DETROIT might be close to 16,000km away from Victoria, but a visit this month from one of its’ passionate leaders brought a story of success in food entrepreneurship and food business that both enthralled and inspired a wide cross section of Gippslanders.
Devita Davison is the executive director of FoodLab Detroit and she was the keynote guest speaker at an interactive forum recently held at the Baw Baw Food Hub in Warragul.
FoodLab Detroit is a membership based non-profit organisation created to cultivate, connect and catalyse, using food as an economic engine to form a supportive community of entrepreneurs and social enterprises.
The former motor city giant is now in an active phase of revitalisation after decades of neglect, during which the population decreased from 2.5 million to just under 700,000, and access to good, fresh healthy food declined, with often the only affordable alternative being fast food and processed meals.
As a result, diet related health problems like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure increased, and communities became disconnected from one another.
Ms Davison is at the forefront of change, and the results are visible on an increasing number of streets as people of all ages come together to share, collaborate and connect via a now thriving food economy, driven and supported by the urban agriculture that is making productive use of vacant land and plots right across the city’s vast geographic footprint.
“Our philosophy is ‘be the change you want to see’ and we actively involve every community in all our project proposals and ideas, asking what each neighbourhood needs to bring back access to healthy, fresh food, and what it wants to see, and then we engage with food entrepreneurs to bring it all to life, with a genuine focus on people, profit and the planet,” she said.
More than 50 forum attendees from towns, villages and farming regions all through Gippsland listened with enthusiasm and interest to Devita’s story of how the good food movement of Detroit is taking her city from being on its’ knees and classed as the poorest in the United States, to be now re-building with an innovative and engaged food economy.
The forum was co-hosted by a regional collaboration of Baw Food Hub, Baw Baw Food Movement, Agribusiness Gippsland and East Gippsland Food Cluster Inc., Food For All Latrobe Valley and Sustain, the Australian Food Network.
East Gippsland Food Cluster CEO Dr Nicola Watts was delighted with the number of people who attended and said the positive feedback has been very encouraging.
“We had people attending from as far as Orbost in the east to Wonthaggi in the south, all of them with either a common or vested interest, and passion about our very own vibrant local food systems right across Gippsland,” she said.
Dr Watts said there is already a very solid foundation of visionary producers, growers and groups all around Gippsland who are individually and collaboratively achieving impressive results on a local, national and global scale.
“Hearing about the successes of projects like FoodLab Detroit gives Gippslanders exposure to different insights and ideas that can potentially help further leverage the economic and people power of good fresh healthy food bringing communities together.
“People from all walks of life are becoming more aware, concerned and interested in where their food comes from, so with the quality of what is raised or grown in Gippsland, we have a significant opportunity to really articulate the wonderful attributes of what our region produces,” she said.
The East Gippsland Food Cluster Inc, and Agribusiness Gippsland are soon to become Food & Fibre Gippsland, joining together to be one collaborative force in ongoing growth of a prosperous and sustainable food and fibre sector across the region.