The UN has stated that 68% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. A frightening figure when we consider the devastating impact cities currently have on the environment. In terms of agriculture, sustainable development will not be enough to protect the ecosystems that provide the resources for our sustenance.
In an urbanising world, our future rests heavily on regenerative development—human development that actively heals and regenerates the earth. On a scale the slides from degenerative to regenerative, sustainable sits directly in the middle. While the push for a more sustainable planet is important for hauling us away from degeneration, we don’t have the luxury of settling for neutral impact.
We must regenerate—create conditions conducive for all life to thrive.
This reality is a driving force behind the Melbourne Food Hub, a developing urban farm in the heart of MIC Alphington.
Miranda Sharp, founder and director of Melbourne Farmers Market and collaborator in the Melbourne Food Hub, is a vocal supporter of the growth and sale of fresh local food, as well as waste diversion.
“People are saying we want to know where our food comes from, we want to reduce our impact, but there are few ways to do it,” she says. “So we feel we’ve got to provide those opportunities.”
And the opportunities Miranda and her team provide for the community are ever-expanding.
Firstly, there are the seven farmers markets which run across Melbourne, resulting in 200 market days each year. “There are very few places where you actually meet your food producer…food is an extraordinary conduit between people, so having that direct transaction can be powerful.”
Then there’s the Food Hub and its connected coworking space. The hub’s mission is to create a self-sustaining and replicable model where the community can meet, learn, grow, make, eat, and source fresh local produce. On-board businesses include Reground, a startup that recycles used coffee grounds from city cafes to avoid it generating greenhouse gases in landfill, and Citrus Growers, selling produce at the weekly markets and to MIC client business and unique brand of Alphington, La Sirene brewery.
According to the EPA’s 2005 report Victoria’s Ecological Footprint, food production and consumption accounts for 37% of our state’s ecological footprint. Given the age of the report, and population growth since, it could be assumed to be higher today. The report states, “The resources required to grow and deliver food to Victorians contributes the greatest percentage to the average Victorian footprint,” proving the importance of reducing the strain on our rural food resources.
Essentially, eco-cities must be farming cities. The growth of food—by and for the community—is a big step in the right direction. Initiatives similar to the Food Hub create green space, recycle waste, reduce food miles, increase the resilience of urban food supplies, and assist in the reduction of the urban impacts of climate change.
In addition to the Melbourne Farmers Markets and Food Hub, Miranda is passionate about the upcoming Community Exchange, a community composing project. “Waste diversion is big for us,” she says. “We see a lot of food waste in the industry.”
This closed composing system will start with coffee grounds from Reground and leftover mushroom compost from MIC client business Life Cykle. At the end of market day each Sunday, producers can add their green waste, and the local community can contribute their own scraps, and then take away the concentrated compost for their own use.
Waste management such as this is a critical concept in regenerative cities.
Miranda and her team take regenerative development seriously—and literally. Melbourne Innovation Centre Alphington is situated on an old quarry once excavated for bluestone, subsequently utilised as a tip, and then turned into a council depot. MIC client business Metro Trees established its nursery on that land, restoring it with life and greenery, and since their graduation, Melbourne Food Hub has been working to “solve the history of the site,” Miranda says. “It’s very much about turning the story of the site and reimagining it.”
Where the earth was once plumbed for its natural resource, now a flourishing fresh food system is forming in raised garden beds. In an inner Melbourne suburb where food miles can skyrocket to feed residents, the community can instead buy from the local market stalls and Food Hub growers, and participate in the educational workshops designed to teach aspiring farmers and gardeners about growing produce in an urban environment.
Learning to grow their own food—agricultural footprints don’t come any smaller.
Melbourne Innovation Centre is home to other environmentally-focused businesses, including Farmwall, rooflite, and Life Cykle. Miranda is delighted that MIC offers the combination of innovation and collaboration, but also the practicalities of a working environment. “The support and incredible environment of MIC are based on business principles, but it also fosters really encouraging, innovative thought.”
MIC strives to provide business support and space to best stimulate the progress of its client businesses. Working with visionaries like Miranda and her team to bring positive change is at the core of the incubator’s mission.
“We know our shopping decisions, our dollars, go a long way with each and every spend,” Miranda says. “Positive change starts with all of us.”