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?
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.
The first open-access article I, along with Dr James Ward and Dr Barbara Koth published in 2017 was called, “Aquaponics in Urban Agriculture: Social Acceptance and Urban Food Planning”. It’s about the perception and social acceptance of aquaponics by urban food growers and Local Government Area in Adelaide, South Australia. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on the technology itself, but little has been done on how people (other than those who actually have such systems) feel about aquaponics. Additionally, the level of awareness and acceptance of local councils (in South Australia known as local government areas or LGAs) can influence either the support or restriction of aquaponics in urban areas.
Collectively our participants not only considered the various strengths and weaknesses of aquaponics, but also used their own experiences to recommend ideas for the possible adoption and expansion of aquaponics. These recommendations culminated in the idea of a set of scaled guidelines, including financial, logistical, resource requirements, and expected productivity for each potential scale of operation – from single backyard to large-scale commercial.
When the discussion moved to urban planning and the influence of local government areas, every participant alluded to a lack of council support for urban food production. There was a strong desire for a shift in current urban planning and that of state level government to better acknowledge and support urban food production of all kinds.
It just so happens that 2017 was a good year for writing; I (along with my co-authors), had my first two scientific articles published. Both are open-access and are therefore available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read – no subscription necessary. Publishing articles as open-access may cost more and require a little more ‘hoop-jumping’, yet it is a valuable method of science communication (particularly suited to citizen science).
Hence myself, along with my supervisors Dr James Ward and Dr Philip Roetman wrote a paper called, “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research”. It’s about the practical challenges of researching urban food production, how past studies have gone about researching urban food yields and inputs, and how effective a citizen science approach can be. We describe the design of the “Edible Gardens Project” as an example of how citizen science can be successfully applied to urban agriculture research.
Last week I gave my first ever guest lecture for a UniSA course called “Environment: A Human Perspective”. There were about 50-60 first year students present and my nerves came on strong at the beginning. But I made it through, and listening back I think I managed to get my passion and enthusiasm for urban agriculture across to the students – I even made them laugh couple of times!… intentionally, of course.
Part #1 of the lecture covered the basics of urban agriculture (UA), some of its differences around the world and how common it is in South Australia.
In Part #2 (which is still being edited) I describe how there is more to UA than simply the productive side (how much food people can grow) – there is also a strong social value side. In the middle there’s some interaction where I ask the students what it takes to grow food from start to finish, and how this in turn influences your research design.
I mention both my honours research on the social reaction of people to aquaponics, in addition to how some of the local councils react to the idea of aquaponics. And finished up with a little on my PhD research on the productive capacity and social value of UA via the Edible Gardens Project.
I know there are a couple a little rough moments in here. But I would still love to get any feedback you may have.
Many people across Australia grow some of their own food. In fact in South Australia, 59% of households do so (Wise, 2014). As most of us now live in urban areas, this food production is taking place in cities, towns and suburbs. Urban agriculture is any form of urban food production from growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, to even keeping urban livestock such as chickens, fish or bees
Have you ever wondered how much food your garden actually produces each year? Or how much water, time and money went into producing that food? The Edible Gardens project wants to find out.
The project is currently open to all South Australian home, community and school gardeners. Feel free to share this with anyone you know living in South Australia who produces urban food.