Call for $500 Million National Edible Gardening Fund
By Gabrielle Stannus
On the back of its National Pandemic Gardening Survey, Sustain has called for the creation of a $500 million National Edible Gardening Fund, which it claims will create 3,000 new jobs and boost urban agriculture across Australia.
“Naomi Lacey, the president of Community Gardens of Australia and Sustain steering committee member, drew our attention to the fact that a number of community gardens and gardeners were being shut during COVID. Gardeners were told they could not access those spaces to grow food. Around the same time, there were media reports of panic buying in supermarkets and nurseries selling out of seeds and seedlings,” explains Dr Nick Rose, Sustain’s Executive Director.
”We were hearing concerns at that time about the impact of mental health on enforced isolation and social distancing,” continues Nick, “We wanted to capture the perspectives and experiences of Australians who are engaged in growing some of their own food during this time to get a sense of what it meant to them.”
Sustain conducted the National Pandemic Gardening Survey between mid-June to mid-July this year and received 9,140 responses. Over 70 percent of survey respondents said growing food had significantly or greatly improved their mental health, while over 80 percent said gardening during the COVID-19 period had been very important to them. One-fifth of all survey respondents said they could not have made it through the initial stages of the pandemic without their garden.
With the nation entering an economic recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nick is concerned that further job losses and the winding back of the Jobseeker supplement will increase food insecurity. A recent Foodbank survey found that almost one-third of Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020 (28%) had never experienced it before COVID-19 1, with the casual workforce and international students emerging as two completely new food insecure groups as a result of the pandemic 2. A national survey of 15,000 renters found that over a quarter of respondents said they had skipped meals to save money 3.
“Governments are pouring millions of dollars into the food bank system 4 and the emergency food relief sector to feed people who are having to prioritize their housing costs,” says Nick, “However, we need a more dignified way for people to access food, particularly fresh food which is not always available at these food banks.”
$500m National Edible Gardening Fund
Sustain are using the survey results to make the case for greater investment and support to help build a more cohesive and integrated urban agriculture and edible gardening movement in Australia. This network has developed a Roadmap for Transformation, identifying opportunities to enhance urban agriculture through better urban planning and land use, capacity building, infrastructure, policy and planning, governance and coordination, and the provision of finance, subsidies and incentives.
The centrepiece of the Roadmap is a $500 million National Edible Gardening Fund, which Sustain is calling upon the Federal, State and Territory governments to co-finance. Nick says that this fund would help to finance:
3,000 new jobs, including 1,300 part-time community garden coordinators, 500 edible gardening trainers/mentors and a Food Systems/Food Security Officer in every local government ($137.25 million)
Infrastructure to support edible gardening projects (e.g. seeds, seedlings, compost and soil mixes ($40 million)
A grants program focussing on schools and community groups ($50 million)
National and state-based peak bodies for governance and coordination ($5 million)
Rates rebates to unlock land for urban agriculture ($42.75 million)
‘Social prescriptions’ for people at risk of diabetes and other medical conditions ($225 million)
“Most of our health budget is taken up dealing with the symptoms and consequences of disease and ill health. This would be a way of investing in healthy communities and healthy people,” says Nick, “Instead of being given prescriptions for drugs, people could be provided with subsidized access to gardening and cooking classes, fresh vegetables and fruit from local producers, or participation in an urban farm or community garden.”
Rates rebates would incentivise private developers to make vacant land available for community gardening. “We have got so much land that is just growing weeds in concrete behind cyclone fences,” claims Nick, “Pop-up gardens with above-ground infrastructure could be forklifted off and moved somewhere else when developers are ready to build. You could have a rolling network of urban farms popping up all over the place and getting people involved, greening our cities and contributing to the health and wellbeing of so many people.”
“Urban agriculture is already having all these fantastic benefits,” claims Nick, “With some proper resourcing, it could make such a huge difference to so many people.”