“About one third of the world’s land is now a desert. A total of over two million hectares of the world’s soil structure has completely degraded to the point where we can’t use it or grow things on it and we’ve probably lost about half of our cumulative forest on this planet in the space of less than 1000 years.”
Peter Wells hit us with these alarming statistics at the Christchurch Food Symposium. It’s a sobering fact that our green and abundant planet appears to be quietly but rapidly withering away beneath our very feet without us even realising it.
Peter is the project coordinator of a developing urban food forest, Otakaro Orchard, in Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch. Right in the heart of the city this little oasis, Peter assures me, could be capable of producing 1000kg of produce a year.
COMMUNITY FOOD FOREST PLAN TESTED IN AMERICA
And he should know. He’s seen what can be done first hand working on a project called Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, a permaculture designed edible garden and food forest grown on two acres of lawn in the middle of the city. The site is producing 1800kg per year of completely free food for the community.
“It’s really just choreographing a whole diverse plant community into a highly productive landscape. What was a grass lawn has become a really amazing self-supporting place,” says Peter.
A food forest is a permaculture project: a self-sustaining, food producing eco-system that Peter says will begin producing in three to five years.
“As we say in gardening, the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it leaps.”
BIG PLANS AHEAD FOR OTAKARO ORCHARD
While the food forest and edible garden will be the beating heart of this project, there are a venerable range of other objectives emerging here, all woven into the free food theme.
There’s an amphitheatre coming, for public events and gatherings. And an impressive ‘living building’ housing an information centre and café. A living, learning hub for growing food. A showcase to Christchurch of what could happen along the river corridor over the coming years and an inspirational example to other cities of what is possible.
“That’s what’s amazing about this thing. If we do it well here, it can replicate in similar scenarios around the world in the coming centuries.”
HEAVY HITTING CREDENTIALS FOR PROPOSED ECO-BUILDING
“There’s a high load bearing green roof which is just a grassy sort of meadow that fits in under solar panels. All the storm water is managed on site and anything that isn’t soaked up by the roof or going out to those swales on the periphery, is going to 30,000 litres of catchment. That’s water security.
“So all this solar generates about 8 – 10kw. Whatever doesn’t get used by the electrical outlets is dumped into reticulation: a water based heat battery in the foundation of the building. We don’t have any AC, heaters or heat pump systems or radiators. We just have a floor that radiates a colossal amount of energy.
“We’ve also got about 4000 adobe bricks going into the walls of the whole building. Some of it’s structural, some of it isn’t, but they are all handmade by volunteers. You can literally walk into the building and if you’re one of the 109 people who made the bricks, you can point and say, ‘I made these’.”
The site will become the new home of the Food Resilience Network who provide leadership and support for Christchurch’s community based food projects. They are a driving force behind the Otakaro Orchard, working at raising awareness, bringing people together and getting healthy food to those who need it right across Christchurch.
This project, sitting on the site which was once the PGC office building, has been funded by public donations and grants to the tune of over $1,000,000. But more is still needed to complete the final phases.
WHO WILL BE EATING THE FOOD?
Well, anyone, actually. Typically one in seven people living in cities struggle to get fresh, healthy food. This project and many others like it across Canterbury are working to address this issue as well as help repair their local ecosystem at the same time.
Otakaro Orchard is being seen as a community in the heart of the city. A place to improve mental well-being, support social projects and feed anyone who needs it. It will also attract visitors, educate and entertain. Eventually becoming self-funding, it will also help support local business opportunities.
“Most cities in the world are producing less than 1% of their own food. Looking at Christchurch, this is the opportunity we have over the coming years to really make sure that we have an incredibly healthy, beautiful and productive place,” says Peter.
“Invest in the future. Spend it now and the return is going to be so much greater”