There are a number of initiatives around New Zealand and the world which are working to grow urban agriculture, as well as the food system, urban environment, and social resilience that can accompany it (see last week’s article). The examples below are just a tiny sampling of the urban agriculture projects that exist around the country.
- The Sustainability Trust in Wellington has recently launched their ‘Food is Free’ programme, which offers basic gardening courses, as well as assistance with finding spaces for community garden plots for people who don’t have access to their own back yard for growing in, and providing resources to help set them up. The first of these gardens was launched on April 1 in the suburb of Newtown, on the site of an old petrol station.
- The Common Unity Project Aotearoa, based in Lower Hutt, offers and supports a variety of programmes, including Urban Kai Farms, an urban farm project which sells its surplus food at The Common Grocer, a “low-cost, member-owned, plastic-free grocery co-operative.” CUPA’s focus is on community-driven solutions to community problems in line with its motto: “Together, we grow our own solutions”.
A veritable jungle of urban food projects has sprouted and blossomed in the wake of the earthquakes eight years ago in Christchurch.
- I spoke with Peter Wells, of the Food Resilience Network, who is also the project lead for Ōtākaro Orchard, an exemplar site which aims to tell the story of local and regional food. It is a food forest which will eventually contain around 180 plant species, as well as a community amphitheatre and community building where the Food Resilience Network will be headquartered. The project aims to integrate the food system, environmental, and community resilience elements that the best examples of urban agriculture fosters.
- Peter also told me about Cultivate, a project built around growing organic food in the city centre for local restaurants. Cultivate Urban Farms works with young people who were not in education, employment or training, providing them with skills and employment.
- For the Love of Beesis a project which “helps seemingly unrelated ecological projects become one cohesive action via the lens of bees”. Similar to CUPA in Lower Hutt, it is an umbrella for a whole range of projects, including the Organic Market Garden (or OMG for short), an urban agriculture initiative.
- Kai Auckland, a partner on the OMG is a self-described “people’s collective” with a triple focus on Growing, Community and Knowledge.
Barriers and solutions
So far, a lot of the efforts around building urban food system resilience in cities across New Zealand seem to be somewhat isolated, lacking the sort of systemic interconnectedness that characterises resilient systems. One way to connect the various urban food projects and to enhance urban agriculture is through council support. “To build a more resilient food system, cities need to create an enabling environment“. To encourage and support the development of resilient urban food networks, councils around the country, as well as central government, should focus on reducing existing barriers to the development of urban agriculture, such as difficulties in gaining access to land. The Sustainability Trust’s Food is Free programme is one non-governmental organisation’s way of trying to solve this particular issue.
The Christchurch City Council has implemented a specific, comprehensive food resilience policy, and offers a variety of resources to those involved with the urban food scene under the ‘Edible Christchurch’ part of its website, including comprehensive, helpful guidelines for setting up a range of different forms of urban agriculture on council-owned land. Other councils’ approaches are less well-developed. The Wellington City Council also has an urban agriculture mission/vision. The WCC released a report on urban agriculture in Wellington, named A Seed and a Wish, in 2014, in collaboration with Victoria University. The report recognises the existing, community-driven urban agriculture projects in the city and makes recommendations for how the council could support the movement. The 2018 Resilience Strategy also mentions ambitions for urban agriculture, and council representatives state that the Council has begun consultations with those involved in sustainable food in Wellington. These efforts are laudable, but as a resident of the capital until March, they do not yet seem to have resulted in policies or projects which are especially visible or accessible, especially to those who are not yet, but might be interested in being, involved with urban agriculture in the capital.
Peter Wells explained that not only should government and other bodies be removing roadblocks, they should be actively supporting communities in their cities and regions to get involved in urban agriculture, for instance by providing educational resources, supporting existing groups and projects both with funding and resources but also through higher level strategies such as public procurement policy. I would add that these policy approaches should also actively seek to identify those who may face additional socioeconomic and other barriers to involvement in urban agriculture initiatives, and ensure that they are empowered and able to get involved, thereby benefiting from the social resilience and other benefits that urban agriculture can help to foster. Inclusive policies and action are crucial to ensuring that urban agriculture breaks down, rather than contributes to, systemic discrimination. An urban food system can only really be considered resilient when all the city’s residents, not only the wealthier ones, have a resilient food supply. With this in mind, it seems important that consultations relating to urban agricultural policy in our cities should be well-publicised and accessible to all members of the community – not only those who are already involved.
All over New Zealand, people are getting excited about regenerative urban agriculture, and its potential to increase the sustainability and resilience of our urban food systems, environments, and communities. An enabling policy environment which supports existing projects, clears the path for new ones, and ensures that projects are inclusive of and reflect the needs of all communities, is crucial to ensure that the urban agriculture movement continues to flourish. This, in turn, will mean our cities in Aotearoa New Zealand are beacons of food system, environmental and social resilience.