Inventory 1996

by Dr Darren Phillips - July, 1996

This is an edited version of Dr Darren Phillips introduction to the 1996 Australian City Farms, Community Gardens and Enterprise Centres Inventory.

The Inventory, published by Dr Phillip's Hobart, Tasmania-based company, Symbioun Australia, and now out of print, went into two printings to cope with demand.

Even before it was published, people in different states surveying known community gardens realised that the Inventory would be incomplete as previously unknown gardens continued to be discovered.

Dr Phillips founded the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network.

City farms, community gardens and/ or living-come-enterprise centres, as urban agricultural-based activities, are playing an increasingly important role in communities in Australia.

This is particularly true in many urban areas hard hit by rapidly changing work, economic and social environments where many people have been displaced without any job security and means of sustaining themselves, for which long-term solutions and restructuring are required.

Solution centres

City farms, gardens and living/ enterprise centres are increasingly being recognised by community groups, businesses and government bodies alike as helping provide several component solutions to these wider problems in the longer term.

They include:

  • job skill training programs tailored to the needs of unemployed youth
  • small business enterprise spin-offs such as organic food retail sale and supply, arts and crafts, on-site cafes, plant nurseries and visitor interest-based activities/ programs
  • personal and social wellbeing to socially and emotionally displaced people through on-site contact, nurturing and managing of animals and plants, horticultural therapy
  • enhancement of communications skills and cultural exchange, particularly indigenous cultural heritage, through living systems and specialist food gardens
  • rebuilding or strengthening of community relations and communication
  • experience and stimulus in project design and development for on-site participants
  • an extensive range of educational programs, particularly to school groups focused on future directions for sustainable development and the integrated use of urban space and resources.

Benefits recognised

The value and benefit of such centres has also been recognised and highlighted more recently by:

  • populist magazines and TV shows such as the ABC's Gardening Australia
  • major reviews of food self-sufficiency and 'food bank' service measures for poverty relief by large community welfare organisations such as Anglican Community Services, based in North Adelaide
  • a burgeoning list, locally and internationally, of major publications documenting the social and economic benefits of urban agriculture, particularly in the developing world.

In short, they are becoming places or examples of holistic management, of both the human and wider environmental condition, helping to reknit and/ or enhance the social fabric, wellbeing and functionality of many communities and environs.

The Inventory

The Australian City Farms, Community Gardens and Enterprise Centres Inventory currently lists over 40 centres for Australia drawn from all six states and the Australian Capital Territory, bar the Northern Territory.

Many other centres are believed to be in existence or in the very early formative stages of development.

Most of the projects were begun from the early 1980s up to the present and all indicate an 'ongoing' direction. Participation in the projects often occurred through word of mouth, suggesting a network type approach and the 'power of individual comment'.

Survey data indicated that site users predominate in the under 20 and 20 to 40 age bracket, thought his varied considerably between location and focus of acivities of each centre. On average, slightly more than half the site users were female (~60%).

Differing sites all offered varying features, emphasising the problem of actually finding a suitable site or simply having to take what was offered.

This initial hurdle often presents problems in itself but sometimes also offers inspiration and optimism in the success of projects using land declared 'unusable' or 'degraded' by authorities. CERES, in Melbourne, and Planetary Action Networks in East Perth are good examples of this.

Most sites were on state or local government land and leased. Equipment provided on site was usually of the kind most readily available and affordable, such as tools and compost. However, some sites require site users to provide their own tools but provide storage facilities.

Funding

Surveys of centres in Australia revealed that approximately half received funding from government, commercial enterprises, grants, corporate sponsorships and affiliated organisations.

Most groups charge a membership and site fee of between $7-$35, and/ or obtain income from donation or public entrance fees.

It was indicated that funding was most often provided for a project devised by an established organisation. Not unexpectedly, this habit often brings particular hardship to those centres in their embryonic stages of development.

It was noted that many of what are now large, well established centres started from very small beginnings and relatively small seed money grant allocations, along with donations of materials and resources in-kind and lots of voluntary support.

In-kind donations by local small business also often play an important supportive role in the successful development of new sites. Hence, the importance of even small seed funding to fledgling ventures should not be underestimated by funding authorities.

Volunteers

Some centres lead a tenuous existence with no guarantees long-term funding and hence rely heavily on volunteer or unpaid staff.

It is clear from survey data that volunteers are closely linked to the success of all projects and their community-oriented focus, and form a key component to the long-term survival of the centre/ program.

Voluntarism can present problems for groups due to its unpredictable nature, their numbers often fluctuating seasonally.

Success

All survey respondents regard their project as successful in what they have strived to do. This extends from simply 'surviving' to attracting more enthusiasts/ visitors, negotiating legislative minefields, providing cheap and healthy organically grown food and reaching and sustaining commercial viability.

It is interesting to note that organic food production is stipulated by some organisations as a rule for users and contributors but for others it is not, and yet organic and companion planting methods are still the preferred techniques of garden users.

City farms, community gardens and enterprise centres are proving to be one tested and successful means which provide testament to the benefits and principles of urban agriculture and their related small business enterprise spin-offs.

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