The idea of using small areas for food production is not new. In Europe, allotments are an
established feature of residential landscapes and lifestyles. These are under pressure from residential
growth. With continued land
closure from spreading cities and towns, we need to find new places to grow our
In times of economic recession, we
all look at ways we can save money. Growing our own fruit and vegetables is one
example of cost savings, and being sure of knowing what we are eating. The rising awareness of carbon
footprints created by transporting produce around countries and around the
world has made us stop and look at our attitudes towards our resources and
consumer behaviour. The further
out we push our horticulture areas, the further it has to travel to
distribution centres. This in turn
impacts on the carbon footprint of bringing food into urban areas, which in
turn impacts on local and global resources.
Gardens for sustenance are becoming
popular again with resurgence in hands-on local food production and movements
such as ‘Backyard Sustainability’. There is a large community of people growing their own food – out of
their own back or front yards, The ‘Edible Estates’ movement promoting the idea
of replacing suburban lawns with vegetable gardens.
Suburban residential gardens, community gardens and
allotments are all actively sustainable food producing areas. It is taking the
principals and desired outcomes from these pockets of nutritional horticulture and transferring them into other areas
of land not previously considered.
A high density residential townhouse development based around an open
space area may offer little else besides visual amenity. The open space still needs maintenance,
lawns need to be mowed, weeds removed, and amenity plants sustained.
Redevelopment will often leave
‘left-over’ spaces, or ‘wedges’, in the landscape. Can these be used for nutritional plants instead of the
typical amenity shrubs and trees? Often these spaces are left to their own
devices or become empty mowed spaces.
Food production doesn’t
always mean vegetables in a traditional style garden bed such as cabbages,
silver beet and runner beans.
There are examples worldwide where fruit trees have been planted in
streets, parks and other public places.
Evergreen shrubs such as Feijoa sellowiana can be used as a hedge.
Blueberries, raspberries, cranberries and currents are all shrubby types that
could be used as we would hebes in the amenity garden. Grapes and fruit trees could be
espaliered along a fence. Sloe berries and juniper berries – these could become
controlled amenity food supplies in an urban environment. Walnut, macadamia, hazelnut are trees
that can provide the strong vertical element and be used to soften or buffer
Havana – Sustainable Urban Agriculture
are alternatives to our traditional ways and current attitudes towards food
An article by Scott
Chaplow published by City Farmer, from the Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture
(‘Havana’s Popular Gardens: Sustainable Urban Agriculture’ 1996) discusses the
effects the economic crisis of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the US
economic embargo had on food supply in Cuba faced between 1989 and 1993. Together with a reduction of oil,
fertiliser and pesticide imports, ‘the ongoing economic crisis had a
devastating impact on Cuban food security’. The additional petroleum shortage impacted on the ability to
‘transport, refrigerate and store food available from the rural agricultural
Without the ability to
import food, or transport food from rural areas, the city of Havana was
severely affected by the food shortage.
Urban agriculture in Havana or urban gardening ‘has figured critically
among the many measures taken to enhance food security’
The solution to this
major problem was to create urban agriculture. There are many forms ranging from private gardens, to state
owned research gardens. However,
the most widespread and accessible to the general public are ‘popular gardens’,
which are ‘small parcels of state-owned land that are cultivated by
individuals or community groups in response to ongoing food shortages...Garden
sites are usually vacant or abandoned plots located in the same neighbourhood
if not next door to the gardener’s household.’ There are a range of one to
seventy people participating in each of the popular gardens, depending on the
It is not just social,
economical and nutritional benefits that come from growing our own food, it is
an understanding and a feeling of connectivity. The brief for amenity planting projects is to visually
screen, or enhance but to be low maintenance. Amenity planting is a backdrop, a design solution that gives
good visuals but contributes little towards our involvement and demands little
of our attention.
This thought leadership article by Melissa Davis, a senior landscape architect at Harrison Grierson.
(This is an adaptation of a paper that was published as part of the proceedings for the 47th IFLA World Congress, Suzhou, China 2010)
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