As we move into 2016 our first local food initiative being discussed by the community is the likelihood of support for nature strip gardens from our local council here in Bendigo. Discussion has been underway in the community for at least the last four years. At a recent community forum discussing the review of Council’s environment strategy with guest Costa Georgiadis of Gardening Australia, there was much talk of food growing (his verge garden (pictured) developed on national television). When nature strips were mentioned there was furious agreement around the table that the imported word ‘verge’ not be used. Nature strip is more descriptive as it is a nod to the enhanced biodiversity values that can come with growing plants, edible or not.
Utilising all available space and seeing open and public spaces through a ‘food lens’ has been the driver for firstly Incredible Edible Todmorden in the UK , and in the past few years the emergence in Bendigo of Incredible Edible Bendigo. What’s not to like about getting enthused about growing food anywhere that’s possible?
My 2015 10 ideas for a more Edible Bendigo commenced with Vision – supporting the Bendigo Regional Food Alliance to assist with the development of local food and urban agriculture policies and also included Advocacy – for projects such as Council provision of citrus trees on nature strips and community orchards.
Inspired by previous experience with City of Yarra its clear that there is no need to reinvent a wheel when it comes to devising guidelines for neighbourhood gardening. In fact, there’s activity in most states of Australia at local government level that provide insight to how to make food production a focus of your nature strip. Many times community gardening of all sorts can be romanticised, however the reality is that is takes quite some effort and ongoing commitment to produce lush and picture book lovely gardens, of any type. Our local environment sees us contend with harsh heats, poor soil, lack of water and various potential pests. Not the be deterred, there are ways of managing these and getting stuck in, creating a focal point for your neighbourhood and an attractor for conversation in the same way that flowers attract bees.
Once guidelines are established that address issues such as: securing a suitable and safe site, securing neighbourhood support and gaining a permit, you can start to consider the following: making sure you know what infrastructure exists near the site (such as underground sewer and power lines); potential for contaminated soil, necessitating bringing in compost and soil; height of plantings so as not to obstruct site lines for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists; an to inform yourself about potential hazardous materials such as garden stakes, avoidance of chemical use that may get into storm water drains and of course how you will water it and shade it from harsh heat. Yet none of these should be a deterrent. I don’t share people’s concerns about kangaroos eating nature strip produce as we have roos in our veggie garden frequently and it seems they prefer the grass.
The leadership role available to local governments is to provide a staff member specifically dedicated to the community development and horticulture role of a community garden facilitator, as City of Yarra have done. This enables successful endeavours and avoids issues and waste of time and money getting things right on your own.
In the recent media article about Canberra’s proposed street garden policy an accompanying survey showed 80% of residents in favour. The trend to food growing for personal use echoes the 1940s where in Australia 50% of the population grew some of their own food. Recent surveys show a similar number doing so in this country nowadays, of course on varying scales. Research also showed that 13% were growing food on nature strips! of course this is boosted by the number of fruit trees planted decades ago as street trees, particularly around metropolitan areas. There is no reason why this couldn’t be a starting point while budgets are set in place, priorities of Council reorganised and funding made available to support food growing and affordable and accessible food for everyone interested.
The trend to infill development with small or non existent backyards is further impetus for food growing in public spaces. Lets start with nature strips. Now.