’t until this spring, six long years later, when Betty has grown big enough to produce her first harvest: about 40 fruits growing on a tree now as tall and (perhaps) as strong as myself.
If there is one thing I have learned from growing fruit and vegetables, it is that eating good food requires patience and planning; one cannot be a short-sighted gardener. And if there is one thing I am reminded of as we celebrate World Food Day this week on the 16th of October, it is this same lesson.
“If there is one thing I have learned from growing fruit and vegetables, it is that eating good food requires patience and planning; and as we celebrate World Food Day this week on the 16th of October, it is this same lesson.”
World Food Day is a chance to reflect on the type of food system we as consumers want to see in the world and be part of. Right now, things are not looking great. We are currently seeing a steady rise in hunger, an increasing trend of food convenience over fresh local produce, the abuse of power of a duopolistic food supply chain that disenfranchises farmers and food- and farm-workers, a growing number of city residents that are less able to afford a healthy diet than ever, and a pandemic that is the cherry on the cake to revealing our own ill-preparedness and short-sightedness in dealing with disruptions to our food supply.
Sustainable solutions require a move away from the short-sighted quick fix. No apps, food hampers, or social media strategies can provide holistic answers to the layered and systemic challenges of food injustice and insecurity. Complex, multifaceted problems require complex, multifaceted ‘slow’ solutions. And so a gardener’s patience now becomes a prerequisite to working towards sustainable transformation in food, a lesson that our farmers could surely help impart on us.
We believe FoodLab Sydney is providing one of these slow solutions to our local food system. We are a for-purpose food business incubator passionate about helping people launch their own ‘good’ food businesses. Founded as a partnership between the Sydney Environment Institute at Sydney University, TAFE NSW, the City of Sydney, and FoodLab Detroit, we equip people with the skills, tools, networks and resources needed to develop a sustainable food enterprise in Sydney. Our vision is that by empowering individuals and communities with the capabilities they need to participate in the local food system, collectively we can make Sydney a more vibrant, sustainable and diverse place to live and eat.
“Our program is focused on building a sustainable food future by embracing students from all walks of life and food business ideas; promoting inclusivity with a focus on supporting people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who know how to speak the universal language of food.”
Our program is focused on building a sustainable food future by embracing students from all walks of life and food business ideas; promoting inclusivity with a focus on supporting people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who know how to speak the universal language of food and could turn this knowledge and passion into a source of sustainable income; resilience in equipping our participants for a business that solves the wicked social and environmental problems in food; and advocacy for bringing about a fairer, healthier and more local food system in Sydney.
This is a brave and long-term endeavour of connecting food business owners with passionate experts and artisans from all over Sydney’s food ecosystem to empower our students with firsthand knowledge and mentoring assistance; Café owners, food consultants, farmers, bakers, councillors and social enterprises, all who live and breathe food.
Having launched in 2019, the series of challenges brought on by COVID-19 has forced FoodLab to dramatically shift its operational delivery from face-to-face to online learning. This change has enabled our team to do more than what has typically been possible; from the development of our e-learning platform containing an extensive bespoke curriculum of multi-media resources, worksheets and online directories to the overwhelming generosity of community support through our over 40 guest speakers and mentors who have taken part in this year’s program.
During the pandemic, FoodLab has experienced a spike in interest from Sydneysiders with ideas as diverse as tiny farms planted on willing resident’s backyards, an authentic Indian Dosa market stall, rare Italian herbs are grown locally, and everything in between. One of our students, Andrei Balingit, enrolled in the 2020 cohort this year with a passion for making homemade, Filipino sausages, calling his business ‘Tata Rods’.
“Tata Rods (tata, meaning father; Rods, my dad’s nickname), pays homage to my father’s family who ignited my fascination with food as a kid. I sat and watched in awe as my Aunts and Grandma made Mechado, Kilayin, Sisig and other beautiful Filipino dishes in my home province, Tarlac.
“When I moved to Australia, I noticed our cuisine is unfamiliar to people here. I started cooking some Filipino food at work for staff meals to educate my colleagues and they really liked it! Since then, I realised my passion is to showcase Filipino food through artisan, handmade sausages inspired by the flavours of my hometown in the Philippines.
“There’s a lot of things you need to know when starting a food business, particularly during a pandemic. Since joining FoodLab, my eyes have been opened to all this information that I need to take my business idea to the next level. FoodLab has given me the format and confidence that I needed to pursue my passion and dream. It has been extremely helpful and inspiring.”
Whilst we are seeing a generation of food changers graduate from the FoodLab Sydney program, much like my experience caring for Betty it may be some time before we begin to harvest ‘buckets of oranges’ whereby true social and environmental change takes place in Sydney’s food sector. However, we are happy to wait, as the type of food system we envision is a deep transformation of all aspects of the public good: a Sydney free of food insecurity and quick fixes to a complex and systemic problem. So, on this World Food Day, I would like to spur you on to even greater efforts to find your own ‘slow solutions’, which could be anything from joining the FoodLab community, joining your local food cooperative, purchasing the ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables, or even growing your own orange tree this spring and challenging yourself to become more patient.
To find out more about FoodLab Sydney visit foodlabsydney.com
Jamie Loveday is the Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator and Facilitator at FoodLab Sydney, an interdisciplinary project supported by University of Sydney’s Sydney Environment Institute (SEI) in partnership with the City of Sydney, TAFE NSW and FoodLab Detroit, developing capacity and skills for people looking to launch a sustainable food business in Sydney. Jamie has worked and studied alongside entrepreneurs and farmers in North-west Cambodia, Southern India, remote and rural Australia and locally as the program coordinator for Sydney Genesis, The University of Sydney’s start-up program.
For an interview with the author, contact Jamie Loveday at email@example.com.
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