In June 2013 I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of a Churchill Fellowship, to investigate innovative models of urban agriculture in the US mid-west, Toronto, and Argentina. I remember being told that ‘you have travelled, but you have not travelled as a Churchill Fellow.” At the time, I didn’t quite appreciate what that meant. I wasn’t planning to travel until the middle of 2014, so felt pleased with the award and then put the trip to the back of my mind.
As 2013 turned into 2014, I began my planning in earnest, contacting individuals and organisations in the three regions I intended to visit. The trip began to loom larger, and soon enough it was time to board the plane from Sydney to Chicago on 18 July, 2014.
So began two of the most extraordinary two months of my life. Words cannot do justice to the warmth, generosity, passion and inspiration that I encountered every day of those two months. It was truly a privilege to witness the extent and depth of commitment amongst the individuals I met to the cause of co-creating better and fairer communities, from the soil up.
I have now submitted my final report, which is available for download on the Churchill Trust website, and which I am also making available here: Rose_Nicholas_2013_Innovative_models_of_urban_agriculture. Below, I reproduce the Executive summary, and my conclusions and recommendations.
This Report describes a Churchill Fellowship to study innovative models of urban agriculture in the US Midwest, Toronto and five provinces of Argentina. The focus of the study was to explore models of urban agriculture that could generate livelihood opportunities, especially for young people; and / or enhance food security for vulnerable and low-income groups. The study involved visits to over 80 organisations and institutions across the regions visited, and interviews with more than 150 people.
Dr Rose was impressed and inspired in every place he visited. The following are examples of outstanding innovation, passion and creativity:
- VK Urban Farms, Chicago, Eric and Nicky von Kondrat
- Urban Canopy Farms, Alex Poltorak
- Victory Gardens Initiative, Milwaukee, Gretchen Mead
- Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit, Ashley Atkinson
- Earthworks Farm / Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit, Patrick Crouch
- Community Food Centres, Toronto, Nick Saul
- Black Creek Community Farm, Toronto, Verity Dimock
- Pro Huerta Tucuman, San Miguel de Tucuman, Jose ‘Pancho’ Zelaya
- Urban Agriculture, Municipality of Rosario, Antonio Lattuca
- Programa PRODA, Neuquén, Ariel Zabert
- Pca Dos Chanar, Neuquén, Ignacio Pastawaki
Major lessons learnt and conclusions
Urban agriculture is flourishing; and is a source of connectedness, health and well-being, innovation, creativity, sustainable livelihoods, therapeutic benefits and enhanced food security for low-income populations in both North and South America. There are many opportunities for innovative models, enterprises, practices and policies to be adopted and supported in Australia. Commitment and resourcing from state and federal governments, and from the philanthropic and private sectors, would be extremely beneficial in terms of rapidly expanding and scaling up a relatively small but highly capable urban agriculture movement in Australia. Local governments have a critical strategic role in establishing support planning and policy frameworks to enable individuals and organisations to expand the excellent work already underway in Australia’s towns and cities.
Dissemination and implementation plan
Dissemination will be via existing (e.g. Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network) and emerging (‘Fair Food Network’) Australia-wide networks; through speaking engagements at food forums and related events; and through publications and writing. Dr Rose will work with colleagues in these networks, and in local governments around the country, to encourage the development of models, policies and resources to enable the expansion of urban agriculture. Longer-term goals include the recognition of urban agriculture in State planning frameworks; and the recognition of, and support for, urban agriculture in Federal food policy.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The principal conclusions from this Fellowship are as follows:
- Urban agriculture is multi-functional, multi-dimensional and offers a wide suite of benefits to individuals, communities, local businesses and governments.
- Urban agriculture encompasses much more than ‘growing food’, and it should be understood and supported in light of that essential understanding. For example, in Neuquén, Argentina, Dr Rose witnessed its therapeutic benefits in supporting young adults recovering from severe drug addiction; and also its therapeutic benefits for hospital patients suffering from mental health problems.
- While urban agriculture is multi-dimensional and multi-beneficial, it also can, and does, make an important contribution to the food security needs of low-income and vulnerable populations. This is especially important in the Australian urban context, where recent indications and trends suggest that food insecurity is a rapidly growing problem for large numbers of people in many of our communities.
- Urban agriculture also has significant potential as a means to generative livelihoods and income for its practitioners, who in many places tend to be young. Linking sales from urban farms into local commercial circuits, which include farmers markets, community-supported agriculture box subscriptions, local restaurants, cafes and grocery stores, and the potential for such exchanges to be scaled up over time, means that urban agriculture has an important urban renewal and economic development dimension.
- This multi-functionality of urban agriculture, and in particular its economic development potential, is increasingly well understood by local governments in the US, Toronto and Argentina; and by provincial governments (Ontario, Neuquén). Hence these various levels of government have established enabling frameworks, policies and resource allocations to support the expansion of urban agriculture in diverse opportunities. When combined with injections of philanthropic funding, such frameworks and resourcing can lead to impressive results.
- The potential of urban agriculture is best realised through creative and authentic collaborations, which can and does happen at different scales and with differing combinations of actors and organisations. Well-functioning networks, coalitions and alliances are very important to the success of urban agriculture.
- Urban agriculture forms one element of a local, sustainable and fair food system. Such systems are being created by innovative and passionate individuals and organisations in civil society; and in many places their efforts in turn are being supported and enabled by policy frameworks and resources from local, state, provincial and federal governments; and through philanthropic and community financing.
The principal recommendations from this Fellowship are as follows:
- Individuals and organisations directly involved in urban agriculture should actively explore ways to expand its current scope, which is largely confined to non-commercial and self-provisioning community gardening. Urban agriculture as a potentially viable commercial activity should be actively explored and promoted; as should urban agriculture as a means to enhance the food security of low-income and vulnerable groups.
- Individuals and organisations directly and indirectly involved in urban agriculture should examine ways in which they can effectively form part of a network that supports the achievement of their respective organisational, financial and advocacy goals.
- All local governments should work collaboratively with community organisations and other stakeholders to audit all land potentially available within their LGA area that could be suitable for food production, and then classify the sites according to levels of suitability and types of urban agriculture activity that potentially could take place on them.
- All State governments should review their planning provisions and legislation to ensure that urban agriculture is included as a permitted and encouraged use across a range of zones, to indicate to local government that the policy approach in this area is one of enablement and encouragement, rather than risk aversion. In other words, the presumption with urban agriculture should be ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’.
- The Federal Government should acknowledge the value and importance of urban agriculture, and indeed of local food systems and economies, as a matter of public health, local economic development, environmental sustainability and community well-being, as well as enhanced social capital.
- This acknowledgement and recognition should come in the form of a dedicated Federal Urban Agriculture and Local Food Fund, to be disbursed via an application process that encourages regional and collaborative initiatives with high and long-term impact, to scale up and expand initiatives already existing, and enable the flourishing of multiple new projects and models. Funding should be provided to research partnerships to document changes achieved by the projects and create the evidence base to justify further and ongoing public and private investment. The amount should be reviewed annually to take account of increasing need and capacity, however the suggested starting figure, based on the Ontario Local Food Fund (see above), is $20 mn.
- State governments should support this Federal Urban Agriculture and Local Food Fund through their own co-financing mechanisms, according to an assessment of the needs and capacity of the urban agriculture and local food sectors in their own states. For the more populous states (Victoria, NSW, Qld) this co-financing mechanism should be in the order of $5 mn – $10 mn, to be reviewed annually in consultation with the sector. Different financing mechanisms can also be explored, such as a levy on developers, supermarkets, insurance companies, and other relevant private sector stakeholders.