PEOPLE: Connecting consumers with sustainable product to transform local food systems – Emma-Kate Rose

Intensive farming has detrimental impacts on Australia’s land and ecological communities. With farming now covering 58% of Australia and accounting for 59% of water extracted, researchers are encouraging more sustainable and regenerative forms of farming and produce development, which is proven to not only be better for the environment but also for profitability.

In this interview, Emma-Kate Rose from Food Connect, shares why she and her partner are dedicated to connecting consumers with ecological agriculture and ethical farmers.

  • How do you define an ‘ethical’ farmer? 

We define the relationship as ethical, not the farmer themselves. This means we are transparent in our business practices and they are transparent in their growing practices.

  • Why does Food Connect work exclusively with regenerative farmers? 

Apart from getting people connected to their growers, we are really big on sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. We can reduce the emissions of our food system by localising the supply chain, but we have an even bigger impact when we source our food from growers who look after their soils.

Regenerative farmers use holistic farming methods that encourage growth of microbial activity in the soil, and tend not to disturb the soil by not ploughing or tilling and growing cover crops between seasons – this creates the right conditions for soils to draw carbon from the atmosphere. Another benefit of this form of growing, is that the soil also sequesters water, reducing the need to irrigate crops.

  • Your own SROI report highlights the social value of investing in Food Connect, with the 2011 report highlighting a $1:$16.83 impact. What’s most important to you in how this social impact is delivering financial results for your community? 

The main dividend in this evaluation is the reduction of diet related disease and the consequent burden on our health system – so it’s a saving for the government / tax payers when the preventative health benefits of eating more vegetables, fruit and wholefoods are encouraged. The other saving is the reduction in rural suicide rates because farmers are meaningfully engaging with people who care about them – especially during the tough times like drought and floods. For consumers, there’s a sense of belonging which is encouraged through our network of City Cousins across SEQ – although that’s harder to quantify in dollars.  

  • Has Food Connect had to shift its business model or way of doing business during the pandemic? 

Yes, we’ve had to ramp up operations to deliver quadruple normal volumes, which meant employing more staff. We also assisted our restaurant and cafe clients to pivot their service offering to providing shopfront fruit and veg sales, and their own small scale box systems for locals.

  • What are you most excited about with Food Connect for the next 3 years?

We’re in the process of a strategic planning exercise with the Yunus Centre for Social Business at Griffith University which will help us deepen our impact and relationships with customers and farmers, and to measure the environmental impacts of a localised food system. We also get a lot of requests from communities requesting assistance and insights into how we organised our community to co-own our warehouse and set it up as a community-owned regional food hub, so Rob is working on a replication model for communities to access and implement across regional Australia.

About the expert

Emma-Kate Rose is a mother, community advocate and social entrepreneur from Brisbane, Australia.

She currently leads Food Connect, a social enterprise which connects consumers with local, sustainable produce, and has led the way in transforming the local food system using principles of ecological agriculture and engaging ethically with family farms and local communities since 2005. In 2018, Food Connect led an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise over $2 million to buy its own warehouse along with 500 careholders, providing the infrastructure to create a stable market for their farmers, and create a home for other ethical food entrepreneurs.

Emma-Kate is also one of four Fellows of the Yunus Centre for Social Business at Griffith University and Chair of Queensland Social Enterprise Council, helping secure philanthropic and government funding to scale impact across Queensland.

Image description: Emma is standing in front of a table of natural plants, nuts and flowers. She wears a colourful top decorated with large butterflies. She is smiling and looking slightly to the side. She is in a warehouse/shed, with haystacks and a fold-up chair in the background.