Red Tomatoes and one green Tomatoes in a bowl. The bowl is being handed to another person wearing grey gardening gloves.

Resilient and Sustainable Food Systems Research Group

Collaborative research for a sustainable food system that is good for both human and planetary health.

The current food system contributes to climate change. The 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report signifies a code red warning that immediate change is required to mitigate climate warming that is likely to reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052. Current food production methods and consumption patterns are unsustainable in supporting human and planetary health and contribute 21 - 37% of the total net greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe). Fifty percent of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture, 60% of terrestrial biodiversity loss is related to food systems, while two thirds of freshwater withdrawals are for irrigation.

 Undoubtedly, both food production and consumption practices need to shift to achieve human health within finite planetary boundaries. Nothing short of a “Great Food Transformation” is required to meet this challenge. This will require policy levers from all levels of government, as well as involve actors across the entire food system.

We are a developing and expanding interdisciplinary research team from the University of Wollongong and beyond, who are interested in the emergence of new ways of growing, processing, distributing and consuming foods. Our research expertise includes areas such as nutrition and dietetics, food science, law, social sciences, policy, economics, engineering, business, and marketing. 

To conduct research that is meaningful and translational through real world application and impact, that reflects the wants and needs of community, that aligns with the world of agriculture and food industry, and that positively influences policy development towards a sustainable food system.

We aim to build and develop the capacity to provide solutions to complex problems entrenched in the contemporary neoliberal food system. We strive for all people at all times to access healthy and nutritious foods that have been produced in an ethical and sustainable manner. 

Leadership team

The flagship project in this research group is managed by Professor Karen Charlton from the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health who has received an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (2023 – 2027) for the Paddock-to-Plate Illawarra Shoalhaven project.

Core research team

PhD students

  • Suzy Pickles
  • Alemayehu Digssie Gebremariam

Honours and Masters students

  • Bethany Johns
  • Ashleigh Walters
  • Tom Humphries

External partners

  • Clay N, Charlton KE, Stefoska-Needham A, Heffernan E,, Hassan HIC Jiang X, Stanford J, Lambert K.  What is the climate footprint of therapeutic diets for people with chronic kidney disease? Results from an Australian analysis. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 2023;1–10. Early view 10/07/2023.
  • Carrad A, Smits R, Charlton K, Rose N, Reeve B. The role of Australian civil society organisations in food system governance: Opportunities for collaboration in dietetics practice. J Human Nutr Diet 2023
  • Mead C, Tindall R, Charlton K. Evaluation of nutrition education resource or refugees and newly arrived migrant to Australia. Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2023
  • Carrad A, Aguirre-Bielschowsky I, Rose N, Charlton K, Reeve B. Food system policy making and innovation at the local level: Exploring the response of Australian local governments to critical food systems issues Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2023

Paddock to Plate Illawarra Shoalhaven (P2P):
Creating a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system

How can a regional food system be transformed to include more locally sourced, sustainably-produced and healthy food, for the benefit of its agri-business sector as well as mobilise and support residents to embrace dietary practices that have a significantly reduced environmental footprint? 

The Illawarra Shoalhaven region is a major food producer

The Illawarra Shoalhaven region of NSW has an agriculture production that contributes over $104.2 million to the regional economy. The dairy industry contributes 11% of NSW’s milk production and is worth over $66 million. Other enterprises include organic produce, beef, cut flowers, and fruit. The region supports 50 hectares of aquaculture leases and has 11 active oyster farms. The region is well positioned to capitalise on growing community interest in food provenance and agri-tourism. The Illawarra Shoalhaven region has a population of 393,204 and is made up of four local government areas, the largest being Wollongong (n = 203,630).

Production of fruit and vegetables in the region is low and much of the fresh produce is provided through large distribution centres to major supermarkets. Urban agriculture is limited to a few small growers. One in five households are experiencing food insecurity and only 3.5% of residents consume the recommended 5 serves of vegetables per day. Food insecurity is related to socioeconomic disadvantage - 43.2% of residents of the Illawarra Shoalhaven region live in areas of high relative socio-economic disadvantage, while 39.8 % live in areas of medium disadvantage.

This flagship project aims to develop a whole-of-food system approach to inform the development of a regional food strategy in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven of NSW in order to result in a more healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system. A multi-disciplinary approach will bring together key stakeholders to collectively increase availability and access to locally sourced food, increase consumer awareness of the role of sustainability in food choices, accompanied with a retail “Love Local” campaign. The knowledge created by this project will inform recommendations for policy and legislative reforms that will empower local governments and communities to respond to food system challenges.

The Paddock to Plate project consists of three inter-related streams.

The co-designing local food system solutions stream

The co-designing local food system solutions stream focuses on co-designing solutions for local food systems using a design thinking approach. Researchers aim to engage various stakeholders, including community members, farmers, policymakers, and organizations, to collaboratively identify and address challenges related to local food systems. Design thinking principles will be applied, which involve empathizing with the needs and perspectives of stakeholders, defining the problem, generating creative solutions, prototyping, and testing.

Actions within this stream of research may include:

  • Engaging with diverse stakeholders to understand their needs, concerns, and aspirations regarding the local food system, and generating ideas and potential solutions.
  • Developing pilot projects based on the co-designed solutions and testing their feasibility and effectiveness.
  • Facilitating dialogue and building coalitions of support among stakeholders to foster collaboration and implementation of the proposed solutions.
  • Conducting evaluations to refine and improve the co-designed solutions over time

The consumer behaviour and marketing stream

The consumer behaviour and marketing stream focuses on understanding consumer behaviour and marketing strategies related to dietary behaviours, food insecurity, and perceptions of the food environment to inform strategies that create a more equitable and sustainable food system.

Actions within this stream of research may include:

  • Gathering data on consumers' dietary habits, food insecurity, and perceptions of the food environment to identify patterns and trends in consumer behaviour and attitudes towards food.
  • Developing targeted marketing campaigns or interventions to promote healthier dietary behaviours and encourage increased demand for locally sourced food.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the impact of implemented interventions on consumer behaviour and food environment perceptions.

The resilient food supply chain stream

The resilient food supply chain stream focuses on identifying more efficient and viable ways to distribute food grown and produced using sustainable practices, with the goal of creating a resilient food supply chain.

Actions within this stream of research may include:

  • Analysing the current food supply chain to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement.
  • Assessing the environmental impact of different distribution practices and identifying sustainable alternatives.
  • Collaborating with farmers, distributors, and retailers to develop and test innovative distribution models, such as local food hubs or direct-to-consumer platforms.
  • Evaluating the economic viability and scalability of the proposed distribution models.
  • Conducting case studies or pilot projects to examine the feasibility and effectiveness of sustainable distribution practices.
  • Collaborating with policymakers and industry stakeholders to advocate for supportive policies and regulations that promote sustainable and efficient food distribution.

Diagram illustrating the Paddock to Plate project's sustainable and fair food system. The diagram depicts the three main streams and the various stakeholders involved in each of them, highlighting a holistic and healthy approach.

This diagram provides an in-depth look at the Paddock to Plate project's healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system. The three primary streams of the system and the various stakeholders involved in each are highlighted, emphasizing a holistic and healthy approach.

At the outer core of the diagram, we can see policy and regulation enacted by Indigenous and traditional land owners, local government, and the University of Wollongong. These policies and regulations create an enabling environment that includes initiatives such as local farmers' markets, the Love Local campaign, improved food literacy, and a food atlas.

The enabling environment leads to "greener" practices in food production, processing, distribution, and purchasing, working towards the core outcome of consumption and waste contributing to the improved environmental footprint of diets. Overall, the diagram showcases the Paddock to Plate project's comprehensive approach to creating a sustainable and equitable food system, involving various stakeholders in a collaborative effort towards a healthier future.

In the media

This project is working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 2: Zero Hunger   Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing  Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth   Goal 10: Reduced inequalities  Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.   Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production   Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals