The Abbott Government’s scrapping of a $1.5 million program to help farmers markets and community gardens has been welcomed by the horticulture industry’s peak body AusVeg, which branded community gardens a biosecurity threat.
Community gardens have been growing in popularity in recent years, along with farmers markets, as urban dwellers sought to reconnect with the land and their neighbours and grow their own food.
In a withering press release issued yesterday, AusVeg public affairs manager William Churchill accused community gardens of not running to the professional standards of his industry. “Nor do they adhere to the same set of stringent checks and balances required of a commercial business,” he said, adding some were run down and “could potentially give the wrong impression of horticulture”.
“The Community Food Grant was established with the best of intentions, however in practice the program has been identified as a potential risk to the national horticulture industry,” Mr Churchill said.
He called on the $1.5 million to be diverted towards the Department of Agriculture’s website for food exporters.
“Improving [it] and breaking up export barriers would provide a much more positive impact in supporting the food industry than community gardens would have ever achieved,” he said.
In response, Michael Croft, President of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance said AusVeg had “lost the vegetable plot” with “baseless scaremongering” and “shot itself in the foot”.
“By claiming the axing of community food grants was good policy, AusVeg is working against the best interests of Australian vegetable growers — particularly those that supply the domestic market,” Mr Croft said.
“Are AusVeg saying that the 53% of Australians who grow something and produce food are a threat to the industry? The biggest problem vegetable producers are facing is not from a backyard lemon tree. The biggest threat local growers face is from imports replacing their produce,” he said.
Among 364 applications to the now-axed program, introduced by the former ALP Government in 2012, were organisations involved in farmers markets, food hubs, community food kitchens and food rescue organisations.
Mr Croft said the decision was “petty” saying AusVeg and the federal government were too focussed on the export market.
“The $1.5 million is an insignificant amount, but it’s symptomatic of federal government’s focus on the export market at the expense of domestic supply. Exports benefit a small minority of producers in Australia and we need to look after our domestic producers or watch them go to the wall,” he said.
“In attacking community and fair food initiatives, AusVeg are needlessly turning their fire on thousands of individuals and an increasing number of groups whose numbers include the strongest, best informed and most articulate supporters of Australia’s horticulturalists.”