IMAGINE a city with 9000 hectares of public park space within its city limits. Imagine that city growing 30,000 fruit trees on public land; 30 community gardens providing free nourishment for anyone who needs it; 70 schools building edible gardens to educate and feed their students.
A fantasy? Think again. This is all right here in Christchurch. So why do statistics tell us that 40% of Cantabrians are struggling to afford healthy food?
Michael Reynolds, Network Manager at The Food Resilience Network Canterbury (FRN), is working hard to provide leadership and support for Christchurch’s community based food projects. Raising awareness, bringing people together and getting healthy food to those who need it are core themes for the group.
“When you walk around Christchurch you realise how much food has been grown in people’s back yards or in public spaces that’s going to waste,” he says.
EXPORTS OVERSHADOW FOOD PRODUCTION
“Look at dairy, milk, apples, meat – around 70% of what we produce gets shipped overseas and yet we’ve got people in our country that cannot feed themselves. That’s not how a first world nation should be operating.”
The FRN includes people involved in education, community gardens, the University of Canterbury Sustainability and others involved in food security.
“We want to be actively involved in setting up a local food system that’s bioregionally focused. We’re really lucky with the land, the landscape and the climate we have here. Self-sufficiency is completely and utterly doable.”
FOOD RESILIENCE AND COMMUNITY CLOSELY LINKED
The network started out focusing on growing food but it soon became evident that these projects were more about community.
“Food is the vehicle.” Michael explains, “It’s a universal truth that everyone needs to eat. We all hold this thing in common so why not leverage that in a way that creates a positive environment and a positive experience of a person living in a community.”
His family embraced growing and preserving food from their own backyards giving him an innate understanding of the benefits of carefully nurtured land.
“Like a lot of people, my grandparents came through the depression and had massive vegetable gardens. I can still remember as a teenager bringing home two or three supermarket bags of beetroot and helping my mother pickle and jar them – enough to keep us going the entire year. It was just who we were as a family.”
COUNCIL ASKS THE COMMUNITY
Public consultation after the earthquakes drew attention to a strong desire for more green spaces and edibles across the city. FRN and the Christchurch City Council embraced the idea with exciting new plans for integrating a fresh food growing system into the rebuild plan.
Otakaro Orchard is a new central city food forest which will eventually become the FRN’s HQ. It will incorporate a café, office, event spaces, outdoor amphitheatre and food information centre as well as a free edible garden right in the heart of the city. Well underway, and with most of the funding now in place, it is providing a gateway to the local food movement growing in Christchurch.
There is hope that through this project the council and public will recognise the tremendous possibilities available along the Avon River corridor, red zone land and throughout all districts to weave together the community around food resilience.
Future plans involve working with the University of Canterbury on clinical trials around using plants to help regenerate toxic land.
“There’s been some research around hemp’s ability to remove contaminants from the soil, store it among the fibres, then use the fibres in ways that don’t pass the toxins on to humans,” Michael says. “There’s also talk of using certain types of fungi that can remove toxins as well.”
Another project being planned is an Edible Canterbury food cart.
“We will tow it around with an e-bike and sell 100% local produce at farmer’s markets or places in town. It will give some of the small scale producers an opportunity to showcase their products. We want to make that connection for people that this particular piece of land will be a good place to come and buy some local food.”
They have just managed to secure a deal with Hill Laboratories for schools and community gardens across Christchurch to get their soil tested for free to make sure they are not growing food that will be detrimental to people’s health.
“The health of our soil is one of the biggest challenges in growing food.” Michael says.
“A big part of the FRN’s aim is to educate people about how we should be eating. If we’re engaging with local growers then that means we’re eating whatever is available in season and available in our climate. There’s a whole lot of benefits that come from that in terms of the nutrients available in the food for us as human beings and our health, but also climate change.
“We’re reducing transport, reducing the amount of plastic being used as well as putting money back into our own community. We’re facing some pretty serious environmental issues so any gains we can make around that should be embraced.”