Thursday, 24 November 2016

City as Farm: City Dwellers Love to Grow Food

Did you know that almost half of all Australian households grow some food? Incredible! Also more than a quarter of food consumed in Australia comes from urban and peri-urban areas - on just 3% of agricultural land. That’s amazing! Many cities are filled with pockets of food - but they could be have so much more.

Corridor of green around the old city of Ljubljana, Slovenia where so many people grow their food locally and take surplus to market.

I was delighted to offer a one of the mini keynote presentations at the start of the Australian Urban Agriculture Forum in Melbourne last weekend. Photo: Nick Rose: Sustain Australia

For some people growing food in the city seems like the right thing to do - even if it’s just flavouring meals with some freshly plucked herbs. However for many around the world, urban agriculture is essential for survival. Many in poor countries spend over half over their income on food. It’s estimated that globally, around 800 million people are involved in urban agriculture producing around 20% of the food. 

Cuban farmer explaining how, because of the food and fuel crisis, he moved his farm from a rural village to a kindergarden. Photo: Evan Raymond


AUSTRALIAN URBAN AGRICULTURE FORUM - October 21-22, 2016

I’ve just returned from 4 days in Melbourne. I am so glad I made the trip to be part of the Australian Urban Agriculture Forum organised by Sustain Australia and The University of Melbourne (Urban Horticulture Program). I haven’t written for a week because I’ve been so absolutely immersed in preparing, sharing, listening, exploring, chatting. I am now so full of stories and ideas - I’m not actually sure where to start.

I am feeling completely enlivened by the experience and connections made. It was so great to catch up with many old friends, and to meet so many other amazing urban agriculture people from around Australia and the world.

Photo: Morag Gamble 
It was a delight to spend one of the days with Costa (ABC Gardening Australia) again too. I just love tossing ideas around with all our local food enthusiasts and active practitioners. It renews my energy, commitment and excitement about the work I do.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been involved in various forms of urban agriculture - both in Australia and around the world.  Since the forum, my mind has been abuzz with possibilities and I can feel the potential bubbling. Here's my 3 minute summary at the end of the two days of proceedings.


video

CITY AS FARM

One thing I feel sure of is that the notion that cities need to feed themselves must be explored much more holistically and seriously. More than half of humanity lives in urban areas and this figure is rising. Considering that so much food is already growing in the city areas, I am surprised that such little attention is paid to urban agriculture - limited research, information and support in most places. 

Urban agriculture is like a hidden industry, and because of this, despite the incredible benefits it brings, it is under threat particularly in places like Australia. Current forms of urban development continue to gobble up good farming land around all our cities.  There are many other models for developing land that integrate urban agriculture and I’d like to explore examples of these more in future posts.

Center for Urban Agriculture, California.  A remnant farm with encroaching subdivisions that was saved and protected through a landtrust. Photo: Morag Gamble 

I think however things are about to change. Over the past few years there has been a distinct shift in public attitude toward urban food growing. People and organisations have been lobbying for change globally, and on World Food Day (15 October 2016) the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact was signed by 132 cities. This represents 460 million inhabitants and urges urban planners everywhere to make food systems central in city planning - to weave food growing into the fabric of the city. 

Rooftop garden at University of Melbourne: Burnley Campus: Photo: Morag Gamble 

Some of the forms that urban agriculture often take are:

  • Home kitchen gardens
  • Balcony gardens
  • Verge gardens
  • Rooftop gardens
  • Wall gardens
  • Permablitz
  • City farms
  • Community gardens
  • Allotments
  • Kindergarten and childcare gardens
  • School gardens
  • University gardens
  • Workplace gardens
  • Edible landscaping
  • Edible street trees
  • Community orchards
  • Food forests
  • Pocket farms
  • Horticultural therapy gardens
  • Community kitchens
  • Seed saving groups
  • Social enterprises
  • Community cafes
  • Food coops
  • Food box systems
  • Food swaps
  • Food banks and food relief
  • Food share
  • Gleaning
  • Community composting
  • Food waste reduction
  • Farmers markets
  • Community supported agriculture
  • Market gardens
  • Aquaponics and hydroponics


Community gardens are for all ages. Photo: Morag Gamble 

Farmers markets directly connect urban consumers and local producers. To have a healthy urban agriculture, we also need to consider different marketing systems. Photo: Morag Gamble  
Shared chicken flock at Hjortshoj Denmark - an eco-neighbourhood with a farm at the heart of the suburb - a radical, but amazingly common sense idea.



Over 20 years ago, we started Northey Street City Farm. Today it continues to be a thriving centre for urban agriculture, and learning about living simply and sustainably in the city. www.nscf.org.au Photo: Morag Gamble

URBAN AGRICULTURE HELPS FEED THE WORLD

Integrated urban food systems help us to address the complex web of issues (social, ecological and economic) that urban societies face in what seem like embarrassingly simple yet elegantly effective ways.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture is critically important for the health and wellbeing of our cities and its people, to:


  • provide fresh healthy local food
  • absorb waste water
  • recycle food waste back into the soil
  • reduce food miles
  • connect people to land
  • cultivate community 
  • support physical and mental wellbeing
  • create new green spaces
  • achieve greater food security, food sovereignty and food democracy
  • strengthen urban resilience
  • help alleviate poverty and hunger
  • contribute to the ecological integrity of cities and a healthy urban metabolism 
  • encourage biodiversity
  • reduce impact on climate
  • improve air quality 
  • improve the thermal and acoustic comfort of buildings
  • and much more ...

NB: There’s a great webpage detailing urban agriculture and its multitude of benefits http://www.ruaf.org/urban-agriculture-what-and-why. The founder of the RUAF, Henk de Zeeuw, was a keynote speaker at the Urban Agriculture Forum in Melbourne the other day. It was an absolute delight to meet and talk with him about an incredible diversity of program and projects around the world.

Practical permaculture workshops help people to build skills needed to grow food at home.

HOW MUCH FOOD CAN WE GROW IN THE CITY?


Dr Rachel Carey of Footprint Melbourne, based at the University of Melbourne, presented some very interesting research about Melbourne’s food bowl and footprint. Their studies show that Melbourne’s food bowl could still produce 41% of the city’s food, 82% of it’s greens and 81% of chicken meat. However Dr Carey says, if the current pattern of urban development continues, by 2050, when Melbourne’s population reaches 7 million, it would only be able to grow 18% of its food and 21% of it’s greens. Something has to change.

Image: Foodprint Melbourne

GET INVOLVED AND SUPPORT URBAN AGRICULTURE PROJECTS




  • Grow more food at home, at work, at school, in the community
  • Share more of your surplus
  • Support more local food systems
  • Support the protection of urban and peri-urban farmland





Teachers learning how to grow and harvest at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Centre: www.oaec.org Photo: Morag Gamble

MORE READING:

The Role of Cities in Climate Resilient Food Systems
Melbourne’s FoodbowlMelbourne’s Foodprint: What does it take to feed a city?Urban food security, urban resilience and climate change Localising Food Production: Urban Agriculture in Australia RUAF: Resource Centers on Urban Agriculture and Food Security - online Urban Agriculture Magazine and documentation of projects. 

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