Sunday, October 17, 2010

Promoting sustainability, health and inclusion in the city - Canberra 2010

Elspeth Brock works in community horticulture around Moreland with Merri Community Health Services. She's working with three community gardens (that I know of anyway) - Merri Corner in Brunswick, Mulberry in Glenroy and Ilma Lever in Coburg). She recently recently attended a community garden conference in Canberra and provided the following sum up that you may find interesting. (Thanks Elspeth)

Community Garden Conference- Promoting sustainability, health and inclusion in the city, Canberra 2010.
Articles and presentations will be available as an on line resource soon

The conference was an interesting mix of garden case studies, academic research and the global perspective. There was much about influencing policy and the importance of networking.

Myles Bremmer from Garden Organic UK was a key note speaker who highlighted the need not just for smiling faced kids in gardens but evidence based research, and government policy for community gardens (CG) to really influence food sovereignty. There was much discussion of how council can help/ hinder CG, but an overall view was that policy if needed to assist with development of a lease system that cuts through the red tape of council planning departments and make available funding for early stages of development. It is difficult working with state and federal government as CG cuts across various departments-is is health, planning, environment?

CG were presented as essential to the sustainability of our cities, for the 1st time on earth 50% of people live in an urban environment. There is also a lack of data about how CG actual contribute to sustainability- looking at ecological functioning, biological diversity, productivity, waste management etc.

Christine Milne the greens senator for Tasmania said that presently the federal policy makers see GMO and large scale corporate farming as the only solutions to food security; they see CG as good and quaint but not as a real answer to food issues. She suggested we need to make more of a link between community gardens as a way for people to appreciate fresh, local seasonal produce, the difficulty and skill of growing and how this could directly link in to support for local farmers. She noted the importance of CG facilitating farmers markets, community supported agriculture and other food systems outside of the large supermarkets which do not give farmers a sustainable future. This could provide an important bridge between ‘greens’ and farmers, city and country.

Other speakers discussed how we should not give an overly romanticized view of CG but discuss challenges and solutions as this shows how CG contribute to dynamic and adaptive communities. The challenges of engaging truly disadvantaged groups were also highlighted by building local peoples skills. These skills often related to management- conflict resolution, group facilitation, and engagement strategies. The large range of benefits of CG mentioned included social inclusion of people with disability, migrants and ethnic communities, community resilience, healthy eating, food security, safety of local communities, connections with nature and mental health, and an awareness of larger food production/ food security issues. More research in measuring the benefits is always useful when trying to influence policy.

The benefits of support workers for CG was highlighted through the example of WA was given where a position for a statewide community garden worker that ran for 2 years, this helped prevent volunteer burn out, strengthen existing gardens, provide advice and support when seeking funding, help new gardens access information, organize larger scale state networking events and develop a state wide web site.

Myles Bremmer summed up the conference with a ‘where to from here’. He recommended food sovereignty as a better term than food security. That in Australia we need to:
  1. Be clear about what a CG is, who the constituents are- individual plots / or specific social group being targeted
  2. Get clear on the facts and figures- no one presently know how many CG there even are in Australia, how many volunteers etc. Need a national network, numbers to influence policy.
  3. Develop a narrative of what CG want - insurance, policy?
  4. Have a ‘crazy celebrity gardener’ (everyone looks towards Costa) to inspire the community and the suit behind to work with policy makers
  5. Be pro-active to show case gardens - local council, media
  6. Assert food citizen rights (right influence how, where, what our food is/ comes from)

Interesting Links: