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Hawkesbury Food Program

Lynne Saville

Project Officer, Hawkesbury Food Program, Hawkesbury District Health Service

The Hawkesbury Food Program (HFP) aims to develop a multi-strategy approach to food and nutrition issues in the Hawkesbury Local Government area. It aims to improve the health and well being of the community, by strengthening links between the community and local food production, improving access to, and consumption of safe, nutritious, affordable food. Program objectives include policy development, community participation, education and training, collaboration, and planning. Food supply issues and opportunities for intervention are incorporated in the HFP strategies.

A re-orientation of food supply systems is inter-linked with the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, Local Agenda 21, and the Hawkesbury City Council Healthy Cities initiative ‘growing shared solutions to a Healthy Hawkesbury Community’.

Since European settlement the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment has contributed as one of the most productive agricultural areas of Australia. Once known as the ‘grain bowl’ of Sydney, the catchment covers an area 2.5% of NSW, producing over 15% of the state’s agricultural produce including most of Sydney’s poultry, leafy green vegetables, mushrooms, nearly a third of the state’s oysters and some dairy produce. There is increasing recognition of the value of agriculture, the tenuous nature of its sustainability, and the need to retain diverse agricultural activity within the Sydney basin.

The Hawkesbury has a young population with 41% of the population being under the age of 25. A high percentage of disposable income goes to mortgage/rent repayments, which, in addition to high travel costs leaves many residents with a low disposable income. Local demographics indicate increasing pressure for housing development due to the large numbers of young families living in the Hawkesbury.

Studies indicate that diet related diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and obesity are on the increase in the Hawkesbury, creating an opportune environment for nutritional intervention in the long term.

Hawkesbury Food Program Partners and Steering Committee members include:

• Hawkesbury District Health Service

• Wentworth Area Health Service

• Hawkesbury City Council

• University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury (UWS,H)

• NSW Agriculture

• Hawkesbury Skills,

• Earthcare, Food for All and, local community agencies.

The Food Program Steering Committee Chair is Professor Stuart Hill, School of Social Ecology and Lifelong Learning, University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury.

Interventions strands for the Hawkesbury Food Program

Strand 1 Work with the local community to implement strategies for improving access to locally produced fresh foods for the local people of the Hawkesbury to:

• promote consumption of Hawkesbury produce and encourage the development of a local fresh food supply

• strengthen the links between the community and local food production to support the local food supply and encourage consumer-producer alliances

• ensure community participation in the Hawkesbury Food Program

Strand 2 Develop a model of food security for low income families in the Hawkesbury, to

• maintain liaisons between local and regional groups working on sustainable agriculture, social justice and community health

• study the local community to identify the health nutrition behaviour and nutritional resources and discover which aspects of the food system need strengthening, support or improvement

• increase the food security for people who require food assistance, and secure excess food

Strand 3 Utilise a ‘settings approach’ to food and nutrition in the Hawkesbury

• negotiate with various organisations to develop policies and programs, which will improve the health and well being of the community through nutrition

Communication strategy — collaboration with other organisations

Strand 1 Increased access to locally produced foods for local people:

• the Hawkesbury Cuisine group formed to link local restaurateurs and growers

• undertook the preliminary surveys and collation of a data base of growers, food outlets and local businesses interested in participation in Farmers Market, home delivery or Farmgate Trail

• the local Farmers Market

• worked with the community to co-ordinate the Hawkesbury Harvest development, the Farmgate Trail map planning and development, now extensively distributed and linked with tourism and. Funding has assisted this community based entity to grow into a successful organisation.

• Hawkesbury Skills development of a Hawkesbury agricultural database grower/retailers directory

• promotion of local growers’ farms fresh home delivery service distributing over 50 boxes per week.

• presentations to local community groups to provide information on nutrition and food hygiene, and ways to access to affordable local food supply.

• collaboration with Hawkesbury Earthcare group organic community gardens, and education initiatives to support home growing, consumer/producer alliances, and the re-localisation of the food supply

• links between farmers and consumers have strengthened through the above strategies.

Strand 2 Food security for low income families through:

• the Food for All Project targets food security and distribution, with planning and development of The Food Barn, a food outlet operated by volunteers, targeting those on low incomes now operational. Fresh fruit and vegetables purchased from local growers. Discounts for pensioners and Health Card holders, voucher exchange system underway. Over 100 people used the outlet during the first week of operation, increased to 400–500 customers per week (February, 2002).

• Home Delivery Service of Foods in the Hawkesbury brochure student research project and brochure publication distributed through the hospital, GPs and community agencies targeting those experiencing difficulty gaining access to shops

• Hawkesbury Skills horticulture and community gardens skilling and employment training programs participate in collection and distribution of excess fruit and vegetables to schools, community agencies and local soup kitchen.

• Richmond Community Services Inc. Cooking classes on low cost nutritional food

Strand 3 Utilising a ‘settings approach’ to food and nutrition and, communication strategies

• School Canteen Network — meets once per term with representation from 75% of local schools to promote healthier food choices within schools

• UWS, H student projects including the Heart Foundation ‘Tips on Chips’

• UWS, H student study of UWS, H food outlets, and community surveys.

• development of food and nutrition policy at Hawkesbury District Health Service

• the Child Nutrition Project is embarking on a comprehensive breast feeding support project, school breakfast programs and providing a resource folder to assist schools to establish school food gardens. The Child Nutrition Project Officer is working in partnership with schools to organise ‘healthy eating events’.

Communication strategy

• Media strategies through radio, newspapers.

• All strategies are monitored and evaluated though monthly and annual reports by the Steering Committee, HDHS, and partners, with presentations as required.

• Fresh local produce tastings and health promotion activities at community events.

• Collaboration with council on food hygiene and safety seminars.

• The production of the ‘Seasonal guide to Hawkesbury fruit and vegetables’ calendar.

• Participation in Sydney’s Fresh Fruit Bowl Network to establish links between ‘Healthy Catchments, Healthy Food Healthy People’ highlighting the importance of agriculture in the region.

• Joined with Projects for Reconciliation to re-plant indigenous food and fibre plants in community gardens.

• Supported an Indigenous foods and fibre workshop at Carnivale in collaboration with Projects for Reconciliation.

• Tastings, and participation in Open Farm days.

• Maintain links with other organisations such as Hawkesbury Harvest to promote the importance of agriculture in the region.

Grants, awards

• Food for All Projects was funded to employ Project Officer for two years.

• The Commonwealth Child and Nutrition grant.

• Hawkesbury Council was awarded the Heart Foundation State and National Local Government Community Nutrition Awards in 2000 for the HFP.

• Wilberforce Public School Breakfast Program Hawkesbury Healthy Cities Award.

The Hawkesbury Food Program uses a community development approach for all the strategies, which tend to be community driven, hence there have been many participants involved in each initiative. The HFP has examined community nutrition in the broadest context from agriculture, cleaner production, access, affordability, employment, equity and distribution, beyond the scope of many community nutrition projects. The many strategies to consolidate this vision have come to fruition through smaller projects, many of which have gathered considerable strength such as the school canteen network, Food for All, and Hawkesbury Harvest.

The recently awarded Child and Nutrition Program grant provides three years funding for the employment of the Project Officer to work with families and child care settings. Hawkesbury Food Program strategies are implemented within existing frameworks where possible and incorporated at all levels of planning. Links with partners and funding bodies are maintained through monthly reporting with presentations as required.

About the author

Lynne Saville is a registered nurse previously employed in general nursing, community, occupational health, part-time teacher, and undergraduate nursing program at University of Technology, Sydney. She has a Masters in Applied Science (Env.Health). Lynne is the Project Officer, Hawkesbury Food Program, Hawkesbury District Health Service Inc, in collaboration with Hawkesbury City Council’s Healthy Cities initiatives towards sustainable environmental and public health.

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