At the height of the pandemic when most of the world was in lockdown and people were forced to stay home and had to endure limited mobility, Sustain: The Australian Food Network, conducted a nationwide Pandemic Gardening Survey.
In Part 1 of the pandemic gardening survey we looked at the key findings. Part two explores what should happen next.
Next steps: What now?
Based on the survey findings, Sustain has laid out a plan and an action agenda to address the issues they identified in the survey.
We have developed an action agenda in the form of a Roadmap for Transformation. This Roadmap has six key elements, each of which reinforce and mutually support each other.
- Urban planning and land use: Make much more land available for edible gardening.
- Capacity building: Resource organisations and networks to provide the advice, information, mentoring and guidance that new gardeners in particular are asking for.
- Finance: Create a major annual national Edible Gardening Fund, co-financed by the federal and state governments and the development industry, and collaboratively managed by the sector itself, to resource a mass expansion of edible gardening.
- Infrastructure: Use the national Fund to make available the materials, equipment, tools and inputs required for a major expansion of edible gardening.
- Policies, plans and frameworks: Embed commitments, targets and action plans for a mass expansion of edible gardening into local and state government policies.
• Governance and coordination: Establish collaborative, multi-stakeholder platforms for the effective coordination of the edible gardening and urban agriculture sector in Australia.
This is an ambitious yet achievable agenda which, according to Nick Rose if even partly implemented, would go a long way towards realising the vision shared by hundreds of thousands: to make Australian towns and cities edible.
Outreach to political parties
Sustain is now reaching out to the different political parties and coming up with policy papers that they can submit to relevant and supportive parties that will support the recommendations and action plan identified by the survey.
Sustain has submitted its findings to the Federal Health department’s consultation for the National Preventive Health Strategy.
According to Nick, Sustain’s core argument is that it is important to invest in preventive health. And allocating budget that will support urban edible gardens is critical.
“We want investment in prevention to be increased,” Nick said.
Based on the findings of the survey, Sustain is calling for the establishment of a $500 million national Edible Gardening Fund to be co-financed by federal and state/territory governments to drive a mass expansion of urban food production across Australia as a preventative health measure.
“Despite its documented benefits for ecological, mental and physical wellbeing, edible gardening currently receives limited government support. For a tiny fraction of our current annual health expenditure, the return on investment would be enormous,” Nick said.
While expressing concern about the lack of commitment from politicians, one of the survey respondents said: “My concern is that politicians don’t listen to the positive effect on society of activities such as gardening and continue to focus on big business for economic growth. My health is so good now through gardening that I am able to be back in the workplace. Imagine if this effect could be replicated throughout the community. Surely that would be an economic benefit worth having.”
State government collaboration
On the state government level, Sustain is actively working and collaborating with VicHealth and other food relief organisations to promote sustainable and healthy food sources, production and distribution.
There is also an active and ongoing efforts for food reform and food systems improvement in Victoria. Not-for-profit and universities led by Deakin University are sharing their findings with local governments aimed at improving the food systems.
Local Government Involvement
At the local government level, Sustain is actively engaging with local councils to introduce reforms on urban land use and availability.
For example, Nick said there is a possibility of giving financial incentives (through discounts on rates) for land owners who have a piece of land that can be used by someone else to produce food.
“There must be some land or spaces that are not productive but can be converted to edible gardens. Why not give those land owners discounts on their rates if they allow their land to be used for food production”, Nick said.
He mentioned the urban gardening initiatives in France and South Korea which are now producing fresh and locally produced food for millions of people in those countries.
“We have many international models that we can look to. All we need are leaders who have the vision and leadership to support and implement and see that these local food production systems are in place. I believe and I am confident we can do it in Australia.”
Both Sydney and Melbourne city councils have programs in place to promote and support urban agriculture.
Food is a basic human right
Access to food is a basic human right. And by giving access to people who want to start their own food production – by establishing an urban edible garden (similar to the Allotment program in the UK), we can provide a more secure and dignified food source to more people.
While distributing food relief to people (particularly those in most horrible circumstances) is necessary, providing accessible land or an area where people can produce their own food and be actively participating in food production, is more dignified,” Nick said.
The survey noted Allotment gardens have been a mainstay of many European towns and cities for centuries, particularly in the United Kingdom and Germany where they arose during the industrialisation of the 19th century. Across Europe and even in Australia, allotment gardens were an important source of food security between and during the wars.
Will people continue to grow their own food after the pandemic?
“Most of the people we talked to said they will. And while there is no solid data yet, anecdotal evidence shows that the demand for seedlings and fruits and vegetable in nurseries are still rising. Membership in garden clubs and farming communities are also rising. So the demand is continuing and we are confident that people will continue to produce their own food and reap the benefits they saw during the pandemic. And we need to support this kind of active and positive participation at the community level.”
While there remains a lot of sustained effort and coordination with all levels of government and community organisations, Nick Rose and the Sustain team are confident that the Pandemic Gardening Survey findings will help create awareness and changes in Australia’s food system.
“We believe that our action agenda and roadmap for transformation would truly make Australian towns and cities edible,” Nick said.
If you want to read more about the Pandemic Gardening Survey and its findings, here is the full report: