by Russ Grayson
THE CITY OF SYDNEY has adopted a policy on community gardening that offers the potential for collaboration with community-based and other food-oriented organisations as well as community gardens. Singled out are the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network, the Sydney Community Gardens Network and the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance.
The Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network made a formal submission to the plan in its draft stage when it was open for public comment. It is pleasing to see that this was included in the policy.
The policy recognises community gardens as a valid urban landuse and as a contributor to the City's long term plan — Sustainable Sydney 2030-Global, Green, Connected. The document states that community gardens are a " ...valuable recreational activity that contributes to the health and wellbeing of the wider community and provides a wide range of environmental, social and educational benefits".
the gardens demonstrate best practice sustainable design, reduction of environmental impact and the building of effective partnerships between community groups and government agencies
The policy foresees an increase in the number of community gardens in the near future due to rising community demand. It recognises that, where a number of households are involved, street verge plantings can be recognised as community gardens.
In their relation to the City of Sydney's plans, community gardens are portrayed as supporting ' ...the vision of Sustainable Sydney 2030... community gardens also support the objectives of the City's Social Policy 2006 and Social Plan 2006-2010 by offering opportunities for community participation in the development of social capital and cultural diversity".
With the alignment of community gardens with Sustainable Sydney 2030, the report says, the gardens demonstrate best practice sustainable design, reduction of environmental impact and the building of effective partnerships between community groups and government agencies due to the "substantial community involvement in planning, decision making, garden management and day-to-day activities".
Community gardens as social asset
Highlighting these links demonstrates how councils increasingly view community gardening as a positive environmental, food security and social resource. More and more, an increasing number of councils see community gardens as social assets.
Perhaps the most substantial example of this was the contracting to the Victorian Department of Human Services of the community organisation, Cultivating Community, some years ago. This is a relationship that has endured. Cultivating Community, whose CEO, Jennifer Alden, is national community garden network contact, is responsible for the design, start-up and assisting the management of community gardens on social housing estates, as well as at least one food co-operative and community kitchen.
Putting community gardens in community context
The City's is a comprehensive policy that links community gardening to other community food enterprises: "Community gardens are just one type of urban agriculture", the policy states quite accurately.
This aligns with the attitude of the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network which has consistently promoted and advocated a range of community food enterprises as initiatives in community self-help. It is also why the Network has highlighted the value of local government producing food policies that further context community gardening as one approach to food security but that take a deeper view of food security as food sovereignty, the potential for people to extend their influence over the food they eat and the system through which it is derived.
It also recognises the reality that people active in community gardening are sometimes involved in other community food enterprises such as food co-operatives and food advocacy and education coalitions.
Support for community food initiatives and partnerships
In placing community gardening in its natural context of community food systems, the policy commits the City to providing " ...information, advice, grants and support to local food initiatives such as community supported agriculture schemes, food co-operatives, farmers' markets, school kitchen gardens, city farms, food aid and rescue programs and green roofs". The City will continue to offer education in organic gardening, resource recovery and sustainable living.
This seems to offer the opportunity for those grassroots food initiatives operating within the City of Sydney to develop collaborative activities and events with the City. These would work best when of mutual benefit.
The documents also recognises that collaboration and partnerships are a key means of getting things done. Collaboration is an obvious benefit to community organisations as they have limited funding and limited capacity as they are usually managed by volunteers.
The policy document articulates how partnerships are the " ...key to the development of resilient community gardens", citing the City's partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust and Housing NSW, the UNSW Community Development Project... the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network, the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance... as well as a number of community organisations".
For both the national and Sydney community gardens network, there appears to be potential in this.
The City's role
In stating that the City intends to develop " ...strong partnerships with garden groups and sponsoring agencies", the document identifies the preferred type of community garden management as that of self-managed gardens in which the gardeners make their own decisions.
The policy goes on to offer a range of services to community gardening groups such as advice and materials, education, training and support.
Under 'Support', the City foreshadows support for " ... the Sydney Community Gardens Network, the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network and the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance".
It is interesting to note that this is support offered as the City's initiative and was not requested by any of the organisations mentioned. The first they learned of it was its appearance in the policy document.
For community gardens organisations, the City's offer of support is testament to their having achieved validity, influence and a positive role in the City and beyond, and attests to the value of the collaborative approach that permeates the community gardening ethos.