There is something exciting happening in Canberra in today, and the number seven (for seven questions) is exciting too.

No, it’s not an urban planning roundabout convention, or a school trip to Questacon (sorry, Canberians), it’s the Youth Agricultural (Youth Ag) summit, which has invited 100 young leaders from around the world, 33 countries to be precise, to discuss important issues in the food and agricultural industry.

These talented few include 22 Australians and do of those are our own YFMers – Justin Whittle and Sally Stead. Justin and Sally were nice enough to share their hopes and dreams in seven answers for the food industry, what they hoped to get out of the summit and what their ‘spirit vegetable’ was.

//1 How long have you been a member of your Youth Food Movement Chapter?

Justin: I have been a member or part of the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) YFM for less than a year.

Sally: I first went along to a YFM meeting in Melbourne late last year. Jo and Alex had come down from Sydney with the idea of getting a YFM chapter happening in Melbourne. I couldn’t agree with them more that it was high time we had a Melbourne YFM chapter. There are so many neat food related projects happing in Melbourne, so it was fitting that a YFM chapter be started to share all of these inspiring projects with the community and to encourage young people to join the conversation.

//2 Congratulations on being invited to be an Australian representative at the Summit. What topic of global food security did you choose to cover in your application essay?

Sally: My application essay was largely focused on food security in Australia. When we think of food security we often cast our minds to the developing world and the problems of hunger and malnutrition. But Australia’s food system is making us sick, eroding our communities and harming our environment, so we aren’t really secure either. I suggested that the supply chains feeding Australians need to be shortened and localised, to foster stronger urban-rural ties and to make healthier, less processed foods available to everyone. I believe that local supply chains will keep more value in our communities, allowing landholders to invest in sustainable land management practices.

Sally Stead YFM youth ag summit

Melbourne YFMer, Sally Stead and goat.

Justin: I talked about the great opportunity and prosperity available if Australia became an agriculturally innovative nation and could feed the world sustainably. Agriculture in Australia lacks innovation compared to the rest of the world and we have a low rate of youth interest in agriculture. I see that there needs to be a new culture of creativity, innovation and ideas. There is a slow movement towards this but there needs to be a stronger emphasis to encourage this by government and business. Australia is known a world leader in agriculture innovation but I don’t see it today and I’m frightened what the results will be in the future if this doesn’t change. I don’t like using the term ‘revolution’ but I believe it is time for Australia to have an agricultural revolution, creating an innovative sustainable food system for future generations. Action needs to be done now, climate change will only make farmers worse off, and I am here to fight for them and give them an them an opportunity to live on the land and create an income through innovation.

//3 What do you hope to get out of your time at the Summit?

Justin: The most important thing is to connect with global partners, to share ideas and make global change. That is what I hope for at this summit, and I hope to foster change in Australia.

Sally: I’m excited to meet other young people who are also excited about the food system! I’m keen to hear about all of the fabulous and encouraging things that are sparking all over the world to improve our food systems and to meet people from such a diverse list of countries, who I’m sure will have many different ideas about how we can tackle the many manifestations of food insecurity.

//4 Do you remember when you first realised that food is more than fuel? What was the moment of change/ experience that triggered this?  

Justin: I remember I went to a local vegetable grower, and I asked him, “Why are all the farmers spraying grass”? His reply shocked me, as he said “At the end of the day farmers get more money for grass then they do fresh food”. Until consumers realise how lucky we are to be able to grow food so close to our cities, I think more and more farmers will start growing grass. That’s why I enjoy YFM because they are trying to grow a greater appreciation of local farmers.

Sally: I’ve always been a real nature lover. I think I had the realisation looking at a map, or on a long drive through the country side, that enormous swathes of land, which would have once been home to animals and beautiful trees and scrubs, have been cleared, for the purpose of feeding us humans. It’s quite a sad thought to think of all the beautiful places that have been destroyed for the sake of food production. I suppose this made me realise just how impactful food is on our environment, and therefore how important it is that we make every effort to have as little impact as we can.

Justin Whittle YFM YouthAgSummit

Greater Western Sydney YFMer Justin Whittle at home in a rice paddy

//5 If you had to change one food behaviour to make the way that you eat more sustainable, what would it be and why? How would you do this?

Sally: I have often fantasised about going entirely whole foods. No processed foods, only fruits and vegetables, beans and grains. Food is so much better when you prepare it from scratch! But it’s just a matter of giving up all the handy, time saving products we’ve all become so reliant on.

Justin: The biggest behavioural challenge I believe is Australia’s meat/ beef eating culture. It is unsustainable and when we look at the projected forecast for global meet demand in 2030, we will seriously have an issue. I’m not advocating becoming a vegetarian but I am advocating for Australian’s to be conscious of how much meat we do consume. Meat will be a luxury not a privilege in the future if we don’t carefully look at this issue. We need to start being conscious of our food footprint, and if we can depend less on beef and more on sustainable animals like kangaroo, emu and my personal favourite edible insects then we can help mitigate future food security dilemmas.

//6 If you were a sustainable piece of fresh produce what would you be? In other words, what is your sustainable spirit vegetable/fruit/animal?

Sally: I don’t know about my ‘spirit vegetable’, but I grew scarlet runner beans last summer and they were pretty cool. They have magnificent red flowers, and create these giant seed pods, which dry up and turn golden to then snap open, revealing giant, shiny purple and black speckled beans! I think it’s the plant that inspired Jack and the beanstalk- full of surprises.

Justin: I would defiantly be an onion, because I love eating them, I think are overlooked but I can relate because I to have many layers.

//7 Next steps? Dreams?

Sally: I’ve been involved with a great organisation called the Open Food Network here in Melbourne. I’ve been so inspired by what they are doing, to support local food distribution enterprises, and I’m keen to continue my involvement with them. Other than that I’m not too sure what’s next in store. Having just graduated, things are a little up in the air and, depending on the wind, I could go any way. But the food system is such a complex and fascinating beast, and I hope to always work within and be engaged with it in some form or another.

Justin: I am Australian and I will fight for Australia’s Agricultural innovation but at the end of the day I will not stay here if we have a society and culture that doesn’t want to change. My head tells me to work alongside United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation or international development in Africa and the Pacific but my heart wants to stay here and rebuild a prosperous agriculture system. Next year I will be studying in Thailand to research their edible insect industry and my next steps are finding the right global partners to hear my ideas but also invest in them.

Kylie Boyd