A more locally connected, resilient and tasty Australian future? How to support all these newly enthused food gardeners

So, you are stuck at home. You may be isolating, quarantined, or suddenly found yourself under- or completely unemployed with too much time on your hands. You sit with your family, your children, your housemates or by yourself. You watch the news and hear from others about the panic-buying. You’re concerned over food supplies and the fresh food you can find at the shop seems expensive. What are you going to do? Well you could do what many people have done, rush to buy a bunch of food seeds and seedlings. The idea is to “grow your own” and hopefully secure a more reliable (and cheaper?) supply of fresh food. The only problem is, you’re not really sure how to grow food plants – you can keep your house plants and the shrubs in your garden alive sure, but this seems a bit more complicated…

This is the reality for many Australians at the moment. This swell of new food gardeners is a wonderful outcome from the concern and restrictions of the COVID-19 crisis. But how likely are these gardens to flourish? Do newbie gardeners have the skills and experience to produce reasonable and consistent amounts of food for their households this autumn and winter? Or will most of them watch disheartened as their newly minted “victory gardens” fail? The latest results from “Edible Gardens“, a state-wide citizen science project from the University of South Australia, suggest huge variability in the effectiveness of home food gardens.

So, what can we as a country do to help all these newly enthused food gardeners succeed? And how good would it be to come out of this crisis with households and communities that were more resilient, more productive, and more inter-connected than ever?

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Open-access Research 2018 – Diversity & Sustainability

I may have mentioned previously that my PhD approach is to complete a “Thesis containing published material” (AKA Thesis by Publication). I am now 7 weeks away from running out of time and money to submit my thesis. On the plus side, many of my chapters have already been written – as papers. On the downside it’s now crunch time and I am one paper short of my 5 planned papers: 2 are published, 1 is under review, 1 is ready to submit. The 5th one remains not yet written as it will present ALL the results from the collected garden data. But this is beside the point of this blog post which was meant to be all about my 3rd PhD paper – published in March 2018. (How it got from March to now without me realising I will never know!)

So here it is! It’s titled, “Typically Diverse: The Nature of Urban Agriculture in South Australia“. This paper presents results from the Edible Gardens Project and reveals the incredible diversity that is inherent in the production methods, water sources, irrigation methods, sizes, labour, and costs of urban home food gardens in South Australia.

To read or share the full article, follow this link: Pollard, Georgia; Ward, James and Roetman, Philip. “Typically Diverse: The Nature of Urban Agriculture in South Australia”. Sustainability (2018).

In the paper we ask (and even answer) questions such as,

  • How are people currently growing food in urban areas? What methods or approaches are they using?
  • Are there relationships between particular production methods?
  • What challenges do urban gardeners face?
  • Do the challenges gardeners face when just starting out differ from the challenges they face further on?
  • How much money do people spend setting up their food gardens? What about their monthly costs?
  • Do urban food gardeners want to save money? And do they believe they succeed in doing so?
  • How does an ‘optimised garden model’ compare to people’s real food gardens?
  • What does the “typical” home food garden look like? (I’ll give you a clue… it looks a bit like the featured image!)
  • What are the implications for the economic sustainability of home food gardens? Are they accessible to everyone?

If you’re interested in finding out about any of these questions – take a look at the full paper. It’s open-access so anyone can read, download and share it with others.

Happy reading!

Georgia, the Urban Ag. Scientist