HASS Academics Nicolette Larder and Jennifer Hamilton receive UNE Seed Funding for Armidale Climate and Health Project Phase 2 and the Food Group and the Armidale Climate and Health Project have joined forces to deliver it.
This piece was written for the UNE Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Newsletter, January 2024.
The Armidale Climate and Health Project (ACHP) began in late 2019, seeded by local GP and senior lecturer in Medicine and Health, Dr Sujata Allan and Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Academic, Dr Hamilton. The first phase of the project (seriously complicated by COVID) asked how we can address climate change, the human health impacts of environmental crisis and centre Indigenous knowledge. The main answer we received from discussions with leaders in Indigenous community was related to care for Country and to secure better access to Country for Indigenous folks for healing purposes. Talking to non-Indigenous communities, remaking the food system was front and centre. In other words, addressing climate change by changing certain agricultural practices and addressing health by improving access to sustainable and healthy food. While this linked climate and health together, in line with findings of a major scholarly study of sustainable food movement in Australia (Mayes, 2018) we found that non-Indigenous people have a harder time understanding how climate and health connects with Indigenous issues. While there are necessary differences in the responses, there is common ground: rethinking land and water use as it pertains to the provision of more sustainable and healthful food, while creating pathways for the Indigenous practice of caring of Country.
Through this process, Hamilton and Allan partnered with agri-food scholar and Geography academic Nicolette Larder and a number of other local community members and organisations to develop a food group to explore how to build new community food infrastructure (CFI) to do this work. To date they’ve held focus groups, food school, community dinners, a short film festival and the upcoming home-grown garden tour. In 2024, the work of the group will continue via this UNE Grant. The ACHP team will do a needs assessment of two local organisations, tour to some other small community food initiatives around NSW and develop a clear strategic plan and funding pitch for new CFI that addresses these issues in Armidale.
But, you might ask, why is this an arts and humanites research project? Thanks to sciences like climatology and thermoregulatory physiology, we know the climate is changing, we know that there are a staggering number of human health impacts and the outlook is pretty bleak (gets bleaker by the day). But we also know is that the effects of climate change to date are unevenly distributed. That unevenness is, on one hand, “simply” geographical (e.g. we are not at immediate riskof seal level rise in Armidale because of the altitude!), but, on the other, the unevenness is also socio-economic inequality (e.g. those with more money can afford to mitigate the health effects of heatwaves via insulation, cooling systems, cheaper power, while those with less money will not have the same capacity for comfort and safety). There are also competing types of climate adaptation: some focus on greening the status quo while others see the urgent need to connect climate adaptation with a project of environmental justice. In addition, we often hear climate change is an existential threat to humanity. While this refers to the existence of our physical bodies, it is also an existential challenge in a more philosophical sense: we need to reckon anew with what it actually means to be alive on the planet.
The arts and humanities have a significant role to play in research, teaching and industry partnerships in this regard. In this new phase of the ACHP, for example, we see our expertise at work in the careful research-led design of the community food infrastructure. Thinking critically about food and infrastructure while trying to apply that critique in practice is challenging. Agriculture is a massive driver of climate change and other related environmental problems (e.g. biodiversity loss, species extinction, soil degradation). But food is not just big agricultural systems and unsustainable global supply chains and supermarkets. Food is history, cultural identity, economy, community, conviviality, pleasure, creativity and sustenance. Food provision in Australia is tangled with dispossession of Indigenous people, gendered divisions of labour, class in the sense of who can afford to buy what food and the kinds of food consumed, not to mention the intergenerational influences of migration on national cuisines. Infrastructure is often conceived in large-scale, top-down projects (e.g. bigger roads for bigger trucks for bigger supermarkets); but infrastructure can be designed locally, acting as a social and ecological apparatus for the provision of food in smaller communities. So when designing a community food infrastructure in 2024 it is important to ask not only material questions about basic sustainability of the farm and retail outlets, but creative and culturally, politically and theoretically informed questions about what we would like to change and what could stay the same about the current agri-food system. Climate adaption needs thornier critical questions at every level and such questions are the bread and butter of arts and humanities research.
To follow the ACHP Phase 2 UNE funded project, sign up to the mailing list: https://armidaleclimateandhealth.com.au/. Meanwhile, the Food Group, led by Nikki Larder, is curating the Sustainable Living Armidale Home Grown Garden tour on the 17th and 18th February. Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/home-grown-garden-tour-2024-tickets-800947725207