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Producing Our Own Food

By Dave Cromarty, retired forester and Landcare Facilitator

Did you know that the city of Havana in Cuba produces 80% of all its own food needs? This interesting fact, presented by David Suzuki at a recent Landcare conference I attended, is cause for optimism about global food security into the future. If cities can produce so much of their own food, then perhaps some of the dire predictions of mass starvation that we heard and read about in the latter part of last century may have been overly alarmist.

Of course it’s not valid to extend the experience of one city – a verdant tropical one at that – across the globe, and the reason we avoided the dire predictions of Paul and Anne Ehrlich in “The Population Bomb”, among others, was more to do with advances in traditional scale agriculture than urban self-sufficiency. Indeed even before the Ehrlich’s wrote their famous book in the 1968, Norman Borlaug “the father of the Green Revolution” and others were quietly working away in India, Mexico and elsewhere on improvements to agricultural productivity. Fittingly, Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work he did in averting catastrophic food shortages in the late 20th century.

History has a way of repeating itself and predictions of imminent global food shortages are surfacing again. Again, advances in agriculture will be required to ensure global food security, but local, urban, family and community gardening will surely also play a role.

On a recent train trip to Melbourne, I was heartened to observe vegetable gardens spilling over the back fences of suburban homes onto the railway easement. What a wonderful sight to see proud urban gardeners turning what had been relatively barren or weed infested land into a productive and aesthetically pleasing resource. Hopefully the railway authorities will continue to condone or at least turn a blind eye to the practice and I’m sure that there are many more areas in our cities and towns that would lend themselves to urban food production. Anyone who has done any travelling in Asia will have observed that a dedicated gardener can produce abundant food from even the tiniest bit of soil.

Of course, throughout much of Australia, water is a much more limiting resource than soil but here again, our towns and cities produce vast quantities of urban stormwater runoff that, when harvested, can be used to keep our gardens green and productive. Perhaps more of that in a future article.