Community Supported Local Food Systems & Agriculture

Community-supported local food systems and community-supported agriculture (that is, food co-operatives, community and school gardens, farmers’ markets, edible landscapes, city farms) can create supportive environments for healthy eating and physical activity. Gardening is recognised as a way to improve physical and mental health, nutritional status of communities, and capacity building within communities.

Definitions

Food cooperatives

Food cooperatives or cooperative shops are owned and operated by a local community to meet local community’s need for fresh and healthy food. In the simplest form of food cooperatives, urban consumers work together to source and bulk-buy local chemical-free produce. Members take turns each week in collecting the produce and take turns for several months at being the organiser.

For more information on different types of cooperatives, seehttp://www.seedinternational.com.au/community%20food%20systems.html

Community gardens and allotment gardens

Community gardens make the consumers the producers. These systems bring food production much closer to home and actively engage urban neighbourhoods in the production of food.

Community gardens and allotment gardens

Allotment gardens are a shared community garden divided into allotments which are separately maintained, with a nominal rent paid by gardeners. Materials and funds required to operate the gardens are sourced together, however the individual members (or groups of friends) grow, harvest and consume their own produce. Trading often occurs between the allotment gardeners. Composting and orchards are usually managed together in shared spaces. There are many examples of these gardens — Woogaroo Creek Community Garden, and Ipswich and Toowoomba Community Organic Gardens.

City farms

City farms

When animals are included, community gardening systems are generally known as city farms. City farms are also more focused on education and the demonstration of sustainable urban living, so are found in highly visible locations. City farms provide a focal point and meeting place for local neighbourhoods. They often occupy larger areas than community gardens and members generally work together cooperatively to achieve more than they could by working alone. This cooperation also provides opportunities for sharing skills and experience. Two examples from Brisbane are the Northey Street City Farm and Beelerong Community Farm. See Case study: Northey Street City Farm.

Community-supported agriculture

Community-supported agriculture has potential for landholders with small farms located near cities or large regional centres to provide economic viability to and for their community. The community provides income to the farmer at the start of the season and receives discounted food at harvest. It links city people with growers and healthy food — such as Food Connect (see previous information in Part B orwww.foodconnect.com.au) and Mimsbrook Farm, Perth (see www.biodynamic-food.com/community_agriculture.html).

Farmers’ markets

Fresh food from the local region is sold directly from farmers to the consumers at Farmers’ markets. The markets focus on fresh produce, but also include cheeses, herbs, honey, breads, eggs, meat, preserves and other value-added products. Some farmers’ markets include local arts and crafts and natural fibre clothing. At the markets, farmers meet the people who eat their food and gain direct feedback. Consumers meet the people who grow their food and are able to find out more about the produce they are buying. The farmer-consumer connection gives deeper meaning and satisfaction to both (see www.organicfooddirectory.com.au/general-issues/community-food-systems/community-supported-agriculture.html ).

Edible landscapes or food gardens

Edible landscapes are also known as food gardens, and can be just as attractive as traditional ornamental gardens yet they produce fruits and vegetables. Individuals, councils or communities can install an entirely edible landscape, or incorporate simple elements into existing yards, gardens and open spaces or next to footpaths.

While edible landscapes are usually found in home gardens, the use of food-producing plants can be incorporated into street planting, school gardens, botanic gardens and common areas of residential units — such as retirement villages.

Edible landscapes combine fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and ornamental plants into aesthetically pleasing designs. These designs can incorporate any garden style and the edible component can range from one to 100%.

The edible components of residential landscapes have largely been lost to the now familiar shade trees, lawns, and foundation plantings. However, in the past decade there has been a revival of interest in edible landscaping. For more information, look for nurseries that specialise in edible landscapes, along with information online (including www.urbanfoodgarden.org/).

How to develop a program for community-supported local food systems and agriculture

Many existing community gardens and farms are on parklands owned or managed by councils. Across Queensland, requests to establish community gardens and farms, and demands for other park activities are on the increase. This is placing further pressure on parklands and the resources required to manage them. This section provides a list of initial steps required and factors to consider when establishing a community garden or community garden program.

Establishing community gardens can be driven by the community or driven by council. Most often, community groups will approach council to help identify and acquire access to land and for other assistance such as garden design. In some situations council will promote the benefits of a community garden to groups likely to use it, and work with them to build support and provide guidance and resources.

  1. Determine internal roles and responsibilities
    • this can be performed by a town planner, open space planner or community development officer to establish a strategic governance framework and project team for implementation
  2. Community gardens inventory (where appropriate)
    • perform an inventory of existing community gardens and farms on public land, including:
      • location
      • size
      • type
      • asset condition
      • management and tenure arrangement
      • time remaining on lease (if appropriate)
      • contact details for manager or committee
      • levels of participation (note proximity to housing, units, co-location with community facilities etc.)
      • known constraints (such as floods in one-in-10-year events)
      • known conditions (such as soil type, water availability etc.)
      • connectivity with bus, bicycle and pedestrian access, and access to other parks etc.
    • Prepare a map showing the location of existing community gardens and farms. Include a summary of the garden or farm and provide contacts details. The map should be updated regularly, and available internally and externally through various mediums (such as GIS, council website – downloadable and printable version)
  3. Identify criteria for future gardens
    • develop criteria for community gardens and farms on public land, including:
      • preferred minimum size of garden or farm
      • criteria for co-location within a park or open space area
      • management and tenure arrangement
      • preferred conditions (such as soil type, water availability, and floods no more than in a one-in-10-year event)
      • connectivity including bus, bicycle and pedestrian access, and access to other parks etc.
      • proximity to residents.
    • according to these criteria, identify sites that may be appropriate for development as community gardens. This map can also highlight other community use of land, parks and schools etc.
    • prepare a map showing the possible locations of future community gardens and farms. The map may:
      • help council target priority areas for community gardens
      • be useful in assisting community groups inquiring about where to establish facilities
      • ultimately reduce council’s need to plan for capital and operational budget expenditure in these areas, as community groups become involved
  4. How to guide
    • develop a step by step guideline for use by individuals or groups to start a community garden. Include links to useful websites and contacts (see Other sources of information for assistance)
    • the guide can be used by individuals and community groups to establish a community garden. This can also be a reference for other land owners (such as retirement villages and schools) to support the development of a community garden
    • identify key performance indicators to measure community gardens and farms and participants (such as volunteer hours, food production level and social benefits) and provide opportunities for improvements
  5. Tenure policy or guidelines
    • develop preferred requirements for tenure arrangements, identifying a variety of land tenure options for community gardens and farms depending on size, use, resources and land availability
    • include workplace health and safety procedures and grievance or dispute procedures as part of tenure and management processes
  6. Funding report
    • prepare a funding report to identify the funds sourced from council’s operational budget and funds from grant schemes and alternative funding sources
  7. Assessment of applications
    • develop an assessment process for council officers to use to ensure requests for community gardens and farms are assessed in an equitable and time-efficient manner
  8. Communications strategy
    • consider the methods of promoting and marketing community gardens and farms and develop a communication strategy
    • identify applicable education, training and capacity-building programs for community garden and farm participants
    • consider which groups can benefit from the community garden and target them in council communications and promotions
  9. Reward and recognition scheme
    • develop a reward and recognition scheme for community garden participants
    • link the reward and recognition scheme with other council, volunteer and community participation programs
  10. Exit strategy
    • develop an exit strategy for public lands no longer being used as community gardens and farms, to ensure a suitable land use is achieved
  11. Annual review – operational report
    • review existing activities, events, promotion and communication for contributions and links with council’s corporate and operational plan, including
    • identify key management issues on the operation of community gardens and farms
    • highlight successes and challenges.

Other sources of information

  • Active Living by Design: an American program providing an information hub of innovative approaches to increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design, public policies and communications strategies (seewww.activelivingbydesign.org)
  • Community Garden: provides examples of community garden documents ideal for community groups, such as policies and guidelines. The website includes advice on how to:
  • Community Foods: connects to farmers markets, community gardens, cooperatives, farm gate suppliers and seed saver groups (seehttp://www.comfoods.org.au/)
  • Food Connect: a farmer direct to community food distribution enterprise operating in South East Queensland. It provides food for city families, a decent living for farmers, supports the land and assists in the establishment of local community networks (see www.foodconnect.com.au)
  • Growing Communities: a community based cooperative enterprise working to promote the establishment, development and on-going support of school and community gardens and city farms in South East Queensland and beyond. It provides services to schools, community groups, government and individuals, including:
    • the design, consultancy, implementation and ongoing management support, including waste or resource audits and water management plans
    • network development, seminars and meetings
    • the state and national promotion of community gardening (seewww.growingcommunities.org.au).
  • SEED International: provides information on permaculture, permaculture design courses, permaculture hands on workshops, books, consultancy and education (see case study and www.seedinternational.com.au)
  • The Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network: an informal, community-based organisation linking people interested in community gardening across Australia. It is a useful resource, containing information on how to establish a garden, tips and lessons learnt, links to other organisations, and more (see www.communitygarden.org.au)

Case Studies