What influences the Melbourne community’s ability to garden in a sustainable manner for self-sufficiency?

By Daniel Moss


Community food security has emerged as a key response to broader environmental and socio-political issues. This research paper explores an important aspect – the ability of community members in the metropolitan
Melbourne area to grow their own food and beneficial herbs, plants of self-sufficiency or productive value, while practicing sustainable gardening methods.

The research attempts to contribute to a spatial understanding for Melbourne, and looked for current trends in self sufficiency and sustainable gardening, and significant variables and interconnected themes underlying them.

This is a multimethod project both in research methods, data collection and analysis. It is a triangulation study, which searched trends and influences affecting uptake or continuation of sustainable, self sufficiency gardening, and developed a compendium style documentation for the self sufficient garden landscape. A diversity of educational opportunities and living communal gardens were found.

There are strong narratives contained in the qualitative data of this research, offering wise consideration from some participants at the forefront of self sufficient gardening solutions. Self sufficient community gardens occur across Melbourne. Mapping these community gardens would map across civil society. They span demographics, but not demand.

The research found a large majority of respondents believed there were increasing community trends toward self sufficient gardening and sustainable gardening. The research findings discovered substantial evidence of diverse educational opportunities. It found confirmation on communal and individual benefits of self-sufficient gardening, and some setbacks to healthy growth in Melbourne’s gardens.

This research investigation could be placed under the umbrellas of sustainable urban agriculture (Christensen, 2007), and community food security (CFS) (Pelletier et al., 1998, Kantor 2001, Levkoe, 2008). Complimenting CFS theory is the active creation of community gardens and other sustainable local food systems and networks (Hopkins, 2000, Norberg-Hodge, Merrifield & Gorelick, 2001, Shuman, 2000).

Community food security is also concerned with climate change. Many respected scientific establishments have increasingly upped their projections on climate change impacts (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2007, CSIRO, 2008).

Also due to concern over climate change (CSIRO, 2008), as well as water availability and extended drought in south-eastern Australia (CSIRO, 2008, Chartres & Williams, 2006), gardeners and the horticultural industry alike have had a stronger focus on sustainable and waterwise practices (Sustainable Gardening Australia, 2008).

Carbon emissions from global food production and transportation are seeing renewed emphasis on gardening for self sufficiency (Blazey, 2008, Holmgren, 2006). According to research into Melbourne food miles, the first of its kind in Australia, Gaballa and Abraham (2008, p.3) concluded that Australia needed to “respond accurately to the role our current food system plays within the issues of climate change and peak oil.”

Impacts of climate change on hydrological regimes, soil conditions and increased weather extremities (IPCC, 2007) are expected to increase, affecting both local community food security and global agricultural capacity (Rivington et al., 2005, Julia & Duchin, 2006, Stone & Meinke, 2006).

Melbourne needs to adapt as best it can locally to buffer the community from these serious threats. The community has an interest in further understanding alternative local avenues, and this research focuses on sustainable self sufficient gardening.

Organisers and participants from the sustainable and self sufficient gardens and gardening networks of Melbourne contributed to this research task, and enabled a current dialogue on these trends and factors to be initiated.

In line with my environmentally holistic framework of ‘sustainable gardening’, a holistic, inclusive consideration of ‘community’ was utilised for understanding of opportunities in the community which make sustainable self-sufficiency gardening more inclusive for all. Trying to look at who is being catered for was important, but requires more research to ascertain all demographic or groups, and those excluded from the garden.

This project aimed to contextualise the landscape considered in its research scope. Garden space and educational sources were the two main indicators used to measure ‘community ability’.

Section 2 covers a brief summary of some relevant literature with a brief introduction to the garden, then some brief discussion of literature linking community food security and local sustainable food systems, a variety of garden settings and some Australian research on community gardens. Section 3 summarises the methodology and the multiple data collection and analysis methods employed during the study period.

Section 4 begins the research findings, which includes analysis and discussion of trends and influences related to self sufficiency gardening and then, sustainable gardening.

Using an interpretive qualitative approach, a narrative which attempts to be sequential is told, based on how common trends, variables, and themes were mentioned by research question respondents.

Section 5 contains discussion that overviews some of the work included in the compendium style document in the appendices, and finally the conclusion to the research project. Effectively, multiple studies and documentation was gathered in this research.

The compendium styled section of ‘Garden Access and Educational Opportunities’ are included in the appendices. Significant in this is the investigation into public access community gardens and school kitchen gardens. As well, a smaller conceptual consideration of self sufficiency is also in the appendices, with brief discussion considering self sufficiency and its relationships to permaculture, therapeutic horticulture and bushfoods.

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