FOOD grown in Bendigo could get its own "local food brand" by 2030 to drive up consumer awareness and protect farmers.
It is one of a raft of ideas the City of Greater Bendigo is proposing in an era of too few retailers, too much processed junk transported from too far away and too little grown by the public.
The council is urging people to share their thoughts after releasing a draft food strategy this week.
The wide-ranging draft pushes for everything from people growing more in their backyards to new kerbside organics collections outside Bendigo and Marong.
Among ideas to shore up the region's food system is a branding campaign.
Why make a big deal if it's 'Bendigo-made'?
It is not just about telling consumers more about where their food comes from - though a "local food heroes" and "buy local, eat local" campaign would be part of it.
Cafes, restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses are telling Bendigo's council it is hard to trace the origins of the food they stock with certainty, the report states.
Food origins are not the only area the council believes work is needed.
Restaurants and cafes are unsure about regulations governing produce grown in community gardens, backyards and urban agriculture operations, the draft strategy notes.
How about helping farmers?
That is something the council has been asking itself too.
One solution could be planning protection for agricultural and horticultural land.
The draft strategy proposes a new council policy protecting some Bendigo land from development by 2030.
Do we have any farmers left?
Yes, the council says.
Bendigo's agricultural sector is dominated by poultry processing, which makes up 24 per cent of the area's gastronomic sector output.
It is also creates a raft of products including eggs, potatoes, onions, olives, herbs, walnuts and honey, the report notes.
Yet there is power in greater numbers. Bendigo could band together with other councils to form a food "precinct" across the Loddon Mallee, the report states.
Meat and meat product manufacturing dominates the Loddon Mallee region, especially in the north where sheep, grains, beef and dairy cattle account for nearly half of everything the industry makes.
Have our farmers got the skills to feed us more?
We have a lot of talented people but the industry says our overall skill base is "inadequate" for a climate expected to get warmer and drier as the years roll on, the strategy notes.
Another major problem is "limited interest" in agricultural sector careers and an ageing workforce.
The upshot of those concerns is that the council believes it will need to throw its weight behind training strategies, like a business mentoring growers and producers.
How will this help me buy food?
Times are tough for some in Bendigo and the cost of fresh, healthy food can be too much.
"In 2013, the average cost of a healthy food basket for a typical family living in Greater Bendigo was $423.74 a fortnight," the draft food strategy states.
"At that time, in Greater Bendigo 14.3 per cent of households were earning less than $400 a week. For these households, a healthy food basket for a typical family cost 53 per cent of their income."
There are pockets of Bendigo where food insecurity is especially high.
Just over 18 per cent of people in Long Gully, West Bendigo and Ironbark are grappling with food insecurity. Another 16.6 per cent of people in North Bendigo and California Gully are battling to get healthy food.
So how will they tackle food insecurity?
The council has proposed taking a fresh look at planning policies that could support food security around Bendigo, plus back more local produce being rescued and redistributed before it is binned.
It would still like to see a central food hub where locals could store and distribute the region's surplus food, bringing together charitable groups in one space, the report says.
A previous push for a food hub and farmers' market took a hit in 2018, when the council was unable to reach a deal with owners to use the former Crystal Industries site on Garsed Street.
What if I'd rather grow my own food?
The council wants to help more locals grow their own food and to share cooking knowledge, it says in its draft strategy.
"During the consultation period community members suggested that there is insufficient knowledge of where food is produced, how to grow food in a changing climate and how to cook with fresh produce," it writes.
A council survey shows only 53 per cent of respondents cook on an average seven days a week. Only 23 per cent grow their own food.
"The cost of water was also cited as a significant barrier to growing food locally," the council says.
The council could help community gardens by connecting them into a network with an information hub.
It has also proposed helping more community kitchens and clubs host sustainable food events, and would like to see people use their land better.
The council says it could partner with Traditional Owners and other groups to, for example, increase people's knowledge of indigenous food plants.
To have your say on the draft click here.