It’s time to question what’s in the kitchen
THIS year, for the second summer, dozens of residents in South London have planted an unlikely crop in their gardens, backyards and allotments. They’re growing hops to supply the Brixton Beer Company.
The results of last harvest, a pale ale called Prima Donna, were particularly popular: the beer was served in three different pubs, and downed in a single night.
The project was coordinated by an organisation called City Farmers. Its purpose wasn’t mass production, but rather, to get fingernails dirty and loosen lips on the matter of urban agriculture and the sources of our sustenance.
That’s exactly kind of conversation Nick Rose and his collaborators replicated around Australia during Fair Food Week, which finished recently.
There were nearly 100 events around the country, from forums and films to farm tours and suburban food swaps. In Wodonga there was a cheesemaking workshop; in Beechworth, an open day for the neighbourhood kitchen; and in West Brunswick, a tour of the community garden and food forest.
“The idea of Fair Food Week is to shine a spotlight on the inequities and unsustainability of the way the food system is developing – this push towards very few big farms producing a small range of commodities, and the retail sector being dominated by a couple of companies,” Mr Rose says.
“We’re concerned about the long term sustainability and resilience of that system – I’m talking about problems like the obesity pandemic, the degradation of our soils and the cost-price squeeze on farmers, as well as the loss of our food processing capabilities and our vanishing high streets and greengrocers.”
The week was coordinated by the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. The organisation also released the “People’s Food Plan”, a document prepared with input from hundreds of people in dozens of meetings around the country.
“Our vision is for something much more diverse, much more decentralised: a whole ecology of food production, processing, distribution and retailing which is about connecting people with the source of their food,” he says.
Householders can help those alternatives grow. “For fresh produce, particularly in a city like Melbourne, there are so many sources – markets, farmers markets, or vegetable box schemes, such as CERES’ Fair Food, which operates with local growers.”
Mr Rose was also a contributing author on a recent report on urban food security prepared for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.
The academics noted recent floods had revealed the fragility of food supply lines into cities and concluded that the viability and productivity of our current farming system is “likely to be seriously compromised” by climate change.
They concluded that while cities wouldn’t become self-sufficient, urban food growing could contribute nutritionally, environmentally and socially. Because local food systems reduce dependence on oil and cut wastage, and also, bring people together, they can help cities both moderate and adapt to climate change.
“We found that Melbourne is a hotbed of urban food in Australia,” Mr Rose says. “There are outstanding examples of people growing large quantities of food in their own gardens, as well as different models of community gardening and productive streetscapes.
“Through Fair Food Week we’re promoting a broader public discussion about the challenges of our food system, but we’re also celebrating the achievements of the fair food pioneers in Australia who are working for something fairer and better.”