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Big money uproots food gardens

14 August 2012 - 02:14 By Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver

City food gardens are cool. They use otherwise wasted space, produce lovely fresh food that doesn't cost the earth, and are good for the environment.

Apart from the simple joy of having a vegetable garden in your yard, it cuts transport costs of food and is climate friendly.

There is an active global movement around food gardens, with some strong proponents in South Africa.

There's a great food garden in Bezuidenhout Park in Johannesburg, run by Wits University, which uses permaculture to bring food security to city dwellers.

The Food Gardens Foundation started similar work in Soweto and has since spread this to a number of other communities.

During COP17 in Durban, the city of Ethekwini showcased a rooftop food garden project on top of city buildings to grow vegetables.

Food gardens can be integral to community mobilisation.

One UK community has used communal vegetable gardens to change the narrative of food in their community.

As food activist Pam Warhurst says: "There are so many people who don't really recognise a vegetable unless it is in a bit of plastic with an instruction on the top."

So the community started what they call their "incredible edible journey", planting up every available space, from the police station to the cemetery, and turning vegetable tourism into a growing business.

So it comes as some surprise that food gardens are under attack.

There is a worrying trend in the US and Canada of city officials using city by-laws to pick on urban food gardens. After digging up the front garden to make way for lovely healthy veggies, Karl Tricamo from Missouri was prosecuted by city officials for contravening the city exterior appearance code.

Drummondville in Quebec is planning to ban all front yard gardens in the municipality. In Oklahoma, a woman recently had her entire front yard garden illegally bulldozed by city officials. Similar cases are happening in Georgia, Michigan and New Jersey.

Blinkered officialdom is partly to blame. But behind these cases lurks the hidden hand of the large commercial food business, which doesn't like self-sufficiency in food.

While South African municipalities have so far been very supportive of urban greening, this is something we must watch out for. We need city by-laws that promote urban agriculture, not block it.