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Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities

The food system is a complex interconnected web of actors, relationships and dynamics that together bring food to our tables every day. A thriving food system should support optimal planetary health and human wellbeing, create and distribute widely and fairly multiple economic benefits, and foster respect and connectedness across cultures, countries and generations.

Yet our food system is now failing us in many critically important ways.

It is only through sharing knowledge and wisdom from actors across the system – from field to fork – that we can truly grasp the scale and scope of the challenges before us, and develop pathways to tackle them effectively.

ECU researchers with key stakeholder including:

  • Perth Natural Resources Management
  • Heart Foundation
  • Commonland
  • Sustain: The Australian Food Network
  • University of the Fraser Valley
  • Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia

are working together to lay the foundations for transformational co-learning to drive key changes in policy, planning, resourcing and investment.

Researchers and stakeholders involved

Edith Cowan University

Professor Amanda Devine
Professor Pierre Horwitz
Dr Stephanie Godrich
Ros Sambell

Perth Natural Resource Management

Justin Wolfgang
Keith Pekin


Dieter Vandenbroeck

Centre for Social Impact, University of Western Australia

Katie Stubley


Robina Crook

Heart Foundation

Trevor Shilton

Sustain: The Australian Food Network

Dr Nick Rose

University of Fraser Valley

Professor Lenore Newman


Current agricultural practices

Agricultural policy needs a new lens of its direct links to health and wellbeing. At a time when Planetary Health is at the forefront of academics and futurists there is lag in knowledge translation for the key actors to action for the sake of Human and Planetary Health.  There is a sense of urgency to this message and a strategic communication strategy needs to be developed to disrupt current agricultural practices.

A first step to achieve a whole-of-system change of WA’s food system was to engage with a range of sectors to raise awareness about the regenerative farming community. For further information read John's Story.

The forum showcased farmer stories within the WA farming community. Download Regenerative farming biographies for further information.

Listen to Charles Massy discuss how regenerative farming can increase yield of grain whilst improving soil health, biodiversity, land care and water use. It seems resting the land is key.

Di Haggerty describes her learnings from regenerative farming and talks about her motivations for change.

The forum connected the regenerative farming community with consumers and stakeholders through a variety of mechanisms.

A food map was used to explore the Access, Production, Processing and Consumption challenges across a range of sectors.

Mike Christensen talks through how to use the food map.

The challenges from the four domains included:

  • Access challenges included a lack of knowledge about regenerative farming techniques; capital; land; local markets; government support.
  • Production challenges included loss of land; drought; climate change; ecological illiteracy.
  • Processing challenges included limited innovation; cost of processing systems; complex regulation.
  • Consumption challenges included lack of knowledge about healthy eating, food production, provenance, seasonality.

Strategies for change

The food map was then used to identify ‘what was working well’ in different sectors to address these issues.

These included whole food cooperatives, farmers markets, promotion at the farm gate and with community groups, knowledge sharing and whole food brand promotion. If there was a gap, workshop participants were asked to generate innovative solutions.

Playdough, toy money and animals, and pipe cleaners were used to design the current food system. This produced a range of creative models of how participants perceived the current system.

Food systems were reimagined. This lead to innovative solutions to bring community to food growing regions, reducing transport costs and food waste.

Other strategies that were discussed by the working group to bring intersectoral change include:

  • Build an online platform to showcase strategic action, advocacy opportunities and provide a collaborative network to support the regenerative farming industry.
  • Work with the government and the university sector to harness inter-sectoral action to support a sustainable food supply
  • Develop a structure for inter sectoral governance and implementation
  • Co-create public health and well-being plans to design and implement integrative approaches that prioritise healthy food environments across local regional and urban areas
  • Co-create liveable healthy built food environments with town planners and designers in urban and regional cities
  • Work with local and state government to inform regulation for local and state implementation and land use allocation
  • Promote the Heart Foundation’s Healthy and Active by Design
  • Develop educational curricula for the early years, primary, secondary and tertiary sectors
  • Communicate actions to media channels and networks in order to increase the community voice and movement
  • Investigate opportunities to maintain momentum of actions.
  • Develop a monitoring and evaluation process to measure impact, value and the health economics of transitioning the food system
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