Yarra’s black earth


Fitzroy’s breadbasket

I’m not thinking much about what Lionel eats yet. Neither is he. I’ll have to think about it eventually; Big Food wants to turn my son into a type two diabetic and I have to stop them.

But grow my own food?

Parenting advice from the council tells me I should “grow healthy and tasty food for your family”. If I don’t have a garden, it says I can get a “plot at a local community garden.”

Stupid hippies. Why do you move as close as you can to the city and then want to grow your own food? Cities import food. That’s one of the things that makes them cities.

That’s how I reacted. Truthfully, I probably don’t want to grow my own food because I’m too lazy. But I need to review all my beliefs and habits. I need to review them because one day my son will grow up and hold me accountable for everything; for the paths I opened up and closed off to him with every decision I made. I have to think things through.

“Why don’t we grow our own food, Pappa?”

“Because it’s stupid.”

That won’t do, so I’m asking seriously: can I contribute to my kid’s nutritional needs by growing my own food in the city?

The internet says you need about .07  or a hectare, about the size of a football field, to sustain adult.  Working back from that figure, a plot in a community garden isn’t really going to make a contribution. And that’s if you’re an excellent gardener. I’m a shit gardener. I would probably end up killing a fellow community gardener with some sort of reaping tool in a fit of pique.

Does that get me out of it?

Not according to Yarra City’s community garden guidelines:

The City of Yarra recognises the importance of urban agriculture in supporting community sustainability, especially in times of changing climate and the myriad of associated issues such as food security due to diminishing oil supplies.

Food security. That’s a lot to pin on a community garden. If there’s anything to it, I guess I’m sort of morally obliged to participate.


Early lessons in food security

Back to the internet, the greatest instrument of confirmation bias ever invented.

Bingo! Urban agriculture is stupid. Lots of knowledgeable bloggers are saying you can’t feed a city from within its borders and you probably shouldn’t try:  the environmental benefits of dense urban housing far outweigh any that might be achieved from local food production. In short, don’t use valuable urban land for non-intensive purposes. If you have a back yard, then sure, grow some food, though maybe you shouldn’t have a backyard …

So we’re off the hook. We can use our time to swim instead of garden. In fact, we should build a block of flats on everyone else’s garden.

Ok, that would be an overreaction, but why can’t the council just say that gardening is healthy and fun, and even educational. It’s worth encouraging on those grounds alone. If it’s your thing, then you do it for the sheer delight of it, the joy of eating your own food, like fishing or making your own beer.

I’m not ranting against community efforts to address climate change and it’s impacts -I’m a shareholder in community solar project.

I also don’t want to be down on the City of Yarra council because their services are pretty good – in 2014/15 garbage collectors missed only 1.27 bins per 10,000 scheduled kerbside collections, the second best performance in the state – but I think saving the world is too big a burden for a community garden to bear.


4 thoughts on “Yarra’s black earth

  1. How wonderful it is that you have resolved this issue for everyone. I look forward to supporting your imminent leadership of Australia wherein you can resolve many more of our pressing social, economic, and environmental issues. I feel so fortunate to have once lived with you in my formative foggy years at university. Please don’t make us wait too much longer for another piece of your enlightened insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this brendyn. Just read this to mum and its something we have talked about a lot in re to our community garden. Its about joy in the garden , eating fresh salads , community spirit. We even have playgroup in the garden because its just a lovely place to be. Lets not forget too how much extra work goes into producing these kind of ambitious outcomes proposed by big picture advocates – work that is usually invisible… im addressing similar issues with my phd about volunteer tourism. Why frame it in terms of development aid and all those problems associated with that model? Why not emphasis the interesting intercultural components because isnt that big enough? Anyways thanks for the entertainment on our car journey to port maquarie


    • Ha, thanks for reading, Phoebe. The blog reflects the mood I’m in on the rare occasions I sit down to write it. One of the good things about holding forth ignorantly on a subject is that you get to learn something from people’s replies. Community spirit – social capital, as another person said – is a pretty sound objective. But pursuing something for the shear delight of it seems an increasingly subversive idea, and that’s what community gardens are partly about, which is great. There is a bigger picture; and lots of unseen activity taking place that will feed in to a better way of doing things in the future. I don’t want to dismissive of that like some old curmudgeon. I’m just a bit lazy, and I feel like I’m doing my bit for planet by living in a flat. Plus if my efforts at gardening are linked to food security then we are all in trouble. On the other hand, if someone can convince me that it helps kids eat vegetables then I’ll sign up. Can’t wait for government to take on big food, so we have to fend for ourselves, which really bugs me. Maybe community gardening is connected to that in a way I don’t see. Or maybe I do see. It just won’t be that alone, obviously. Interested to learn more about your Phd topic. Maybe I’ll go off half-cocked about that next. Best. Brendan.


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