Clarence produce fit to feed a prison
NEXT year, the newly minted largest jail in Australia will provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to what amounts to the fourth largest community in the Clarence - every day.
While the construction of the Clarence Correctional Centre has had its detractors, there has been no doubting the economic affect it could have on the community, with the agriculture sector well placed to take advantage of Serco's need to feed its 1700 inmates.
The Clarence Valley has a strong - and often overlooked - agriculture industry which made up of 990 primary producers employing nearly 4000 people and contributing $493million annually to the economy.
If producers in the Clarence can become a key part of the jail's supply chain there will be an opportunity to build on those numbers.
Determined to help local producers play a significant role is Clarence Valley Food Inc president Debrah Novak.
Ms Novak said there was a chance to leverage something the Clarence Valley excelled at - agriculture - and grow an industry which enabled produce to stay in the Valley.
Ms Novak emphasised the advantage producers had in negotiating directly with local businesses such as the jail as it "allows the farmer to be a price maker not price taker."
Vice-president of CVFI and fourth-generation beef producer Geoff Jones said agribusiness was the "bread and butter" of the region and the group had been involved in ongoing conversations with Serco for 18 months.
"They have been very receptive and have given a commitment to 30per cent (locally procured produce), and we would like to see them honour that and, if possible, grow it," he said.
Mr Jones also accepted the responsibility local farmers would have on agreeing to supply the prison and was confident they could have local producers working together to ensure the facility's needs were met over time.
"It is all well and good to say we want this, but we have to meet that commitment," he said.
"It has got to be delivered."
The stability which came with big contracts was a big advantage for farmers and for the long-term sustainability of the industry. Mr Jones said it would allow producers certainty, which would in turn encourage re-investment back into their businesses.
"If there is sustainability then people will invest. When they know there is a market they can look at investing money to meet that demand - and grow."
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis also saw the jail as a big opportunity and said it would "have a positive impact on producers in the Clarence Valley".
But just how much food would be sourced locally was still up in the air. On the possibility of mandating sourcing requirements, Mr Gulaptis said that "would be a difficult contract to enforce, but I am sure there will be some sort of memorandum of understanding".
"Serco have already indicated they propose to source at least 30per cent of their food supply locally and as a government I will certainly want to hold them to that, as will the local producers," he said.
Mr Gulaptis suggested the strong dairy, beef and sugar industries would allow producers to provide "certain staples" and would be best placed to service the needs of the prison.
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The local economy would not be the only beneficiary of locally sourced produce. As Ms Novak explained, there was a serious environmental benefit too, with lower freight distances and the opportunity to create less waste both contributing to the lowering of carbon emissions.
Ms Novak said it was important for both producers and Serco to reduce their carbon footprint by prioritising local produce over produce from overseas.
"We need to ask 'what is that carbon footprint worth?' and it does have a dollar value," she said. "We are talking about (transportation) distances of 15km versus 1500km. How can you compare that?
"It is about being a good corporate citizen."
Ms Novak pointed out there were possibilities of moving closer to "zero waste pollution" by using innovative methods to provide significant amounts of produce to the prison without the need for single-use packaging.
"We could work with a dairy producer that could move an entire tanker of milk to the jail," she said.
"That is the beauty of building something sustainable. It is about looking for innovative ways that will cut that waste."