by Peter Croft
Many of us grow some of our own food: in front and back gardens, on porches and balconies, and on verges.
It’s a great feeling doing this. The food is fresh and we know what’s gone into it. And it’s food metres rather than food miles.
There’s a broader issue though: we are heading for a food crisis. At the moment, we have about 7 billion people on the planet but, on current trends, 9 billion by 2050. The apparent productivity gains of the green revolution of the 1970s, involving high-yield plants and intensive use of fertilisers and pesticides, have been overtaken by population growth. Poverty is now on the increase and many people in future will not have enough to eat.
This is made worse by:
- The early impacts of climate change – less rain, shorter winters, less arable land and increasing incidents of extreme weather – now being felt. Less rain means less water for growing food and is one of the major constraints to addressing the food crisis. Shorter winters mean that the growing patterns of many plant species are disrupted. Less arable land is caused by increasing desertification of land and overuse of existing land. The number of incidents of extreme weather events appears to be increasing.
- Our food system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and fertilisers derived from fossil fuel – which in turn also contributes to climate change.
- The increase in demand for meat – much lower-yielding and more energy-intensive than cereal crops – as formerly poor countries develop a large middle-class who can afford meat.
- The development of biofuels, turning land that could be used for food into cropping for transport fuel.
The response to this issue at a Government level has been to focus on the topic of food security. As the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council’s Expert Working Group on Food Security put it in Australia and Food Security in a Changing World in 2010, ”Australia is currently a net exporter of food, with considerable expertise in food production under resource constraints and in the face of climate variability” and noted the challenges for the future: “land degradation, population growth, long-term climate change, competition for arable land, scarcity of water, and nutrient and energy availability.” The report went on to say that “Food security does not just mean having enough food in a typical year. It means having reliable and sustainable access to acceptable, nutritious and affordable food at all times” and “Australians expect this security and about 40 million non-Australians internationally rely on our country to secure their food as well”.
In addition to actions aimed at a national scale, such as research and development and technical assistance to farmers, the report also recommended a range of community-based actions such as:
- “Projects to support community driven developments in food production, such as school and community gardens.”
- “Community projects to encourage local groups to develop infrastructure that drives the supply of healthy food.”
These community-focussed actions are relevant to supporters of Sustainable Communities SA.
Where to start?:
There are a range of ecological footprint calculators available to provide an estimate of the “footprint’ that each of us has of the earth’s resources. For most of us, the findings are salutary: if everyone on earth consumed resources at the rate that we do, there would need to be two to three earths to meet our needs! Of particular note is food: the resources consumed in the production, transportation, and sale of food, plus the eventual disposal of waste from the food cycle is invariably the largest component of our personal ecological footprint – typically, 25 to 35%.
It is clear that a priority for personal action is to reduce the level of resources required for our own food. The most effective way is to grow more (and waste less) of our own food – both as individuals and in collaboration with the community in which we live. And to consider eating less meat. (refer also to http://www.adelaidereview.com.au/features/article/heavy-burden-food-waste-sustainability-mediterranean-diet)
But, there are also many community-based examples of local food security initiatives. To take the City of Unley as an example:
- The Sunday Farmers market at the Showgrounds
- The Clarence Park Food Co-operative and the Good Food co-operative run at the Clarence Park Community Centre on Saturdays and some weekdays
- The Urban Orchard fruit and vegetable swap market at the Clarence Park Community Centre, monthly
- School food gardens at Black Forest Primary and an incipient one at Parkside Primary School
- Community food gardens at Fern Avenue and the Goody Patch – a shared school/community garden at Goodwood – already exist.
- Several public parks in Unley now have plantings of fruit and nut trees (e.g. Morrie Harrell reserve and Fullarton Park). The Council has set aside further amounts for fruit and nut tree plantings in this year’s budget.
- The Sustainable Communities SA group in Unley has also received a Council grant over the past two years to help the community grow more of its own food – through gardening kits and workshops.
- The City of Unley has endorsed a Food Security Strategy aiming at growing more food in public spaces, helping the community to grow more in backyards, and supporting local distribution and re-use of food. (refer: http://www.unley.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=2033)
There are other Adelaide models to inspire us, including:
- The Food Forest – a world-leading permaculture farm and education facility near Gawler
- The One Planet Market – where people sell excess fruit, pickles, jams and seedlings that they have produced at the Local Produce Stall.
- The Magic Harvest – inspired by Lolo Houbein’s book One Magic Square, Magic Harvest has supported families in disadvantaged neighborhoods in various councils to grow food in their backyards.
- Shared backyards – where those who no longer have the ability or time to use their backyard to grow food are linked to those who don’t have the space but do have the enthusiasm to do so.
Beyond Adelaide, many cities have inspiring examples. One of particular note is the CERES Community Environment Park at Brunswick in Melbourne. This provides models and advice on water sustainability, food production and distribution, and community building. It has extensive partnerships with the City of Moreland and federal and overseas agencies and trusts.
There are lots of benefits in developing a community-based approach to food security beyond simply growing the food: it will help members of the community to:
- Become more self-reliant in food – improving their food security
- Obtain more healthy food at reasonable cost
- Reduce their ecological footprint
- Build links with others interested in growing food and strengthen the sense of community.
The Unley groups of Sustainable Communities SA are happy to have a chat to anyone who wants to talk about food security.