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Growing in the Burbs

Container garden on a BalconyMy home is a penthouse apartment on the fourth storey of a modern apartment block in a northern suburb of Sydney, about 30 kms from the city. While most other apartment balconies in my heavily built suburb have a potted ornamental or two such as a palm or annual blooms, my balcony sprouts herbs of many varieties tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, lemons, kale, spinach, apples, figs, beetroot, lettuces, peaches, nectarines, carrots, Asian greens, radishes, strawberries, and much more. I produced close to 70kgs of fruit, vegetables and herbs over the last year. There's generally enough vegetables for the two adults here all year-round. My apartment is part of a growing global movement of people involved in urban farming.


1. Renewed local economies. Local neighbour-to-neighbour commerce generally doesn’t happen in our communities. Residential areas almost never include common spaces where community exchanges might happen. Food is generally bought from the supermarket chain. 

In some communities, the urban farming movement has reinvigorated local commerce. If urban farming continued to grow, it would cause a massive and positive economic disruption by introducing local food production that would compete with the corporate mainstream on price, quality, convenience, and level of service.

2. Environmental stewardship. Industrial agriculture is a major source of fossil fuel pollution. Petrochemicals are used to fertilise, spray, and preserve food. Plastics made from oil are used to package the food, and gasoline is used to transport food worldwide. Urban farming unplugs us from oil by minimizing the transport footprint and using organic cultivation methods. While industrial agriculture often manoeuvres to avoid paying for environmental externalities, urban farmers directly bear the ecological costs of their actions. This makes urban farmers better stewards of their land because they draw their nutrition from it. Rather than using chemicals that destroy soil biology, urban farming culture stresses sustainable organic techniques that enrich the topsoil. 

 


3. A focus on local politics. Urban farming makes it clearer and easier for people to be involved in local politics by bringing issues that directly affect neighbourhoods to the fore. Local regulations become far more relevant to the day-to-day life of a person attempting to cultivate their own food than most issues normally discussed on the news. Other neighbourhood issues such as the raising of chickens, beekeeping for the production of honey, or the chlorination of water are already in the sights of urban farmers and environmentalists alike. 

4. A revolution of health and nutrition. Increased awareness about the negative health effects of food from the industrial food chain is itself a big reason why urban farmers grow their own food. When you feed your produce to your family, you’re less likely to douse it in poisons. Local food has more freshness, flavour, and nutrient retention because it goes through less transportation and processing. As the urban farming movement grows, it will mean more accessibility to nutritious local food and more time spent doing the healthy physical work of gardening. This could result in less obesity, less chronic disease, and decreased healthcare spending.

5. A flowering of community interaction. Urban farming is a lifestyle inherently centred on community. Growing food is, after all, a cooperative effort. In my own community, I see that the knowledge of how and what to grow is exchanged, seeds are swapped, labour is shared, and the harvest is traded. As urban farming grows, a stronger interdependence within communities is likely to result as local food systems bring more community interaction into people’s daily lives. 

The most important movement of our time. Although there are many other notable initiatives today, the influence of urban farming is uniquely widespread because more people live in cities than rural areas and food is a central necessity that affects everything at once. The seeds of change are already being planted in homes like mine across the world. For these seeds to grow and blossom, we need to demand more local food so that the market for urban-grown produce expands. We also need to put pressure on our legal system to allow easier local trade and more local food production. Imagine if we grew food instead of grass. Every community is a local food economy waiting to come to life. The answer to climate change, the health crisis, and the recession economy is right outside your door. I’ll meet you at the garden fence.