My goal is to start a backyard based urban farming project in Brisbane which would be run as a not-for-profit focused on three things – reducing food miles, improving access to healthy food in ‘food desert’ areas and educating young people in organic farming techniques. The project would involve building a series of small but intensive vegetable gardens in various backyards around a chosen neighbourhood and using volunteers to maintain and harvest the plots. The produce would be divided up with some being returned to the property owners as a lease payment and the rest distributed to the local community in exchange for a non-compulsory donation.
I was fortunate enough to have worked with a few groups in Montreal during 2015 that were implementing a similar idea with a lot of success and my hope is to transfer the concept to Brisbane.
My name is James and I am very passionate about promoting the role of locally grown organic food. I think our food system that ships food all across the country (and the world) just doesn’t make sense in a world that is obviously suffering under the strain of human impact. Having come from a background in civil engineering and urban planning, I have spent the last few years volunteering abroad on small scale organic and permaculture farms in a number of countries and have developed a strong sense of how food can be grown efficiently and without chemicals in relatively small spaces. I hope to use this knowledge to begin making small steps towards a less ridiculous food system.
A gigantic cassava harvested from Mohala Farms in Hawaii
A majority of people are becoming increasingly aware of our environmental impact and are willing to change their daily habits through actions such as reducing plastic bags, saving water and using public transport. A huge and often overlooked source of pollution is the choice of food that we buy each day. The transportation component for a typical basket full of groceries in Australia is on the order of 70,000 kilometers, or twice around the earth.
“Generally speaking, the greater the distance food has travelled, from paddock to plate, the greater the transport pollution, and the greater the impact on the health of people, the land and the global climate – a concept known as ‘food miles.“
If we were to pay a little more attention to how and where our food is grown, we could potentially have an impact that would make our other ‘eco friendly’ daily habits pale in comparison. Obviously the choice of food also plays a large part, with more processed foods and those from animal based sources contributing significantly more than those found in a simpler and more plant based diet. Another little known fact is that the nutrition contained in fresh produce is often only a fraction of its original content after days or weeks of refrigerated transport, meaning the consumer is not getting the full benefits of the healthy food they are eating.
Our current food system is not only unnecessarily damaging our planet, but is also reliant on a complicated and fragile web of fossil fueled transportation. To look at the volatile nature of the worlds economy, it seems dangerous to let access to food, one of the things vital for us to survive, be entirely dependent on whether we can get oil at a reasonable cost.
The nature of this project is to demonstrate that we aren’t completely at the mercy of supermarkets and that growing some of our food locally makes sense environmentally and nutritionally.
- Find willing volunteers (the urban farmers)
- Anybody welcome, young people and school children especially encouraged, no experience required.
- Once gardens are built only minimal hours would be needed to maintain growing operation so workers could squeeze in time before/after work or on weekends to help out.
- Identify suitable region in Brisbane
- Area would preferably be a ‘food desert’ (A food desert is a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is hard to obtain, particularly for those without access to an automobile.)
- Would need to be in a zone where there is likely to be sufficient backyard space.
- Find backyards (the urban farms)
- Door knock/pamphlet the region asking for yard space to ‘lease’ in exchange for vegetables each week
- Conduct soil tests in yards to check for heavy metals and other contaminants
- Check for sun availability (6 to 8 hours per day is preferable)
- Build the backyard farms
- A working bee would be held to prepare each yard where participants would be involved in construction of raised beds, tilling, soil building, planting vegetable seedlings, mulching and irrigation system setup
- Depending on the soil encountered, some beds may need to be prepared and then left for a few months to absorb the amendments added before seedlings are transplanted.
- Maintain the backyard farms
- Sites would be visited a few times per week (this would vary throughout the season) by volunteers to check the plants and ensure the irrigation systems are working
- A live spreadsheet system would be used to record any observations and track progress
- Harvest and distribute the produce
- Harvesting would be done once a week and the produce bought back to a central point where it would be sorted and packed for distribution
- Food baskets would be delivered to each property owner in exchange for use of the yard space
- The remaining produce would be freely distributed via food baskets to the local community in exchange for a small (optional) donation which would help go towards seeds and consumable garden supplies.
During the fundraising campaign, I will be riding a bike solo and unsupported from Brisbane to Melbourne and then taking a ferry across the Bass Strait to ride around Tasmania. In an effort to bring attention to the huge distance that most our food travels before it gets to a plate (and also because I’m crazy), I will be doing the ride dressed as a giant carrot.
The trip should take approximately 6 or 7 weeks and will cover over 2500kms. On the way I’m planning on dropping in on a number of small farms to take a look at how they grow food and will be taking plenty of notes and pictures. If you are interested in how I’m doing on the trip, take a quick look at my website – freewheelingfarmer.com – where I’ll be tracking my journey via blog posts and videos.
I am not the first person to come up with this concept, many others around the world are transforming urban areas into lush mini farms and innovating the way forward. The biggest inspiration for starting this project was a group I volunteered with in Montreal called Cycle Alimenterre, this is the link to their website: https://cyclealimenterre.wordpress.com/mission/.
Below are a few more links to videos of inspirational urban and small scale farmers to give you an idea of what is being achieved out there.
Stacey Murphy of BK Farmyards in NYC – BK Farmyards
Curtis Stone (no, not the celebrity chef) of Green City Acres in Kelowna, BC – Curtis Stone Urban Farmer
Jean Martin Fortier, The Market Gardener – Jean Martin Fortier