Building Resilient Food Systems: Future Healthy Food Hubs

In 2022 we began a project in partnership with VicHealth and STREAT to provide business support to seven regional food hubs across Victoria.

Running until 2024, the program aims to ensure the long-term financial viability and sustainability of the food hubs, thereby supporting their local communities and addressing local challenges within the food systems sector.

Here’s an overview of the program’s progress so far.

In 2022, VicHealth announced the Future Healthy Food Hubs initiative, a $4 million investment in seven regional Food Hubs across the state, aiming to improve community access to locally produced healthy foods and create employment pathways for young people.

Recognising the need for business support alongside government grant funding, VicHealth invited TDi in as a Business Support Partner for the three-year program. Our role – to empower food hub leaders to test new initiatives tailored to impact their unique communities while promoting the ongoing sustainability and financial viability of their businesses.

A collaborative approach to strategy development helps NFPs gain confidence in their business models.

Ubuntu Food Hub, United African Farm, Cardinia

At TDi, we’ve spent 12 years refining our approach to this kind of work. We’ve also spent several years refining our coaching method, blending Inner Development and Enterprise Development into a cohesive approach [read more about that here]. We’re thrilled to collaborate with VicHealth, not only to assist the Food Hubs in developing effective business models and exploring diverse funding streams but also to address personal and mindset challenges through our unique approach to coaching.

Part-way through the program, let’s reflect on the journey so far, highlighting the project’s successes and analysing how this partnership tackles unique challenges.

With this funding we’re supporting people to be able to have healthy food that is close to them, that is of their culture, and that is locally grown.

– Dheepa Jayapalan, Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems Manager, Future Healthy Group, VicHealth

Common Ground Project, Surf Coast Food Hub

Project Background

The Food Hubs were carefully selected by VicHealth through an application process, with funding allocated for each hub to participate over three years. The program aims to achieve the following goals:

 

    • Increase community access to locally produced, healthy foods.
    • Address the lack of access to culturally appropriate food in regional and urban fringe communities.
    • Empower the Food Hubs to develop effective business models.
    • Explore diverse funding streams to ensure ongoing sustainability.
    • Enhance engagement with young people and provide pathways to employment.
    • Foster community cohesion through shared enjoyment of nutritious, locally-produced foods.
VicHealth engaged TDi to deliver comprehensive business training to the Food Hubs. This includes group sessions through a Business Accelerator program, and personalised coaching sessions, ensuring a tailored approach to address the unique challenges and goals of each hub throughout the program (ongoing between now and project completion at the end of 2024).

Business Accelerator Overview & Highlights

With support from TDi, Bec Scott (STREAT co-founder), and other insightful guest facilitators, the Future Healthy Food Hubs have begun building out sustainable business models through three Business Accelerator Blocks held in September 2022, and February and May 2023. We explored how the Food Hubs can leverage their collective power to maintain sector viability, establish and grow partnerships with local food producers, and shift perceptions of value across the regional food system.

Block One: Building Connections

Block One commenced with online introductions, bringing the seven Food Hubs together virtually from across the state. Over four days, we conducted a range of sessions, from getting to know the leaders of each food hub to introducing the Business Model Canvas and beginning the work of mapping out the business models for each hub. We also heard from Bec Scott, who shared insights into STREAT’s business model and its adaptability over time.

Conducting Block One online effectively connected the seven Food Hubs in real time, allowing introductions and an opportunity to learn about each other and their respective goals.

Read more about the effectiveness of our virtual and remote coaching.

Block Two: Building a community of practice and collaboration 

While kicking-off the accelerator online was beneficial, gathering in person at the VicHealth offices in West Melbourne in February 2023 was truly rewarding. During this session, we delved further into the Business Model Canvas, fleshing out ideas about how the Food Hubs can develop stronger businesses that benefit their local communities. Bec used STREAT’s experience as a lens to guide the Food Hubs through an interactive session on funding models, which proved incredibly insightful for all.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the accelerator program has been witnessing the growth of a vibrant community of practice and collaboration among the Food Hubs. By gathering together, sharing food, experiences, and mutual support, the hubs have fostered camaraderie, strengthening their collective impact. Collaborating, they are overcoming challenges together, and unlocking new growth opportunities.

Being together has been so nice… collaborating, thinking outside the square, and recognising that we all come up against similar challenges! It’s easy to feel like you’re all alone, but we’re all in this together.

– Jules, Urquhart St. Community Food Hub, Centre for Participation, Horsham

Block Three: On-site experience and industry expertise

In May this year, the seven Food Hubs gathered in Central Bendigo, for two days of celebration and togetherness, learning from food systems industry experts, and participating in sessions designed to strengthen their collective impact. Participants had the opportunity to visit one of the Bendigo Food Hubs’ farms, gaining valuable insights into the daily operations and direct impact of their work on local food production. This experience served as a powerful reminder of their mission’s importance, fuelling their determination to create positive change in regional food systems.

A crucial element of this final session was developing a robust mindset—a critical component of our work at TDi, as experience has shown us how vital the right mindset is to business success.

Throughout the program, guest speakers with extensive experience in the Australian Food Systems industry shared their stories and learnings with the Food Hubs. Sessions with Serenity at Open Food Network, Rob from Food Connect, and Georgia from Community Grocer provided invaluable guidance, helping the participants navigate industry complexities and refine their strategies for success.

The seven Food Hubs along with TDi, STREAT, guest speakers, and representatives from VicHealth gather at Bendigo Community Food Hub’s ‘Golden Gums’ farm.

Facing Challenges and Sharing Solutions

Block Three marked a pivotal moment when the hubs connected over shared challenges and began networking with each other, sharing ideas and knowledge. One challenge has been recognising the need for systems-change across sectors, empowering local people to solve local problems. This ongoing conversation presents no easy answers, but we are committed to supporting each food hub through inner development coaching and technical skill-building as they tackle the challenges embedded in the broken parts of the entire food system.

Other challenges navigate through ongoing coaching include:

Balancing Fair Pricing and Affordability: The Food Hubs face the challenge of finding a balance between fair prices for producers and making fresh food affordable for consumers while competing with larger chain stores. Our coaching will build on the progress made in group sessions, assisting the hubs in developing innovative ideas for sustainability.

Niche Identification: Each Food Hub aims to establish a unique niche within their communities. We’ve begun helping them identify and understand their communities’ specific needs and preferences to tailor their offerings accordingly. Finding their niche enables the Food Hubs to differentiate themselves and foster stronger connections with their communities.

Rising Costs of Transport and Logistics: The growing costs associated with transportation and logistics pose significant challenges for the Food Hubs. To address this, they are exploring innovative solutions, such as efficient delivery networks, technology optimisation for distribution routes, and collaborations to reduce costs through collective purchasing. By tackling these challenges, the Food Hubs are working towards creating a sustainable and resilient regional food system. We’re really excited about facilitating this networking between the hubs across Victoria’s vast area.

Whittlesea Food Collective

Nourish Sunraysia, Mildura

Meet the 7 Future Healthy Food Hubs

What’s next?

As the Food Hubs embark on the next phase of their growth and development, here are some of the key next steps:

One-on-one Coaching: The personalised coaching sessions provided during the accelerator program have proven to be invaluable for the Food Hubs. They will continue to engage in these sessions offering guidance, addressing specific challenges, and refining strategies for long-term success.

Traineeship Development: The Food Hubs have committed to employing four trainees over two years, with two trainees per year. The first cohort of trainees will soon complete their training through the VicHealth program, equipped with the skills to contribute to regional food systems. Their valuable contributions will continue shaping the success and sustainability of the Food Hubs, as they welcome a new group of trainees in early 2024, empowering more individuals to participate in building resilient and healthy food systems within their communities.

Continued Community of Practice: The sense of community and collaboration cultivated during the accelerator program will be nurtured through quarterly review sessions facilitated by TDi. These sessions will provide a space for the Food Hubs to share progress, exchange ideas, and learn from each other’s experiences, supporting and inspiring one another on their shared journey.

Exploring Face-to-Face Connection Opportunities: Recognising the value of face-to-face interactions, the Food Hubs are actively exploring opportunities for in-person connections. Due to the program’s success, two additional accelerator blocks have been scheduled, with additional funding allocated to each Food Hub. The hubs are also planning gatherings, workshops, and events to foster deeper connections, collaboration, and the exchange of knowledge and best practices.

This program offers access to experienced food entrepreneurs, pragmatic business tools and a community of practice.

Building a sustainable food hub is tough, but when you’ve got the support of peers, others who have ‘been there, done that’, and simple business thinking and tools, it’s the best environment to experiment your way to sustainability.

– Anna Moegerlein, Deputy CEO, TDi

With ongoing coaching, regular review sessions, and face-to-face connections, the VicHealth Future Healthy Food Hubs have a unique opportunity to impact regional food systems. We eagerly look forward to supporting the Food Hubs’ collective efforts as they build sustainable business models, support local food producers, and celebrate diverse food cultures within their communities.

This partnership with VicHealth demonstrates the power of government, business, and community working together to create sustainable solutions for social issues that benefit everyone.

Our commitment to place-based initiatives and the broader mission of TDi motivates us to help creating a legacy of resilience, health, and community engagement in Regional Victoria’s food landscape.

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