Berry smoothies, eggs Benedict and vegetable stir-fries are among the popular fare Melbourne diners of the future may find both scarce and super-expensive if measures are not taken to address the resilience of the city’s food bowl, researchers from the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab have warned.

The latest Foodprint Melbourne project report argues for a policy that would fix the urban growth boundary in Plan Melbourne as a hard boundary to protect the city’s ability to feed itself.

Melbourne’s food future: planning a resilient city foodbowl is the result of collaborative research by VEIL at the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and the Australian Food Network. It builds on previous research that has defined the area of Melbourne’s food bowl.

This fairly crucial land includes the inner food bowl immediately adjacent to the suburbs that produce food including fresh produce, poultry and eggs; and the outer food bowl that produces grains, grazing animals and oil seeds, among other products.

Currently, the inner food bowl, where the pressure is greatest from development, produces 47 per cent of the vegetables grown in Victoria, 96 per cent of its berries, 81 per cent of chicken meat and 67 per cent of eggs.

The researchers have called for policies that will prevent this productive land being used for urban land-uses, and for a specific planning mechanism for areas of food production.

The land is also under pressure from fragmentation and inflated prices that create barriers to entry for young and new farmers.

Instead of expanding into the food bowl, the report said that densities should be increased in new outer urban and established metropolitan areas. Development pressure should be shifted from the fringe to the existing city.

The research found that the stakes are high in terms of the city’s resilience and ability to feed its population in future.

Currently, the city’s food bowl has the capacity to meet around 41 per cent of Greater Melbourne’s overall food needs, and around 82 per cent of its vegetable needs.

An economic analysis by Deloitte Access Economics found it also contributes $2.45 billion to the regional economy and supports 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

However, if Melbourne’s development continues its current trajectory, with the majority of population growth occurring in low density areas on the urban fringe, the researchers said the capacity of the food bowl could fall to the point that it can only meet 18 per cent of the population’s overall food needs by 2050.

Deloitte modelled two scenarios for future land loss to accommodate a projected population of seven million.

It found that although there will most likely still be some land loss and corresponding loss in the economic contribution of the food-growing sector, the degree to which prices will rise and regional economies suffer can be minimised through strong requirements for infill developments, increased urban density and fixing the urban growth boundary.

The report identifies a number of other measures that can help insure the city’s future food supply, such as increasing the production of food within the city community.

As part of creating a resilient food bowl, the report also looks at water. Currently only six per cent of Melbourne’s recycled water capacity is used to grow food, and 84 per cent just goes into the sea, the researchers said.

Just 10 per cent of that wasted water redirected to strategic food growing areas could drought-proof them.

Another aspect is tackling food waste. The city’s organic waste could be harnessed as an alternative source of fertilisers and animal feed for farms on the city fringe. This will also help address one of the challenges to farm profitability, which is the rising cost of chemical fertilisers.

The research also highlighted the potential of value-adding to food products in the regions, and of creating regional food hubs including farmers markets to improve the economic resilience of the food producing communities adjacent to the city.

  • Read the full report here

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  1. Thanks Willow, great story.
    This seems to be an issue around Australia, typified by the Melbourne experience. We seem to have forgotten the importance of systems thinking and how critical ecosystems services are in underpinning sustainable food production. The nexus between urban development and the need to manage and secure our most productive soils whilst improving productivity through sustainable farming systems seems lost to our planning fraternity. Whilst protected cropping presents fantastic opportunity for water reuse in this country and peri-urban food development, taste suggests we still need to maintain a strong link to soil based food production.