By Amelia Crawford
With a dense population of nearly 3000 people, the inner Sydney suburb of St Peters has many professional services, university facilities, popular eateries and, strangely enough, an urban farm.
The idea of a city farm is a necessity, according to a report on food security, urban resilience and climate change released last year by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF).
The report recognises that in the midst of climate change and natural disasters, food production is fragile, and educating communities about urban agricultural practices will play a key role in solving unsustainable food production.
Cheryl Webster, a volunteer at the City Farm that was held at Sydney Park over the summer, believes that to fight unsustainable food production, communities need to go to their backyards and pull on their gardening gloves.
“We ran the City Farm in the hopes that our volunteers could teach people how to turn any space, no matter how small, into an edible landscape,” Cheryl says.
With a kitchen garden, market garden and small-scale crops, the farm, which was an initiative of Sydney City Council, offered programs and educational activities as a taste of what future farms could provide.
Marco Amati, contributor to the Urban Food Security report and lecturer at Macquarie University, believes that programs such as the City Farm will be the catalyst in changing the landscape of food production.
“It’s about education. We want the Urban Food Security report to stimulate greater community awareness about the benefits of a local system that can be as flexible, responsive and accessible as its owner chooses,” he says.
Cheryl Webster and Marco Amati are committed to this grass roots movement against corporate ‘agri-business’, large-scale food manufacturers and big retailers.
In July 2012, the Federal Government released its National Food Plan Green Paper. It has subsequently seen opposition from farmers, community organisations, food businesses and advocacy groups due to its “industrial and energy intensive provisions”, according to Anne Maack, owner of a small family farm in Kurrajong.
“We mainly farm garlic which we sell directly through farmers’ markets and to small restaurants but it’s hard to compete against major suppliers who have been given more power by the Government,” Anne says.
As a member of The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, Anne is helping develop an alternative People’s Food Plan that will allow the voice of backyard and family farmers to be heard.
“The Government has made food production extremely vulnerable by favoring large distributors, when just one disaster, like the Queensland floods, can wipe out mass producers instantly,” she says.
Dietician Kate Marsh agrees the Alliance is heading in the right direction by looking to smaller, more viable methods of securing Australia’s future, adding that health is also a big bonus.
“Industrial systems that use harsh chemicals and unnatural methods to stimulate seasonal fruit and veg growth can cause many lifestyle diseases like diabetes and some cancers while the benefits of natural and organic produce is huge,” she says.
Like many volunteers at the City Farm, Cheryl Webster was led down the garden path to sustainability due to her passion for growing organic produce.
“Apart from helping maintain the City farm, my husband and I have matured our backyard so it’s now our own completely organic food supply,” she says.
Cheryl’s citrus trees, watermelons, pumpkins, raspberry bushes and mango and banana trees make use of most of her garden, with the remaining space serving as a playground for her seven chooks, not to mention her native bees.
“They don’t sting, and the chickens don’t bite,” Cheryl says.
Admitting that it can be a lot of hard work at times, Cheryl insists that anyone can be a backyard farmer.
“It may sound a cliché, but my garden started from a single seed; that’s all you need, whether you’re just planting in pots or growing a small veggie patch. It’s very simple,” she says.
With food security and sustainability emerging as an important issue among community groups, it’s no surprise there are a lot more vegetables on the table, according to Food Forward 2013, an annual food-trend report released at the beginning of April by public relations agency Weber Shandwick.
While gardeners may be waiting until the cows come home for the Government to readjust plans for food security, backyards may just be the perfect solution.