4.2 IS THERE AN INCREASE OR DECREASE IN SELF SUFFICIENT GARDENING? AND WHAT COULD YOU ATTRIBUTE THIS TO?
45 respondents out of 56, which is over 80 – 85% of respondents, believed there was an increasing trend of self sufficient gardening in the community. 7 were unsure/neutral, and 4 said there was a decrease. 35 of these 45 responses attributed different variables to this increase in self sufficiency gardening.
11 answers, roughly 20% of total respondents to this question, stated that there was a definite surge occurring in the community. 7 respondents (12.5 %) qualified that an increase was occurring, but only in “certain circles”, “pockets of the community”, “sustainable gardening circles”, “amongst newer, keener gardeners”, and “in the inner-city”.
However, environmental awareness in the broader community and media attention were two of the most commonly cited influences on the trend. Under 10% of respondents considered that there had been a decrease in self-sufficient gardening.
Many answers emphasised that there had been a definite increase. Bernadette Thomas of the outer-eastern suburbs based Sustainable Living Space Project firmly stated that “ in a very short period of time a much larger number of people are moving towards growing some or most of their own food.”
Respondents offered a range of anecdotal evidence to support their opinions. Chris Reed from Kevin Heinze Garden Centre cited personal feedback from the Garden Nurseryman’s Association that there had been a very large increase in people growing their own vegies and a corresponding large decrease in ornamental flower sales.
Clize Blazey told the FGA forum audience that sales at Diggers Seed’s “are up 50% for food and vegetable seed plants.” City based garden nurseries all reported increases in sales and interest for food plants, with a particular emphasis on fruit trees. A few reported an industry wide increase in food plant sales, with one nursery operator commenting that it was historic. However, this was disputed in responses given by some rural based food and herb growers who sell to the Melbourne community.
Several other respondents noted the growth of CERES Nursery and Digger’s Clubs as signs of an increase. At the Gardening Australia expo, Peter Cundall was startled by the complete sell out of seed potatoes across Bass Strait in Tasmania.
Varied respondents, from commercial nurseries to permacultural groups, reported a surge of new people getting involved in growing their own food. Environment or permaculture focused organisations reported more requests for advice on self sufficient gardening.
The Yarra Valley Permaculture Group is overwhelmed with community interest in their Community Harvest Project. The new growth and popularity of community gardens and school kitchen gardens was seen as direct evidence, as well as an influence on a broader community trend.
Lizzie Bickmore from the Moreland Community Health Grow and Share program suggested a range of community based activities and groups like the Food Gardener’s Alliance as grassroots evidence, while Ferne Edwards from the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab pointed to strong community participation in Vox Bandicoot’s Sustainability Street.
INFLUENCES ON TRENDS
Respondents attributed a variety of interconnecting variables and themes that were leading to an increase in self sufficiency gardening in the community.
The far majority of respondents referred to environment-related issues. Around a quarter of respondents each cited: environmental concerns; less water/drought; climate change; food miles; and health benefits. Community awareness and increased media attention were also seen as significant contributors to an increase. Stephen Wells from Royal Talbot offered the overview that “we are in times of change, where we need to rethink what we are doing”
One of the most common suggestions from respondents was that growing environmental awareness in the community has led more people to make the connection to growing their own food. Drought is having a severe impact on self sufficiency gardening from many accounts. Climate projections of increased drought (CSIRO, 2008) warn us to be prepared for worse to come.
Marc Camilleri, co-ordinator of Kensington Community Garden, commented that “most definitely there has been an increase in self-sufficient gardening. This is mainly due to everybody having a greater knowledge of the drought and learning how to grow their own vegetables.”
According to varied views of the research contributors, climate change is encouraging people into self sufficient gardening, while its impact on hydrological regimes is significantly deterring and impeding others. If the level of mention from respondents is taken into account, it appears that a number of people in the community are moving toward sustainable gardening practices before giving up altogether.
Suggesting that “supermarkets are the greatest CO2 contributor”, Digger’s Club’s Clize Blazey gave a strong argument for growing your own, stating “vegie gardeners are saving most of this waste. It is the first most significant step to a sustainable future. We could cut 20% of our CO2 off by home gardening, which is significant to the 2020 climate plan that is attempting a 20% drop. At current levels (4%), five times more people are needed to grow their own food in Melbourne.”
Food plants require a lot of water, and water restriction were found to be a significant problem for food growing in community gardens, as well as in some schools over break periods. The need and opportunity for water conservation in the vegetable patch was highlighted by SGA’s Helen Tuton. She suggested there was need for “community education first, and then government rebates”.
Pointing out that there “is a lot of misinformation” on the subject, David Holmgren gave a strong overview of growing food at home in relation to the current water restrictions. Providing statistical evidence from the CSIRO, as well as from his permaculture demonstration home gardens at Melliodora, the dramatic difference between water used in his home garden and commercial agriculture strengthened his assertion; “that you can save water by using it.”
Holmgren made the call to “resist water restrictions at home, because from many points of view, food production at home is a right.”
Community gardens also must adhere to water restrictions, and this has had an impact on productiveness. While some gardens have got exemptions, such as Sprouts Community Garden in Thornbury, others battle along on the allowed 6am-8am timeframe on two set days a week.
Ros, from Northcote Community Gardens explained that “access to water is an issue, it is a very strict regime. Lots of people come here to grow vegies and people lost interest. It was a bit depressing as lots of work didn’t get done. We lost a lot of people, however we always have got people on the waiting list.”
Watsonia Neighbourhood House Community Garden has also dramatically cut back on the amount of edibles they are growing due to drought and water restrictions. These findings were backed in secondary literature. Cultivating Community’s Ben Neill explained that they “lost 20 to 25 per cent of our gardeners” when Stage 3 restrictions were introduced at the start of 2007 (The Age, 12/5/07).
At the Food Gardener’s Alliance (FGA) public forum on October 1st, 2008, attended by a few hundred people, Jonathan Pipke explained to the audience that FGA was “a group of volunteers, horticulturalists, garden industry and gardeners hoping to bring to light the need for better water restrictions to allow people to grow food at home.” Many respondents that contributed to this research also came from FGA member organisations.
The Sunday Age (5/10/08) make the claim that “while a decision is yet to be made, the “personal” limits are firming as an alternative to imposing conventional stage 4 restrictions. Government sources say (Water Minister) Mr Holding believes a move to stage 4, which bans all outside watering and is likely to see the withering of many Melbourne gardens, will make little difference to dwindling water supplies.”
Food miles, incorporating the embodied CO2 emissions created in food production and transportation, was another prevalent answer from respondents, and was mentioned twice as much as the community food security concept.
Health benefits were also a larger response for increasing community produce growing, with links made to food quality, freshness, nutrition, and physical and mental health improvements. Most respondents that cited health benefits also tied it in with the embrace of organics and the rejection of chemicals in the garden.
Sustainable Living Space’s Bernadette Thomas attributed some of the increase to “concerns about health and the need to reduce pesticide use in food production.” School gardens were driving this concern also, with all school kitchen gardens visited strongly vouching for organics in the garden and kitchen. This is due to concern over the strong impacts pesticides have on children.
Clize Blazey warned the FGA forum audience that “children have a fifth less body weight of an adult. Huge amounts of pesticides are being consumed by children.” Rose Cellisten, co-ordinator of Olympic Park Primary Community Garden, stated that “we are teaching the kids natural pesticides, not chemical fertilisers. Chemical don’t just kill pests, they kill people, There are a lot of children with cancer.”
Following and promoting the growth of self sufficient gardening may offer some hope in the face of climate change. Jane Edmunson (Gardening Australia) used the old environmentalist adage of “Think Global, Act Local.” on why growing our own is so necessary for Melbourne.
Suggesting a motive for increased interest in kitchen gardens, she stated that through learning how to grow their own food, “kids are growing to be really confident. They know climate change. They know much more than we give them credit for.
Growing awareness of the various benefits of growing your own was also commonly seen as an influence. Ros from Northcote claimed that “there is nothing better that being able to grow your own.”
Other answers for increased growing of food in the community were the high cost of food, and other living costs. Petrol costs received a few mentions, and the cost of fruit and vegetables themselves were referred to as well.
Heirloom and heritage varieties were mentioned as motives by a handful of respondents, though only a few people mentioned genetically modified crop concerns as encouraging people to grow their own. The support for organics and rejection of chemicals suggests wider opposition, however.
Diggers Club appear to be leading the charge in the region for heirloom variety preservation, with Clive Blazey stating that “Diggers vehemently opposes GM’. Anti-GM posters on fences at several community gardens, including the Collingwood Children’s Farm and Northcote Community Garden were observed, suggestive that there is understanding of this issue amongst community gardeners.
Diggers Heritage Farm have done extensive research over the last 30 years on the productive capacity of open-pollinated heirloom varieties in comparison to hybrid species, which he explained “were only developed in the last 60 years and before that, there was only heirloom varieties.” Digger’s gardening experiments have concluded that the far majority of heirloom varieties out compete hybrids. The work of Diggers Club was regularly cited by research participants.
Financial savings of growing your own and the high cost of food were also more commonly cited reasons. Comments on the economic crisis occurred as the study period progressed, perhaps suggesting more awareness of rapidly changing global economic conditions.
One of the premises that this research was based on was that sustainable self sufficient gardening was an action to increase community food security. Previous sections of this report have outlined some important local and global scales problems driving the need for Melbourne to take this issue more seriously. Community food security or food security was mentioned directly by five respondents, with two key speakers giving telling overviews to different sized audiences on the same day.
At the Gardening Australia expo, Peter Cundall spoke on “survival”, and brought some wise consideration for modern times from his time as a child gardener during the depression. He expounded that “what’s coming will make 1929 look like a tea party.”
At his vegetable garden demonstration patch, he illustrated that “this is the most important part of the garden. You read about economic collapse on Wall Street and the US taxpayers bailing them out. This garden, it is about survival. What we have is climate disruption not global warming. There will be worse frosts, worse droughts, worse floods. There is world shortage of oil and energy and economic collapse. The time of meals coming from far away are going fast. It is known as food miles. There have been food riots in other countries, and the cost of food is rising here.”
Peter Cundall advocated for high produce plants like potatoes and beans to replace lawns, in his last appearance at Gardening Australia’s expo.
Kelly Donati, speaking at Richmond ‘Happy New Life’ Community Garden’s Fringe Garden Event, also elaborated on the importance of community food security: “Peak oil is fast approaching and fringe parts of society and poorer communities are already being hit. The collapse of the Australian food bowl, the Murray Darling Basin; and peak oil, means we need to start doing it ourselves. These community gardens build communities, with links back to land and natural cycles.”
David Holmgren pushed the idea that growing food at home “should be considered as a serious part of agriculture all over the world, including rich nations.”
Nola Garbett from Yarra Valley Permaculture also cited coverage of permaculture and the need for community food security, by Gardening Australia, as contributing to an unmanageable demand from the community. Jane Edmunson warned: “Our consumer culture is a ticking environmental timebomb.”
Adam from Permablitz clarified that there are increasing amounts of “people concerned about food security in the context of peak oil, climate change and economic crisis.”
Wendy Vine from Maidstone Community Garden attributed cause and affect: “Due to the food security issues in the area, people are looking to develop sustainable and self sufficient gardens.”
Lizzie Bickmore explained that the areas in Moreland that the Grow and Share program operated in had been identified as “food deserts”, as did Michelle May, organiser for the Pines Patch Community Garden in the Frankston region.
Linking to the historical direct action origins of community gardens, one respondent advocated for guerrilla gardening, and spoke of individuals and collectives in Melbourne actively planting local indigenous and/or food providing plants. Connecting larger food security issue with the community “growing their own”, the move was driven by the attitude that “if you don’t take action, we will take action ourselves.”
Of those that stated they were unsure, but still attempted an answer, most stated that it was due to complicated and interconnected variables, or said there were contradicting variables playing out in the community, spatially; and demographically.
Of the four respondents that stated there was a decrease in self-sufficiency gardening in the community, and another five question responders that qualified their answer with negative variables, the following was qualitatively summarised:
The most attributed variable affecting a decrease in self-sufficient garden was drought and water levels, with a few respondents directly blaming water restrictions. There were no negative trend responders that cited climate change, unlike some of those who cited an upward trend.
Kelly Donati, from Slow Food Victoria noted “that water exemptions are on level 3A and many elderly people have been impacted.” This is maybe contributing to the loss of older gardeners that a few respondents referred to. The same amount of respondents cited housing development or urbanisation build up as impacting on the community’s ability to garden for self sufficiency
Associated family, work and financial pressures were also cited negative variables. One respondent believed people had less time for recreation, while another believed there was too many other recreational options and too much disposable income for this.
In regard to responses to this question, there was strong advocacy for the benefits of self sufficiency gardening and respondents across the garden realm offered environmentally considered answers.