Local food movement growing

April 10, 2012

Locally grown food is slowly gaining momentum. It has taken a while, but community gardens are being established around the nation.

Last weekend in Gloucester, locals and visitors gathered to view that town’s market garden demonstration site, “The Tucker Patch”. The project, which was the NSW State winner of the ABC’s Thrive and Revive Challenge in 2010, is focused on encouraging the local community to participate in food production.

New host of ABC television’s Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis was a guest at the open day. Mr Georgiadis was enthusiastic about community gardens such as Gloucester’s, talking about the social benefits of getting together to garden, as well as the health benefits of having freshly grown produce for the community. He also said that home gardeners with excess production could benefit from the outlet as well by bringing their produce to boost the quantity of foods for sale.

According to its promotional material, the Gloucester project has been developed by the community with a focus on food production that responds to food security challenges driven by climate change and peak oil. It also aims to convert underutilised land into valuable agricultural land, provide local jobs, offer support for existing local farmers, encourage entrepreneurial food producers while helping to stop the drain of young local workers to the cities. It also offers opportunities to tree-changers escaping from those cities, provides income-generating opportunities for rural residents of any age and allows a connection point between rural food producers and urban dwellers to access nutritious fresh food with low food miles.

Recently, Gardening Australia visited Balgowlah’s community garden. The garden consists of 30 individual plots with common garden beds, spread over less than an acre of land, in the urban area near Manly. The garden, a joint initiative between Manly Council and Cancer Council NSW, is designed to promote healthy exercise, community engagement and the consumption of fruit and vegetables. The activities of the garden are overseen by a volunteer Management Committee comprised of local residents.

The project is described as a source of sustainable food, a place to relax and reflect, a community for young and old and a school for healthy hopefuls. Those involved in the garden expressed the view that it had helped break down barriers within the community and positively affected a feeling of social belonging.

One of the first gardens to take up the challenge of growing food as a community is one in Ringwood, Victoria, 30 years ago. “The garden offers local residents the opportunity to share ideas in a friendly atmosphere and to enjoy growing organic fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs in an environment free from chemical herbicides and pesticides,” according to its newsletter.

A different kind of community garden is to be found in St Kilda, Melbourne. Called “Veg Out”, it is unlike most community gardens in that it has no rigid barriers between common land and each plot. According to the promotional material, “the paths curve and meander. Flowers, vegetables and artworks have equal standing while the rabbits, chickens, budgies and quails add yet another dimension.” According to the people involved with the St Kilda garden, “friendships have sprung up between gardeners, artists and visitors, making the gardens an oasis of calm in one of Melbourne’s busiest tourist precincts.”

The community garden movement is well established in England, with many people queuing to be involved. Bingara local, Louise Capel, who is currently living in Exeter, has reported that there is more than a year’s wait to gain a plot in that city’s community garden.