The Urban Agriculture Forum 2016


Dana Thomson, Health Promotion Officer, healthAbility, reports on The Australian Urban Agriculture Forum 2016. To read about the following forum, in 2018, click here.

uaf1University of Melbourne (Burnley), 20-21 November, 2016. Forum hosted by Sustain.

Costa Georgiadis made time during his visit to the Forum on Monday 21 November to create a ‘Costa live’ video, which you can view here.

What is Urban Agriculture?

Urban agriculture and urban food production may include:

  • Vegetable and fruit growing.
  • Livestock raising, especially poultry.
  • Beekeeping, aquaculture, hydroponics and aquaponics.
  • Value-adding (e.g. making preserves).

Urban agriculture and urban food production can exist in many forms and on a variety of sites such as:

  • Private gardens.
  • Land managed by private institutions / businesses, including rooftops and vertical gardens.
  • Privately-owned land, including vacant lots awaiting development.
  • Land owned by public / public-private utilities, such as VicTrack.
  • Publicly-owned land, including nature strips / verges, and street planter boxes.
  • Schools, childcare centres, aged care facilities, universities, hospitals and other similar institutions.

In the context of the forum, the term urban agriculture was used interchangeably with peri-urban agriculture (and thus topic is relevant for our region).

uaf3Functions of Urban Agriculture

Slide taken from keynote presentation: “The Role of Urban Agriculture in the development of healthy, sustainable and resilient cities” – Henk de Zeeuw.

Henk gave examples of projects that have responded to challenges in each of three areas – including peri-urban farms with short-market chains and factories that use the waste-heat for rooftop greenhouses for urban agriculture.

General Lessons Learned about Urban Agriculture (according to keynote, Henk)
  • uaf4Wide recognition nowadays that agriculture is crucial part of the policy agenda and a means to various policy objectives.
  • There is already a wealth of examples where other cities can learn from – (suggested websites: RUAF network, Sustain, Milan Urban Food Policy Pact).
  • Political will/leadership – councils acting as a catalyst/enabler of local food systems.
  • Active multi-actor participation in the analysis and planning of the local food and agricultural system.
  • Should be developing a clear shared vision on and strategic plan for the development of the local food and agricultural system.
How does Urban Agriculture Reduce Poverty, Food Insecurity and Malnutrition?
  • Improving the access of vulnerable people to fresh, affordable and nutritious food.
  • Providing (additional) income to low income groups and/or savings on food expenditures.
  • Creating jobs for youth and people outside the labour market.
  • Reducing the vulnerability of the city food system to price hikes in the international markets,
    droughts in the rural areas, distorted transport due to floods or conflict.
  • (Based on Henk’s presentation).
Learning from Australian Aboriginal Agricultural Practices
  • uaf5Keynote speaker Bruce Pascoe challenged the claim that pre-colonial Aboriginal society was essentially a hunter-gatherer society, explaining that journals in fact report on large scale agricultural activities of Aboriginal people.
  • Sadly, these crop and food systems of Aboriginal people have barely been examined in the last 220 years, but small groups are currently investigating some of the ancient crops, particularly perennial grains.
  • Pascoe anticipates that in the next few years Australians will be eating these.
  • It was also argued that if Australia was serious about reducing carbon emissions we would leap at
    the opportunity to grow Australian Aboriginal crops.
  • Anthea Fawcett also spoke on the Remote Indigenous Gardens
    (RIG) Network
Melbourne’s Food Bowl at Risk – VEIL
  • At a global scale, large amounts of our productive food growing areas are around cities and are vulnerable to sprawl (reducing our productive capacity).
  • Rachel Carey spoke on the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab’s (VEIL) work – According to their 2015 report, it is estimated that by 2050, around 16% of the farmland in Melbourne’s foodbowl could be lost if current urban density trends continue, including up to 77% of farmland in the inner foodbowl.
  • Melbourne’s foodbowl currently produces enough food to meet around 41% of the food needs of Greater Melbourne’s population (better than Sydney ~20%), but by 2050 urban sprawl could reduce the capacity of the city’s foodbowl, so that it can only produce enough food to meet 18% of the city’s food needs.
  • “Melbourne’s foodbowl currently produces enough vegetables to meet 82% of Greater Melbourne’s needs, but by 2050, urban sprawl could reduce the capacity of the foodbowl to meet Greater Melbourne’s vegetable needs to around 21%”.
  • City of Whittlesea’s approach was interesting to hear about. They have recognised the importance of peri-urban agriculture in their local government area and have an agri-business program officer. Following a rural rates review, they have applied a discount. They have also started a farmers’ market, and are in process of undertaking a land capability assessment (in context of different climate change scenarios).
Accessing Land for Agriculture
  • uaf7For community projects, social enterprise and commercial, accessing land for urban agriculture has been made simpler by both VicTrack and Melbourne Water.
  • Representatives from both organisations spoke at the forum, giving advice on how to lease land from them.
  • Recommended using Google maps and Melways to locate land and see who owns it.
  • Checking
  • Can contact organisations for support.
  • Info on using Melbourne Water land and VicTrack land available via links.
  • Melbourne Water contact: Dan Green
  • Interesting Conversation article by Brian Coffey “Why ‘green cities’ need to become a deeply lived experience”.
  • If you want to have soil tested for free – VegeSafe is a community science participation program run by Environmental Science staff at Macquarie University. They seeking to inform the community about metal and metalloid contaminants in their garden soil through our free soil metal testing program. Participants receive a formal report with their soil results and are provided with links to information and advice about “what to do next” in the event of soils containing elevated concentrations of metals and metalloids. Although Sydney-based, they accept soil from all Australian states and
Role of Local Government and noting the Food Governance Taskforce
  • uaf8The Food Governance Taskforce is a collaboration between Sustain, the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA), 12 local Councils and researchers.
  • There are three working groups – health and wellbeing, planning, economic development.
  • Position Statements on each have been drafted to support local government in their current planning cycle.
  • City of Yarra have an extensive program to support urban agriculture.
  • Darebin City Council have a Sustainable Food Officer.
  • My Smart Garden (Council initiative ran out of 3
    different Councils across Vic – requires 0.4 EFT). Evaluation.
  • On separate note, there were also some interesting discussions around the role of different types of community gardens on public land; and how fenced gardens or community garden models which involve individuals owning their own plots (and then having long waiting lists) can result in allocation of public land to private use (as opposed to other models which are inclusive and continue to function for broader public use).
Case Studies
The Role of Social Enterprise in Urban Agriculture
  • A social enterprise is an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximise improvements in human and environmental well-being—this may include maximising social impact alongside profits for external shareholders. Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit, and may take the form of a co-operative, mutual organization, a disregarded entity, a social business, a benefit corporation, a community interest company or a charity organisation.
  • The speakers on this topic provided some tips on getting started as a community food enterprise (social enterprise) ‘profit for purpose’.
  • Examples: Streat (caterer/food retail sites); Propagate (looking to launch in Australia soon) (Another great example in Sydney, although not part of the conference is Ooooby).
  • Look out for slides from Rebecca Scott from STREAT (if they become available) – she had some really good tables on the array of funding sources that social enterprises may access, and the pros and cons of each of these.
Social and Therapeutic Horticulture
  • Horticultural Therapy has been defined as a process of using plants and garden related activities to promote well-being of mind, body and spirit.
  • Difficult to get training on this locally, speaker went to America to be trained.
  • Please see presentation once available for more information.
Other Statistics
  • 30% of Australians currently compost (speaker did not indicate source of this statistic).

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