Introducing the National Good Food Network

By jay

The National Good Food Network is an SBN initiative to strengthen city region food systems and increase the availability of healthy food for our children.

What’s the National Good Food Network?

The SBN is convening a national group throughout 2015/16 to strengthen city region food systems.  The group is comprised of SBN members working on issues around access to healthy food in their communities and includes Toi Te Ora Public Health Service, WellSouth Primary Health Network, Hutt City Council and a collection of Healthy Families communities, from Invercargill, Christchurch, Whanganui, Auckland and Kaitaia.

Not only is the group geographically diverse spanning the deep South to the far North, the roles of the individuals involved also vary. We are comprised of individuals from public and primary health providers, sports trusts, iwi representatives and council sustainability officers. All individuals come from different organisations and work in different communities but have a common intention and mandate to improve livelihoods through improved access to healthy food. We are finding that this diversity is pivotal to better understanding and improving challenges in our food system, mainly because each regional food system has its unique set of circumstances under which these organisations operate.

Why are we convening this?

The National Good Food Network stemmed from the SBN work last year mapping our food system. After our roadshows and interviews with different groups across the country, it became clear that there were great initiatives taking place at a local level nationwide. These comprised of people working hard to address issues in their local food system, but there was nothing nationally connecting those somewhat ad hoc local groups, and their unsung food heroes, to support them and provide training or assistance. It was also obvious that we have some stellar people working on food systems and sharing that knowledge with others would be critical to installing lasting change.

The SBN is bridging that gap through connecting individuals in those groups. We provide ongoing training, support and assistance to help them on their journey to strengthening good food in their community. The corollary of this is that one of the most broken parts of our current national food system is a lack of access to healthy, affordable food in our communities. This pressing issue is what drives our work. The intention is that each of the organisations taking part in the National Good Food Network has support and learning but goes home and applies it locally, with a flow on effect across the country at a local scale gradually improving our food systems.

At the SBN we follow the Big Shift model, which is all about catalysing change in specific areas through uniting organisations with different backgrounds and similar intentions. For us this theoretical framework dovetailes well with the Ministry of Health systems thinking approach it applies through the Healthy Families New Zealand initiative. Healthy Families NZ has a similar intention at its core and the Healthy Families NZ workforce takes part in the National Good Food Network.  

What’s the plan?

Each regional food system has its unique challenges, opportunities, climates, growing conditions and organisations but they do have similarities and can learn from one another. Some of the biggest challenges the groups are tackling are around sale of unhealthy food, how to map their community food system, how to address issues around marketing unhealthy choices to children, but also strengthening and creating a resilient local food system through novel approaches such as engaging with local businesses.

We provide peer to peer and experiential learning to create real connections and link organisations together. By understanding the work that is going on in other parts of the country and the world, the organisations involved are inspired to act locally in a similar way or to innovate and make something totally new and inspiring. It’s also a great chance to make professional connections, so there is someone else out there to ask if you have a query or a challenge. The group uses an online platform to discuss these challenges and successes as they arise in between their face to face meetings.

Toi Te Ora Public Health Service is an active member of the National Good Food Network. Senior Health Improvement Advisor, Dana Thomson says, “For us, it really strengthens our regional food security work. We are now able to continuously learn from leaders in the space right around New Zealand”.

At the June hui, the group took part in the Wellington Real Food Challenge, the Wellington regional food hui convened by Wellington City Council, Hutt City Council and Kapiti Coast District Council. Part of the experience of attending the hui for the participants was to be inspired to convene a gathering such as this themselves.

Bringing different people together locally in your food system is great way to connect, learn from each other and join forces to make positive change. In October this year, the Western Bay of Plenty will also host a regional food hui, with a similar intention.

“Our local food hui will hopefully support the start of our local food network and Food Policy Council,” Ms Thomson said. “Attending the Wellington regional food hui in June as part of the National Good Food Network was invaluable learning for us.”

The group’s next meet-up will be in November connecting the community based organisations in with leading food businesses, bridging public-private partnerships to strengthen the food system.

Emily Dowding-Smith is the Transformation Leader, Restorative Food at SBN. You can find out more about her work here and if you’d like to know more about the National Good Food Network, please contact her directly at emily@sustainable.org.nz.