Our powerful supermarkets and their ‘be big, be cheap’ thinking is pushing food production into remote areas. Craig Pearson from the Sustainable Society Institute at Melbourne Uni writes that we need urban agriculture as well as bulk farming in remote areas, or food security will be in danger. He says:
“An unseen consequence of export markets and supermarkets pushing food production away from cities, and our doing nothing about it, is that we stretch the supply lines and cut the connection between production and consumption. This means longer transport infrastructure – roads and rail – maintained by taxpayers, and larger carbon emissions.
The solution is not to lash out against large-scale remote farming for big, cheap, safe exports and supermarkets, but to demand parallel near-city production. We need to value urban agriculture. The yin and yang of food.”
Much is said about reaching ‘peak oil’ but Craig points out that reaching ‘peak phosphorus’ is also problematic as phosphorus is essential for life – to produce energy – and it cannot be synthesised.
“In our generation we should devise ways of recovering phosphorus from food waste and returning it as an essential fertiliser to our farms. Otherwise Australia will become hostage to phosphorus producers such as China and Morocco and our farmers and consumers will be bitten by escalating prices.”
Stretching food supply lines from remote areas to our cities means our urban areas are accumulating the nutrients in our food waste. Nutrients within food from inland Australia end up in city landfill, are flushed out to sea, or they are exported.
For truly healthy city living we need urban agriculture and we need to get the nutrients from the food waste back to the farms, where they can be recycled. This will help make agriculture ‘visible, fun and, in the long term, viable’.
In Montreal private entrepreneurship has created rooftop food producers.
Let’s encourage food production in our cities. Some of us have backyards where we grow veggies but community gardens are increasingly popular and should attract government encouragement – reduced red tape?
“Community food gardens bring people together, help break down cultural and immigrant barriers and positively affect mental health and physical wellbeing.
Why not set aside lots in new urban developments for community food production, just as we set aside larger areas for parkland? Preferably next to old folks homes or schools.”
Craig says one of the main benefits from putting vegetation on roofs and walls is its impact on local climate – cooling – and making places more attractive.
He also says that Melbourne is a long way behind world’s best practice for green roofs and that we should not settle for ‘just green’ when there are opportunities for rooftop food production.
He cites Montreal entrepreneurship where rooftop greenhouses are commercially viable because they supply contract food baskets direct to consumers.
We have community interest, overseas models, but we’re just muddling along..