A brief history of the website

 

The scope of the website

The purpose of this website and associated newsletter is twofold: to promote all aspects of local food around North East Melbourne and to make people around North East Melbourne feel part of a local food community.

The material is centred on 5 databases:

  1. Upcoming local food-related events: all the upcoming events of various types, around 300 per month.
  2. Local food producers: pages on each producer, both farmers and makers.
  3. Local community gardens: pages on each of the 60 community gardens in the area
  4. Local food swaps: details of the 30 food swaps in the area.
  5. Local food justice organisations: including ‘food is free’ sites, free food distribution organisations and free community meals.

These databases are brought together into an overall Local Food Directory which contains pages for each of around 300 local food organisations.

In addition, there are articles written by a variety of local people on:

A brief history

The website initially came into being some time in 2012. The current webmaster (Guy) took over the management of the website in late 2013. This page provides a few words about how the website and its associated newsletter have evolved since then. In so doing, it discusses the main sections of the website and how and when they came to be, plus some of the philosophies underlying some of the material.

The first half of 2014

I (Guy) took over the management of the LFC website in late 2013, at which time it comprised only 15 pages and received only around 7 visitors per day. The obvious immediate task was to review the organisation of the existing material, moving things around and changing some aspects of the technical platform. In my opinion, WordPress is the obvious technical platform for just about every local website and the key to a good WordPress site is effective use of plugins, the vast majority of which are free. The main initial plugin decision was a choice of calendar (All-in-One Event Calendar) and this is still used on the current website. Hence the calendar was born.

In early 2014, Nillumbik Council completed a survey of the local food producers around Nillumbik and they and we agreed that the LFC website should be the vehicle for publishing the results of that survey. Again this required a choice of plugin (Business Directory Plugin) and again that plugin is still used on the current website. Hence the Local Food Directory was born.

We started Eltham Farmers’ Market in April 2014 and decided that its website should be part of the LFC website. That required yet another plugin for the lists of stallholders (TablePress) and again this is still in use.

By mid 2014, the website comprised a few hundred pages and received around 60 visitors a day. The material focused on local food swaps and food producers in Nillumbik and Banyule. I hadn’t yet started to generate any material myself.

The second half of 2014

I was originally attracted to Local Food Connect because its stated mission at the time was to act as an umbrella organisation, supporting other local food organisations. The Local Food Directory fitted well with this objective, as it is about promoting local food producers, so expanding the directory was where I decided to start adding content.

As soon as the Local Food Directory came into being, it became clear to me that ‘Nillumbik and Banyule’ was not a natural geographic area to define as ‘local’. As someone who lives in Eltham, it did not make sense to me to exclude Templestowe (which is 4km away) whilst including Kinglake (which is 38km away). Combining this with technical, graphical arguments for the area of interest to be rectangular(!), we came up with the concept of ‘North East Melbourne’, with the bottom left corner defined by the CBD and the top right corner defined by Kinglake.

A second issue was whether the directory should be limited to primary producers (i.e. farmers) or also include secondary producers (e.g. makers of condiments and cakes). Some people argued that secondary producers should be excluded unless their ingredients had been grown locally, which would have excluded most of them. My view was (and is) that a major aspect of the local food movement is ‘community’ and that local makers of food are definitely part of the ‘local food community’. A few people also unsuccessfully argued that wine and chocolate should be excluded on the grounds that they were overly bourgeois.

Two important procedural rules were put in place. First, I would proactively seek out organisations for inclusion and would write the initial, draft material for them based on their websites, Facebook pages, etc (as I had learned from my involvement in the original Nillumbik Council survey of local food producers, a more passive approach, simply inviting organisations to send in material, results in a much smaller and patchier directory). Second, an organisation should only be in the directory if it wanted to be and if it had approved the words in its entry (there are over 100 local food producers who I have written to inviting them to be part of the directory but who have never replied and are therefore not in).

I also established the personal rule that I would sample the food or drink of each of the organisations in the directory.

By end 2014, the Local Food Directory had successfully been expanded to cover the whole of North East Melbourne.

2015

This newsletter was originally started in mid 2012 by Robyn Currie, who then produced weekly newsletters for 2½ years until early 2015, when she decided to stop. My role had been largely limited to encouraging and supporting Robyn (plus putting copies of the newsletters onto the website). However, I had always viewed the newsletter as one of the most important things that Local Food Connect did and so, when Robyn stopped writing it and no one else came forward to take her place, I decided to volunteer for the role. Between us, Robyn and I have now written around 400 newsletters.

For me, the heart of the newsletter was (and is) the calendar of upcoming events. If, by advertising a local food event, we can increase the attendance at that event then that is a real, tangible achievement, with gains to both the attendee and to the organiser of the event. And that applies to any local food event, not just those organised by us or those which happen to interest us. So, from the start, I decided that I would treat all local food events equally and this is one of the things that I hope distinguishes what I do from that of many other newsletters and websites, which largely only promote their own events and select others.

The calendar of events follows similar rules to that of the Local Food Directory previously discussed: the geographic scope is ‘North East Melbourne’ and I proactively seek out events for inclusion. It took me some time to work out where to find out about all the events and I now visit around 400 websites each week to see if they have any new events listed.

By end 2015, the scope of the calendar was effectively what it is today and the standard template for the newsletters had been established. Also, the newsletter and the website had become much more closely linked, sharing the same calendar and with all the substantive articles in the newsletters being duplicated somewhere on the website.

2016 to date

To be written

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