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SEI NEWS: University-led food business incubator pilot backed by council

The University of Sydney will design and lead the Sydney Food Incubator to address food insecurity, in a proposed joint initiative with the City of Sydney.

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Developed by the University of Sydney’s Sydney Environment Institute (SEI), the three-year pilot project for a food business incubator is a first-of-its-kind for the city and is a collaborative project aimed at tackling the complex causes of food insecurity involving federal, state and local governments.

Approximately 17,000 residents in the City of Sydney are food insecure (have unreliable access to sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food), according to the City of Sydney’s Community Wellbeing Survey.

The Sydney Environment Institute and the City of Sydney, along with partners at UNSW, TAFE NSW and FoodLab Detroit in the U.S., have all committed to collaborate on the pilot project, which will address the underlying causes of food insecurity; social disadvantage, economic exclusion and social inequality.

“The project has the potential to bring real and substantive change to the lives of Sydney-siders who face food insecurity on a daily basis,” said Professor David Schlosberg, Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney.

“Current approaches to food insecurity tend to focus on satisfying immediate needs, which is crucial, but many don’t get to the underlying causes of food insecurity. This project is about bringing more people into the local food system, and providing them with the opportunities to create a livelihood in that system.”

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the food incubator project was one of many new measures announced as part of the City’s new 10-year plan for social sustainability.

“With a fast growing population and large scale urban transformation underway, we know the decisions we make today and over the coming decade will affect our children and our children’s children,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We are committed to making Sydney a city for all, where progress is measured by community resilience and social justice – a city where no one goes hungry and all people have access to a reliable supply of affordable and nutritious food.”

The project is part of the City of Sydney’s A City for All – Social Sustainability Policy and Action Plan, which was endorsed by Council.

Professor David Schlosberg, Dr Alana Mann, Key Researcher at SEI and Chair of the Department of Media and Communications will collaborate with Dr Luke Craven from UNSW Canberra, to deliver the pilot.

The pilot will foster the development of food-based start-up businesses, providing education and training for people who are disadvantaged to develop sustainable social enterprises. It will focus on the development of a network of businesses that increase the wider community’s access to healthy and affordable food.

At least 90 residents are expected to participate in the pilot program. They will be engaged through the city’s networks of housing communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and refugee and asylum seeker communities.

One of the world’s first examples of a food business incubator is FoodLab Detriot, which has successfully incubated over 220 food processing and retail businesses. Founder Devita Davison will be a partner on the Sydney Food Business Incubator, which will be modelled on the U.S success.

“Detroit’s local food system is one of the most cohesive entrepreneurial ecosystems in the U.S. From the smallest businesses born in private homes to the established firms, support to transform small-batch production to mass manufacturing is readily available,” said Devita Davison.

“FoodLab sits at the nexus of this network, and we have created a strong platform for other key institutions to layer on services where they are needed.

“By connecting the dots — the resources, ideas, opportunities, and talent – the City of Sydney, the University of Sydney and other partners have the opportunity to catalyse broader changes in Australia’s food system.”

The food business incubator is one of two areas of the social sustainability action plan where research of the Sydney Environment Institute is having a local impact. The SEI has also been working with the City on research into resilience in the face of climate change, in particular resident responses to shock climate events and potential policy responses.