Yarra Ranges Food Connections (YRFC) is a group of not-for-profit services and individuals aiming to improve the Yarra Ranges food system, in response to emerging evidence that a more sustainable and local food system has major benefits for both human health and climate impact by helping to mitigate emissions, improving access to fresh and affordable local food, finding solutions to food waste and recycling.
The Yarra Ranges Shire is a peri urban Council in the Outer Eastern and North-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne extending into the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges with just 3 per cent of the area being classified as urban. The shire is known for its berry and orchard fruits, poultry, and brussel sprouts, capsicums and tomatoes.
YRFC was established in 2019, and grew from a previous working group that had focused on increasing intake and access to water and reducing sugary drinks. An agreement between Inspiro Community Health and the Shire has enabled a one-day-a-week secondment of a Health Promotion staff member from Inspiro into Council to expand the initial focus of the group, from increasing water intake, to a long-term vision of a resilient, sustainable, healthy and equitable food system within the Yarra Ranges where the community are mobilised and empowered.
Initially, YRFC mapped existing food system related programs, projects and resources and conducted consumer and stakeholder consultations to help build a shared understanding of the gaps, weaknesses and strengths in the current local food system. A video What is a local Food System? developed with the assistance of a Dietetic Masters student placement, is being used to help introduce and explain that a food system involves people, food, community, and the environment and to ask what is and isn’t working currently and what changes community members want to see in the existing local food system.
The Yarra Ranges community have said they wanted to be more connected, have better access, knowledge and awareness of the local food projects and programs including farm gates, farmers and community gardens. In late 2021 the Yarra Ranges Food Connections website was developed to highlight local initiatives and events, display available resources, create connections and be a ‘go to’ for links and information about our local food system. The YRFC group is also working towards a shared ‘Food Plan’ for the Yarra Ranges in partnership with the Council and furthering community engagement.
An active and vibrant partnership between Yarra Ranges Council, health promotion teams at Eastern Health and Inspiro, the Department of Health and community members has helped establish and continue the YRFC efforts. Integrated Health Promotion funding has allowed Eastern Health to support the work and Inspiro to be the ‘backbone’ of the group, continue to maintain and build on the website and continue the secondment with Council.