Growing food in the city

World-famous environmentalist Professor David Suzuki of Canada asked recently in an article for the Suzuki Foundation, “How much food can cities produce?”

Producing more food in the city will mitigate against climate change, by producing food where people live, and taking some pressure off rural land.

Suzuki says, “from some balcony, backyard, rooftop, indoor community garden, to city beehives and chicken coops to larger urban farms and farmers’ markets, growing and distributing local food to nearby citizens is a healthy way to help the environment.”

Former Vancouver city councillor Peter Ladner writes, “When urban agriculture flourishes our children are healthier and smarter about what they eat, fewer people are hungry, there are more local jobs, local economies are stronger, our neighbourhoods are greener and safer, and our communities are more inclusive.”

A 2016 study from the United States John Hopkins Centre for a Liveable Future found that urban agriculture could “increase social capital, community well-being, and civic engagement with the food system.” Gardening, that study said, “is therapeutic.”

One patch of Detroit city land where 12 vacant houses were removed to grow food has supplied almost 200,000 kg of produce for 2000 local families, provided volunteer experience to 8000 residents and brought the area new investment and increased safety.

We who live in the Ponsonby News catchment know only too well what a great job Kelmarna Gardens does in our community, providing fresh organic produce and hosting mental health people who gain tremendously from the therapeutic benefits of gardening.

We love, too, our local Farmers' Market, at the Grey Lynn Community Centre.

I had not realised how much community gardening was going on in Auckland until I began reading for this article. There are some amazing initiatives, including Urban Pantry.

Emily Harris tossed in a job as a judge’s clerk at the High Court to start Urban Pantry. The organisation focuses on bringing communities together by growing edible gardens in the city. Their first project was transforming a rooftop on High Street in the central city.

The latest was a Crowd Grown Fest served up by Popdining at Silo Park. Growing the food is important, says Emily, but bringing people together to meet new people and learn new skills will boost the sense of community and the environment.

Harris says getting your hands dirty in the garden is a great activity at any stage of life. Like me, Harris remembers helping her dad in the home vegetable patch. Tom Wichman is a Cook Islander who travelled the world working for the Cook Islands Government. He has a new mission - helping Pasifika people in Auckland to grow fresh food, cheaply - just like they do in the Islands.

As Tom’s weight crept up, his health deteriorated, and then he developed diabetes, and finally cancer. So he changed his diet. These days he is fitter and healthier, his diabetes is under control and he has beaten the cancer.

In the sandy outer islands of his homeland, Tom has established hydroponic gardens that are now feeding the locals and they are selling the surplus.

Tom reckons more than 100 people have been involved in the Mangere Community Gardens and the positive spin-off is that people then create their own gardens at home. The gardens are organic and, in a little shed on the property, Tom is also trialling aquaculture and hydroponics.

“You can live in the city but still grow your own healthy food,” says Tom Wichman, now in his mid 70s.

Community gardens are a growing trend in Auckland, and there are now lots of places where people young or old can learn how to reap what they sow.

Beehives are also springing up around the city, especially on rooftops, and an organisation called Beez things offers to rent beehives in the urban area. They will supply the hives and the bees, maintain them, and teach you how to look after them yourself. They swear you will love the delicious smells and the gentle hum of bees - not forgetting fresh, homemade honey!

Unfortunately, Auckland Transport has not entered into the spirit of community gardening. They have outlawed roadside gardens and forced residents to apply for a $150 licence if they want to deviate from strict new rules they are imposing.

There are various internet sites where you can find out how to get started on a garden, or join an existing group.

A final word from David Suzuki: “Cities needn’t be wastelands of car-choked roads and pavements. Incorporating food production into ever-expanding urban areas makes cities more liveable and enhances the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy.”