A Study of the Demand for Community Gardens and their Benefits for the ACT Community
There is growing demand for community gardens in the ACT. Community gardens are an increasingly popular form of civic and urban agriculture that have been shown to have multiple benefits for participants and the wider community. Through a review of literature, previous research on ACT community gardens, interviews with key stakeholders and an online ACT community-wide survey, this report identifies these benefits and makes recommendations on how these can be maximised for the ACT community. These recommendations relate specifically to preferred location, development processes, design, and management/governance models.
There are currently 17 community gardens and at least 77 food-producing school gardening sites in the ACT. The non-school gardens employ a variety of approaches to design, intention and governance/management. The majority are divided into individual plots and encourage (or require) an organic or low-chemical input approach to cultivation. The majority are fenced. There was no clear evidence that not-fencing increased vandalism or the quantity of produce stolen.
A number of key concerns and barriers for the continued growth of community gardens in the ACT were identified. These relate to: the lack of a central portal for relevant community garden development information; difficulties with succession planning for managers/volunteers; lack of community gardens within walking distance of people’s place of residence; and lack of communication of clear guidelines for risk assessment for gardens on school sites. While secure land tenure has been identified as important to community gardens in previous research, this was not raised as a key concern by the stakeholders interviewed.
This report identifies that there is no one ‘right’ model for a community garden. Government approval processes should be developed with an understanding that the design, intention and governance/management of community gardens varies depending on the community it is intended to serve. To support the development of successful (long-lived and productive) community gardens we also recommend:
- The development of a central online repository of information (already planned by ESDD).
- Encouragement of partnerships between government, community services, community organisations and unaffiliated community members in the establishment and maintenance of community gardens.
- Further support for use of community gardens as training and education facilities for the gardeners, local community groups/schools and the broader public.
- Consideration of the capacity for community gardens to be used as a site of organic waste management for the local community.
- Location of community gardens within walking distance of participant’s homes
- Future community gardens be sited on school grounds.
- Future gardens incorporate a mixture of individual plots and communal plots (the latter cultivated by gardeners who do not have individual plots).
1.0 Purpose of Report
The Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate (ESDD) recognises the growing popularity of community gardens on not only the international stage, but also in Australia. This popularity is reflected in the growth in demand for community gardens in the ACT. Recent community interest and the ACT Government’s commitment to promote community gardens has resulted in an increased level of activity on this issue for the ESDD. This includes the development of the discussion paper, Community Gardens in the ACT: Draft selection site criteria for future locations. This paper provides the foundation for the current (22nd June and 3rd August 2012) community consultation process through the ACT Government’s Time to Talk portal. The aim is to allow the ACT public to comment on what factors should be considered in the future location of community gardens in both new areas and in existing neighbourhoods through written submissions, email or via an online survey.
Further, in an effort to provide support for community gardens, the ACT Government has recently introduced an exemption from development approval on unleased territory land and the introduction of a waiver of licence application fees for community gardens to commence in the 2012-13 financial year. A single entry point for all community garden matters will also be established on the ACT Government website.
To supplement this activity and inform policy development, the ESDD has commissioned a report from the University of Canberra to examine the demand for community gardens in the ACT and the benefits of these gardens for the Territory’s residents. The purpose of this report is to provide an evidence base concerning the demand for community gardens, the people who use community gardens and their possible future needs as well as information about the benefits of community gardens to the wider community.
1.1 Objectives of the report
The objectives of the report are to identify and discuss:
- the characteristics of the current users of community gardens in the ACT;
- the characteristics of the future users of community gardens and their possible future needs;
- the likely demand for community gardens in the ACT;
- the benefits of community gardening to the wider ACT community, specialist interest groups and other specific sectors in the community;
- a strong basis for evidence based policy and program development and operation, and for the assessment of grant programs;
- the role of partnerships and preferred relationships, if any, to other users and community groups.
The research methodology employed in this report consists of three stages.
Stage 1: Literature Review
Stage 1 is a literature review exploring the existing (international and domestic) literature on community gardens. It also includes a review of findings from previous research undertaken by the members of the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra (UC) into the community gardening movement and current practices of community gardening in the ACT. This (UC) research includes:
- the compilation of an information database and interactive mapping of community gardens in the ACT;
- participant observation and face-to-face interviews with community garden users;
- an on-line survey of Canberra Organic Growers Society members, and
- face-to-face interviews with school kitchen garden volunteers.
Stage 2: Stakeholder Interviews
Stage 2 supplements the existing research that has been carried out on COGS gardens in the ACT by collecting new data from other key community garden stakeholders in the Territory. Twenty-one community garden stakeholders were consulted. This consisted of 19 in-depth interviews, 1 short telephone conversation (Economic Development Directorate - Sport and Recreation Services) and 1 written submission (Kingston Organic Garden) from representatives of four core groups that have an interest, theoretical or practical, in community gardens in the ACT. Previous research with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation (ACT) was also drawn on for this stage.
The four groups can be represented as: ACT Government, Non-Government / Not for Profit Organisations, Commercial Enterprises, and Developers. Many of the garden projects that exist and are currently being planned involve support from groups within each of these areas. This can include financial support, community-development guidance, and donation of products, time and physical labour. These groups are represented in Table 1 below.
Education and Training Directorate
Economic Development Directorate (Sport and Recreation Services)
Community Services Directorate
Non-Government /Not For Profit Organisations
Reclink Australia (community gardens in Public Housing)
Northside Community Services (Harrison Community Garden)
Woden Community Services (Lyons Early Childhood Centre)
SEE-change Woden (Lyons Early Childhood Centre)
Lyons Early Childhood centre
Majura Men’s Shed
Narrabundah Community Garden
Gardening@limestone (Ainslie Church)
Kingston Organic Garden
Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation (ACT Represenative)
Pialligo Garden Lots (Landshare)
Rock Development Group
Molonglo Development Group
Table 1: Community Garden Stakeholders
The in-depth interviews explored the following topic areas with stakeholders. For the purposes of interview topics the four stakeholder categories were divided into two key groups: those directly involved in community gardening; and community and government groups with an interest in the issue.
Community Garden Groups
- Exploration of experiences with community gardens? For example. Length of time involved and in what capacity – experiences of community gardens in general.
- Location of community garden and form of management model. Why and how does it work?
- Size of community garden– in terms of active members, volunteers and plots.
- Waiting list and size.
- Perceived role of community gardens in community. This includes the role they can/should play for your community as well as what they currently play.
- Benefits of community gardens.
- Downsides or challenges faced by community gardens.
- Risk management and how it is managed in their community garden.
- Perceived role of community, government and volunteers in relation to community garden.
- Future facilities required for community garden.
- Perception of trends (and demand for) in relation to community gardens.
- Use of derelict spaces (for example, tennis courts) as community gardens.
Community and Government Organisations
- Exploration of experiences with community gardens. For example, length of time involved and in what capacity – experiences of community gardens in general.
- Role community gardens have/can/should play for organisation /clients/ community.
- Perceived role of community gardens in community. This includes the role they can/should play for your community as well as what they currently play.
- Benefits of community gardens.
- Downsides or challenges faced by community gardens.
- Risk management and how it is managed in community gardens.
- Perceived role of community, government and volunteers in relation to community garden.
- Perception of trends (and demand for) in relation to community gardens.
- Use of derelict spaces (for example, tennis courts) as community gardens.
Stage 3: Online Survey of ACT population
Stage three of this project involved the development, administering and analysis of an online survey of ACT residents to gauge community interest and demand for community gardens. This survey was advertised in the Canberra Times and The Chronicle in June and July 2012 with a total of 291 people having responded as of July 27.
Survey Respondent Characteristics
Around a third of respondents were men (32%) and two thirds women (68%). In terms of age, respondents were spread across a range of ages, though spikes in the 40-50 and the 60-70 year age groups were apparent.
Figure 1: Respondent Characteristics - Age and Gender
The majority of repondents spoke English in the home (96%) with ten other langauages mentioned once. These included: German; Italian; Brazillian; French; Mandarin; Chinese; Finnish; Spanish; Japanese and Marathi (an Indian language).
Figure 2: Respondent Characteristics - Language Spoken at Home
Half of respondents lived in households consisting of 2 people. A further 31% lived in households of 3 or 4 and just over one in ten lived alone. A minority lived in households of 5 or more people. In terms of the type of dwelling respondents resided in, most (77%) lived in a free standing structure with the remainder living in a flat (9%) or townhouse (14%).
Figure 3: Respondent Characteristics - Number of People at Home
Figure 4: Respondent Characteristics - Dwelling
The online survey attracted a significant number of responses from ACT residents who were not currently involved in a community garden. Over 75% of the sample are not current members of a community garden. The remaining 25% are members with most belonging to a COGS community garden.
Figure 5: Respondent Characteristics - Community Garden Membership
Analysis of this survey data appears throughout the following report, most notably in Section 4.
2.0 Community Gardens: An introduction
In the context of climate change, peak oil and recent food-price instability, food security has become a significant issue. Over half of the world’s population now live in urban environments. As a result fewer people are involved in food production than ever before. The food supply chain—from production to purchase and consumption—is lengthening with international agri-business playing a significant role in determining the types and cost of food available to city dwellers. This is particularly true in Australia where full service supermarket chains, dominated by Coles and Woolworths, make-up more than 70 % of grocery sales. Research indicates that this growing disconnect is having adverse effects on local economies, personal and community health, the environment and social connectedness.
However, over the last two decades there has been a significant increase in food-based social movements and grass-roots initiatives imploring people to rethink their relationship to food. These initiatives are primarily mobilized through discourses of health, environmentalism and anti-industrial agriculture. One key area in which these ideas have found expression is through growing interest and participation in civic agriculture.
Civic agriculture (CA), as coined by Lyson, is an attempt to shift understanding of agriculture beyond its economic value, to also include its current and potential social and ecological value. It represents an attempt to promote points of connection between consumers, producers and the food system through strengthening a sense of community. As DeLind writes, CA “moves away from a strictly mechanistic focus on production and economic efficiency and toward food and farming systems responsive to particular ecological and socioeconomic contexts”.
CA incorporates a number of elements ranging from support for farmers to participate in more local, ethical and ecologically sound production and distribution methods (such as community supported agriculture schemes/box schemes and farmers’ markets) to encouraging the general community’s active engagement in production through community gardens. CA also “presents a holistic approach to food insecurity that is more attentive and responsive to the local economic, environmental and social factors that affect diet and health”. The term is often used interchangeably with urban agriculture (UA). However UA can be understood as one aspect of civic agriculture which focuses attention on urban areas and the process of production.
Community gardens are an increasingly popular form of civic and urban agriculture. The remainder of this section briefly outlines: the international historical context of community gardens; the key characteristics of the multifarious urban gardening forms; and the motivations and benefits of community gardening for individuals, groups and the broader community.
2.1 International Context
Urban agriculture initiatives focusing on communal urban food production have a long history and have taken many forms around the world. They are thought to have their origins in the allotment gardens of Europe in the mid-1800s. These gardens have also played a significant role in the USA, where their beginnings are closely linked to the processes of industrialisation which brought vast numbers of people into cities to work in poor conditions in new factories.[ The need for food and a healthy workforce was supported by some entrepreneurs through the allocation of communal gardening space that provided workers with access to sunlight, physical activity and nutritious food. In Europe, the more well-to-do had access to “leisure gardens”, exemplified by Germany’s Schreber gardens (Schrebergärten) which were not only for food production but also for outdoor pursuits unable to be accommodated in urban apartment living. These gardens continue to serve the population of urban centres in Germany and much of Europe today.
Through whichever form communal garden activities have taken, they have played significant roles in ensuring food security in times of national crisis. Notably, this occurred throughout the two World Wars, during the Great Depression and in the 1970s Oil Crisis. During World War I and World War II the Dig for Victory campaigns included the creation of Victory Gardens with an estimated 20 million gardens during WWII producing 40% of the fresh vegetables consumed by American residents. In the Great Depression they were a means of producing food and also of engaging a large population of un- or under-employed people and in the 1970s oil crisis, community gardens provided people with access to food when transport costs, and the resulting price of food, were spiralling out of control. One of the most proactive and productive sites of communal gardening activities is Cuba, particularly in its capital, Havana. Following the withdrawal of Soviet aid after the collapse of the U.S.S.R, and in the face of US sanctions, economic necessity saw the nation turn to producing more of its own food. To assist, large swathes of city land were converted into these “popular” public access gardens.
However, the value of these gardening spaces has a history of being overlooked in urban planning and design processes, with community gardens viewed primarily as temporary uses of land. Within this context it has been observed that “many land use planners refuse to consider community gardens as an appropriate use of urban land” since it fails to provide the highest amount of tax revenue. Others have noted that “gardening does not fit into the conceptualisation of urbanization or the philosophy of urban planners, and this makes it difficult to convince urban authorities that agriculture in the city is not inherently a problem, but a solution to various other urban problems”.
2.2 Urban Gardening
More recently, rising food costs, peak oil and an increasing number of extreme climatic events has increased concerns over future food security. Once again, this has prompted a renewed focus on urban food production in parts of the developed and developing world. The practices of Civic and Urban Agriculture are multiple, varied and a growing phenomenon around the world. A key aspect of these initiatives is small scale forms which can be referred to as ‘urban gardening’. This can be further divided into three categories: home gardens, allotment gardens and community gardens.
Increasingly, the capacity for these forms of gardens to contribute to the creation of sustainable cities is being recognised. Such gardens can provide the opportunity to improve local food producing capabilities, thus better connecting people to food systems. Potukuchi and Kaufman claim that this is integral to the “quality of urban life,” because it can “impact on the city’s economy, public health, environment, land use, and other community systems”. Indeed, these spaces have been shown to be capable of: promoting social inclusion; contributing to improving micro-climatic conditions in urban areas (e.g. reducing heat island effects); and enhancing the capacity for waste management by providing spaces in which biodegradable wastes can be turned into compost for enriching soil.
2.2.1 Home Gardens
As urban gardening practices and urban garden sites assume multifarious forms around the world, defining the categories of ‘urban gardening’ proves challenging. Home gardens refer to the land adjoining a house. However these sites of land are used in multiple ways around the world “to meet different physical, social and economic needs and functions”. Home gardens in the developing world are more likely to be used for food production than in the developed world where average incomes are higher and food is more readily available for purchase. However, even in the developing world, the utility of the home garden varies significantly due to differences in average size.
On the local level, the siting of gardens in public housing complexes and in publically accessible sites in private high-density apartment buildings begins to complicate the picture. Furthermore, the diminishing size of the backyard in both greenfield and urban infill sites in Australian cities is changing the form and function of these spaces and, consequently, the role they play in the urban and suburban landscape. As Hall notes, this change contributes not only to a significant aesthetic shift, but also to a reduction in biodiversity, a reduction in the ability to capture carbon, as well as a reduction in natural climate control and a loss of food producing capacity. Research has also indicated that smaller home garden sites may have a particularly detrimental impact on certain demographics, notably new migrants, with evidence that “[a]s smaller garden spaces reduce migrants” ability to express their cultural identity and thus affect the ease with which they adapt to their new surroundings. Community gardens, if easily accessible, may be one way of addressing this concern.
2.2.2 Allotment Gardens
Allotment gardens have a long history, thought to have started in Europe in the mid-1800s. Some members of Canberra’s community gardens have fond memories of allotments in the countries of their birth. The UK allotments, which began in the early 19th century, developed initially in response to “rural citizen protest and self-interested employer paternalism”, later moving to the industrial urban centres “where the movement aligned itself with the interests of early town planners, self-help societies and social reformers”. The defining feature of allotments “is that they are institutionally administered and organized, and they serve as a community facility and a place of social interaction.” There are many similarities between these and community gardens; however, the design, management and aspirations of the latter are more diverse.
2.2.3 Community Gardens
Lawson suggests that the term community garden tends to be associated with the “neighbourhood garden in which individuals have their own plots yet share in the garden’s overall management.” However, many community gardens are also communally cultivated with participants sharing the work and resulting harvest. There is also evidence that people travel outside of their immediate and surrounding suburbs to community gardens, including in the ACT (see Section 4.1.3 below), making it difficult to define them as neighbourhood spaces.
Nettle writes that “community gardens are places created by groups of people to grow food and community”; however, not all forms focus on the community aspect and this may not be the key motivation or benefit of participating. For community gardens in the developing world their socioeconomic, living and health conditions impact on their understanding and the specific purpose of the gardens. In these locations food security—“when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”— is paramount. Particular success has been achieved in the construction of high-yielding communal food producing sites in the Philippines which have improved food security for many urban poor participants.
In the developed world, the literature indicates that urban agriculture also forms an important component in food security as well as community building practices. This is particularly evident in many North American cities including Seattle and Toronto. In Seattle (population: 620 778 on 369 km2 of land), the dominant “P-Patch” organic gardens began with one in the early 1970s rising to 67 in 2006. In 2007 the program extended across 23 acres of land with 2500 plots and over 6000 gardeners. The majority of the gardens, 50, are individually cultivated, with 2 communally cultivated and 13 belonging to a Cultivating Communities program and 2 part of a Cultivating Youth Program. Participants in each garden are responsible for the day-to-day running of the gardens but they are overseen by dedicated P-Patch Program staff in the city’s Department of Neighbourhood. Support is also provided through the not-for-profit P-Patch Trust and other community and government entities. P-Patch claims that “its centralized management model has been key to its success”. There are some non-P-Patch community gardens in the city, but they are a minority.
Toronto (population 2 615060 on 630 km2 of land) does not have a centralised government funded program or coordinator to oversee its community gardens. Instead, the city’s gardens are supported by the many NGOs that form part of the Community Food Security (CFS) movement, working with numerous partners including the local municipalities and other local NGOs. Toronto community gardens have expanded significantly in recent years, rising from 14 in 1987, to 69 in 1997 and up to 110 in 2004. The diversity of the gardens and participants are identified in a 2004 study which notes:
The gardens serve a variety of purposes and are organized in a number of ways. Started and coordinated by neighbourhood community groups, women’s shelters, public-housing staff, and nonprofit organizations, the gardens are spaces where a spectrum of activities take place—from recreational gardening, to cultivating food for personal consumption or community kitchens, to selling food from the gardens as part of micro-enterprise projects
The vast array of uses and forms of development community gardens can take makes a precise definition challenging. However, community gardens are often categorised by the function or community they serve with recent research distinguishing between gardens that are “place based” and those that “interest based”. For example, community gardens have been established to serve a variety of communities including schools, neighbourhood groups, migrants, public housing tenants, refugees, prisons, people living with mental illness or physical disability and marginalised groups; and to achieve a number of different outcomes such as improving health, community building and improving sustainable urban living practices.
Some of the key variations of community gardens include School Kitchen Gardens, Verge Gardens and Landshare arrangements.
2.2.4 School Kitchen Gardens
School Kitchen Gardens serve as a platform for educating children on how to grow and prepare food. These gardens are commonly set up within school grounds (although some schools may access external community gardens). They involve not only children but also teachers, parents and rely heavily on volunteers who may include parents as well as members of the local community.
2.2.5 Verge Gardens
Verge Gardens are another type of community garden which are gaining in popularity but not often found in the literature. These consist of garden beds on nature strips which are developed, maintained and managed by a group of residents. Examples include one currently being showcased on the ABC’s Gardening Australia television program and gardens in the Sydney suburbs of Chippendale and Dulwich Hill. The latter started life as a Guerrilla Garden but is now supported by the local council. These type of gardens are not the focus of this report but are mentioned as a possible future avenue to consider.
The official Landshare scheme was launched in 2009 on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s UK River Cottage television series. Landshare was developed in response to long waiting lists for UK allotments and recognition that many community members have under-utilised land that could be offered to people keen to grow their own food. The official scheme enables those with available land to register on an online site that then offers their land to potential food producers. People seeking land and those willing to help out, or wanting to learn about food production can also identify themselves through the site and seek matches. In Australia there are approximately 1,985 members. In July in the ACT there were 4 people offering land, 2 looking for space to grow and 5 willing helpers registered on the site.
Currently in the ACT a private commercial landshare scheme is run by a landowner, Roy Priest, at Pialligo (Pialligo Garden Lots). There are currently 20 gardeners participating in the venture and Priest plans to further advertise and expand the scheme.
There are also unofficial landsharing, or backyard sharing sites in the ACT initiated by community members in their own neighbourhood including a site in the suburb of Cook involving 3 households. There is a website similar to Landshare’s to assist coordinate backyard sharing activities in North America.
Companion House, a local community-based organisation that assist refugees and immigrants who have experienced torture and trauma, is currently working on a community development project which will enable their clients (particularly those from Burma) to engage in gardening for pleasure and to produce income. They are exploring a number of options to facilitate this including landsharing/backyard sharing as well as the potential for a larger communal gardening site.
Due to the significant variations in design, intention and location of community gardens, this report develops and employs a generic definition which respects the multiplicity of forms these gardens can take. A community garden is understood to be a shared local space where members of the community can grow food outside of their home gardens.
Community gardens are shared local spaces where members of the community can grow food outside of their home gardens.
2.3. Benefits of Community Gardens and Motivations of Community Gardeners
Benefits of community gardens are well documented and can be understood through the following macro-level categories: social, cultural, health, economic, environmental/ecological and education. Food security relates to a number of these key categories.
The above benefits can extend beyond the individuals involved in community gardens to the group as a whole as well as to the wider community. Motivations are less well documented but can be understood as the perceived benefits of participation. Research indicates that for most community gardeners in Canberra, the key motivation and benefit of participation is the desire to produce their own food. In a recent survey of Canberra Organic Grower’s Society community gardeners nearly 80% of respondents’ garden in these sites because they can grow more there than in other places, such as home gardens. This question allowed people to select numerous responses and about 50% of the respondents wanted to make their food supply more certain and another 50% were keen to save money. In a multiple-choice question asking people why they grew their own fruit and vegetables, the categories which attracted over 80% of the responses were “simple enjoyment,” “enjoy being outdoors”, “better quality food”, and, “better tasting food’” As the report notes, “In other words, the pleasures of gardening itself are accompanied by the pleasure of the produce.”
An online survey of ACT residents (described in the Methodology Section 1.2) found similar results and clearly indicates that there are many reasons for being involved in a community garden. This includes fulfilment of individual needs but also relates to a broader commitment to the community and urban agriculture.
Figure 6: Community Garden Members – Motivations
In terms of school kitchen gardens, a study of Majura Primary School Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden (SAKG) found that initial motivations for volunteers becoming involved in the program included: to be more involved with children; to learn and put back into the community; and/or for personal beliefs about the contribution of the project to wider societal issues such as peak oil. Interestingly, volunteers often commenced volunteering in the kitchen garden for one set of reasons and often found that they gained more than they anticipated. Several participants found friendships which was not something they expected.
The key benefits, and motivating factors, for participation in community gardens that are identified in literature are represented in the diagram below (and a larger version is located in Appendix 2):
Figure 7: The Benefits of Community Gardening
It is important to note that benefits do not occur uniformly across all community garden sites but can vary from site to site depending upon a myriad of factors such as the structure, history and culture of the community garden, its participants and the surrounding neighbourhood. Moreover, the benefits of community gardens vary depending upon their form and function and the desires and motivations of their participants.
2.3.1 Benefits at the Individual Level
The majority of academic literature on community gardens relates to social aspects revolving around their capacity to build community through the development of social capital, and creation of a sense of belonging (to place and community) for participants. This is, consequently, commonly identified as the key benefit of these sites. However, this focus on social inclusion and community building has also been queried in relation to participants in COGS-run Canberra Community Gardens.
This recent ACT-based research demonstrates that, while a sense of community and belonging usually does emerge in community gardens, it is not viewed as the most important benefit or motivation for participants. However, most of the ACT gardeners involved in the study describe the development of a sense of community as an unexpected bonus. They identify particular pleasure in engaging with a wider range of people (from differing demographics) through the shared interest of gardening. One participant noted: I like it here because you meet people you wouldn’t normally meet in your life...When you get old you don’t get many new jokes. You already told everything. Here you start again from the beginning. It’s like becoming young again.
However, the most significant sense of belonging the COGS gardeners expressed related to the garden space, their plot, and ‘their’ soil with some claiming they would only leave their soil when they died.
Health is a major consideration when considering the benefits of community gardens. Health benefits for participants occur from both improved access to, and consumption of, fresh fruit and vegetables, the physicality of gardening, and for those who are low chemical input gardeners, a reduction in consumption of pesticides and herbicides.
Improved food access also enables participants to take greater control over their own food security. This can take the form of better access to: fresh fruit and vegetables; foods not available commercially or in the gardener’s areas (for example vegetables from a migrant’s homeland) or heirloom fruits or vegetables; and food that is grown without synthetic inputs.
Community gardens can also contribute to developing garden knowledge and skills as well as greater awareness of issues related to sustainable urban living practices. In ACT community gardens this includes learning about seasonality of fresh fruit and vegetables and consequently gaining an understanding of the implications of environmental concerns such as food miles. The development of knowledge and practices related to water-wise gardening has also been identified as a key outcome.
Community gardens can, and have, played a key role in assisting newly arrived migrants and refugees create a sense of belonging in their new homes. This is facilitated through the production of traditional foods, participation in life-long gardening habits and the construction of community support-networks.
In Canberra community gardeners speak about the pleasure and excitement of growing foods from their childhood in Australia and overseas. One gardener commented it goes so far back from my childhood, this garden, pointing out her plantings of redcurrants and berries which grew wild in the country of her birth. However, she also grows artichokes and asparagus, which she had never before seen growing until she joined the community garden and seedlings and knowledge were shared amongst the participants.
The ability to exert a degree of control over one’s food choices is a key motivator for some participants in Canberra community gardens. Gardeners in a recent study spoke of their desire to avoid supermarkets and to challenge the control Coles and Woolworths exert over the food available to them. This can be conceptualised as a bid for independence and is consistent with previous research carried out on backyard gardeners in Australia. Some participants are also motivated by a desire to reduce food expenses with 50% of respondents to a previous online survey of COGS gardeners indicating they grew their own fruit and vegetables to save money.
For some community gardening is an active attempt to reduce their carbon footprint and a local, personal response to significant environmental issues such as climate change (and resulting concerns over food security). Community gardens have been identified as sites capable of supporting and improving sustainable urban living practices. Many community gardeners in Canberra indicate that their relationship with soil and composting has made them more attuned to ecological issues, and this has manifested itself in more efficient watering practices, greater awareness of seasonality of fruits and vegetables and, for most, a commitment to low-input production. Some gardeners spoke with joy about the special eco-system that they had created in their garden (which, for some, included providing homes for snakes and frogs).
2.3.2 Benefits at the Group Level
Community gardens can promote social inclusion and increase social cohesion. Gardens can provide a focal point for social activities such as pizza oven nights, or, as is common in the ACT gardens, a BBQ or shared meal held at the end of regular working bees.
In this way, community gardens can generate “social capital through bringing people together with a common purpose to participate in a joint activity or venture” which can “lead to a strong sense of collective ownership or pride” and the creation of more resilient communities.
By contributing to individual health and the health of families and friends of participants in community gardens, increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables can play a role in improving community health. Social inclusion, community building and access to aesthetically pleasing green spaces has also been identified as being able to improve mental health.
Shared knowledge and skills is a key feature of the community gardening experience. Education about different plants, climatic conditions, composting and watering techniques improve the overall skill set of the group. Skill development often depends upon the needs of the group and can be dictated by the development of the community garden.
Depending upon the type of activities offered community gardens also create social capital by allowing people of varying backgrounds, life experiences, ages, ethnicities and abilities to interact informally. For example, migrants can find community gardens to be valuable and flexible environments which help them cope with adapting to Australian culture and ways of life.
Economic benefits at the group level stem from the group production of fresh fruit and vegetables and the sharing of produce which can alleviate the strain on family budgets.
An Australian study has identified the capacity for community gardens to encourage members to develop a greater appreciation of sustainable living practices and engagement. This research noted:
When community gardens are considered to be inclusive community places this provides an opportunity for social and cultural interactions...[that] can form the basis for the evolution of sociocultural sustainability.
The development of new knowledge and skills in water-wise gardening practices through interaction with the broader group is one example of how this can work in Canberra community gardens.
2.3.3 Benefits at the Community Level
Involvement in community gardens can contribute to a sense of broader community pride in a neighbourhood. Further, this often results in people taking better care of their neighbourhood and a decrease in socially undesirable behaviour. This can also promote passive surveillance of these sites.
At a community level, involvement in community groups can lead to an increased interest in urban food production. The benefits to communities can be significant– the physical activity and increased consumption of fruit and vegetables by a community in their production can lead to improved health outcomes and may reduce their need to access public health services.
There are cultural implications for communities engaging with this form of urban food production. It can challenge conceptions of a rural/city divide by demonstrating that food production can be a part of urban life. Through participation, a realisation and deeper understanding of food production can result in greater understanding of the food system and a possible growth in ecological awareness.
Community gardens have the capacity to be used for training and education of the broader community. A previous study has identified that the gardens can function as research, development, design, demonstration and dissemination sites for community science, horticultural techniques and innovative technologies. For example, workshops related to food production, composting and healthy eating could be held on site to encourage more effective food production and organic waste management for people in their own homes. They can also be used as sites to educate school children on food production and healthy eating.
Myriad community level benefits stem from community gardens. These include low-cost land-use and surveillance of nearby buildings. It can also improve the value of nearby properties as the area appears kempt and has publicly visible activity.
Environmental benefits include the capacity to improve: support for the local ecology; micro-climatic conditions in urban areas (e.g. reducing heat island effects); waste management (through the provision of spaces in which biodegradable wastes can be composted); and the localisation of food production to reduce food miles. They also further aid urban regeneration by contributing to ‘greening’ cities.
In the 2011 survey of COGS’ gardeners, there was identification of a desire for community gardens to make a positive contribution to the urban environment: 30% of participants noted that they worked to re-green unused or derelict land and 40% wanted to set an example to the broader community by growing, recycling, composting, etc.
2.4 Community Gardens: The Australian context
The first community garden was established in 1977 in Nunawading, Victoria by a Local Councillor who saw the garden as a way of attending to social isolation and providing assistance to reduce food costs for local families. The garden was funded with a start-up grant and it continues to be run today by an independent management group listed as a co-operative. The growth and participation in community gardens has waxed and waned over the years, with significant periods of growth in 1994/95 and between 2005-now. There is significant evidence (e.g. waiting lists) that this upward trend is set to continue. The Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network, a community-based organisation which provides support and a portal for information sharing, is currently attempting to compile a list and map of all community gardens in Australia through their 2012 Community Garden Survey with the aim of “making community gardening credible and influential”.
2.4.1 Community Garden Governance and Management
Management style and funding arrangements vary significantly among the many gardens, with most community gardens set up as ‘Not-for-profit incorporated bodies’ which enables Gardens to apply for sponsorship, grants and funding to assist with day to day operations and ongoing running and management costs. The gardens tend to have rules and regulations that gardeners must consent to, an annual plot fee and a requirement to participate in the general management of the space. Suggested guidelines cover issues such as: membership; roles and responsibilities; rates, fees and concessions; waiting list management; size and allocation of places; and use of produce, including individual consumption, trade and sharing.
Most Australian community gardens are run by independent management committees made-up of garden members. These are mostly volunteer positions (with paid positions usually only being allocated to projects related to public housing or schools) who are responsible for managing the day to day running of a garden (e.g. maintenance of site, tools, security, coordination of working bees) as well as broader concerns such as risk assessment (including insurance), collection of fees and payment of water bills.
In practice, a Newcastle, NSW, based study found that the community gardens they surveyed used a “loose” approach to management. This approach was documented as being taken by nine community garden managers in Newcastle. This was described as a way of ‘letting go’ and running gardens in a ‘laid back’ manner. However, such an approach may only work in a garden space where the majority of participants (or a committed core) are willing to assist with regular maintenance and management.
The limited capacity for all community garden management to occur through volunteer arrangements is often raised at community garden forums. This issue is one facing most not for profit organisations that rely heavily on volunteers.
The design and management of community gardens can also make provisions for incorporating the broader community. Veg Out Community Garden in St Kilda, on the site of an old bowling green, is managed by an independent garden committee and it includes artist’s studios, community kitchen facilities, toilets as well as 145 garden plots and some communal spaces. Ten of the plots are rented by local community groups with the others hired by local residents. The garden also enables people to become a “Friend of Veg Out” (the necessary first step if you wish to go on to the waiting list for a plot). This requires a payment of $15.00 which is invested in the garden. The garden also encourages the public to join in their monthly working bees. The site also hosts a monthly farmers’ market and regular community events. The site is fully fenced but the gate is left open for public access throughout the day. Seats are provided as is a play area (sand-pit) for children. The plots are accessible, and members of the public can freely walk through them.
Community gardens can also be part of larger projects and organisations. One of the most notable is CERES (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies) in Melbourne. CERES, is visited by 350,000 people each year and defines itself as a:
thriving community, an urban farm, Australia’s largest deliverer of environmental education, an event and conference venue and a place rich with social and cultural diversity.
CERES is built on the site of an old rubbish tip, has a community kitchen for hire, market gardens (including a planned trial of aquaponics), weekly organic farmers’ market, café as well as regularly hosting school groups and horticulture and sustainable living workshops for the wider community. It also rents out space to other businesses that fit their ethos such as the Bike Shed, which fixes and sells old bikes. The community garden also occupies part of the space, with approximately 50 plots rented out to people who lack sufficient space to grow fruit and vegetables at their place of residence. The gardeners are required to adhere to a “No pesticides on site” policy. The paths around and between the gardens can be walked by the public visiting the site, but each garden is fenced or, in some cases, caged in.
Plot Management and design
There are two main forms of plot management. The majority of gardens are divided into individual plots gardened by individuals, families or a group of friends; while others are communally cultivated with community gardeners working together and sharing the resulting produce. Most community gardens with individual plots also have some communal spaces that are to be tended by all and produce shared. This usually includes fruit trees and herb gardens. Most community gardens are not built to be accessible by wheel chairs or non-able bodied people as they often contain narrow pathways, uneven terrain and usually lack raised beds.
Community Garden Support
There is a body of information available online which details the practicalities of setting up and running community gardens. For example, the major Australian Community Garden organisation - The Australian City Farms and Community Network (ACFCN) - provide documentation that can be instrumental in developing guidelines to assist aspiring individuals, groups and organisations to set up community gardens. Australian Community Foods, The American Community Gardening Association and the Canadian City Farmer websites all contain useful information on community gardens and community gardening.
The 2010 Growing Community: Starting and Nurturing Community Gardens booklet produced for the Government of South Australia and the ACFCN provides a comprehensive resource ranging from advocating for community gardening, design, growing community, accessing resources and funding as well as some basic gardening advice.
Central portals for easily accessible information have also been established through a number of local council websites, such as the City of Sydney and the City of Yarra Council in Melbourne.
Beyond grants and small-scale funding, there have been some noteworthy forms of institutional support, such as the 1998 creation of a short-term (3-month) Community-Gardens Officer in South Sydney Council. This was reportedly the first Government paid community garden position in Australia. Interestingly, the position was part of the waste department due to its capacity to manage green and organic waste—a potential use that is not evident in many current community gardens in Australia. In 1999 the Victorian Department of Housing (DoH) commissioned the writing of a community garden manual. The following year they appointed a Manager of the Community Gardens Project in the DoH.
There are also a number of current examples that indicate Government commitment to community gardening. These include the City of Sydney’s appointment of a Community Gardens and Volunteer coordinator who assists community members navigate the application process (including how to complete forms) as well as assisting with design and planning. The City of Yarra Council in Melbourne employs a part-time Urban Agriculture Facilitator who assists community members in the same way as the coordinator in Sydney. The significant difference is Yarra’s development of additional food producing processes that residents can apply to participate in such as street fruit tree planting, verge planting and planter box installation on city streets. These all require permits, with the first planter box taking 4-months to gain approval. The limited open space in the area necessitated alternative food producing pathways, particularly when some community member’s efforts to establish a community garden in an existing park were opposed by residents keen to maintain their much-loved open space. These positions are the exception, not the norm, but they demonstrate some of the broader ways governments can and do support community gardens.
2.5 Community Gardens in the ACT: Form and function
In 2012, researchers from the University of Canberra mapped community gardens in the ACT. The map demonstrates that there is significant activity across the ACT with regard to community gardens. A total of 17 community gardens were mapped and 77 School Kitchen Gardens. Screenshots of the community garden and school kitchen maps can be seen in Figures 8 and 9 below. Most community gardens in the ACT are managed by COGS (11 out of 17).
Figure 8: Screen Shot of Map of School Kitchen Gardens in the ACT
Figure 9: Screen Shot of Map of Community Gardens in the ACT
The majority of community gardens in Canberra are managed by the Canberra Organic Growers Society (COGS), a not-for-profit group established in 1977. In August 2011 COGS had 430 members, of which 17 were other groups or institutions and 413 persons or families (amounting to 500–600 individuals). The minimum age for membership is 18. COGS has 11 community gardens with a total area of about 1
- 7 hectares around Canberra. Eight are intra-urban, and three are peri-urban although located quite close to built-up areas.
The COGS community gardens are divided into a number of plots that are allocated to individuals (or families and friends) but they also include communal areas such as a pergola, shed, and some communal growing plots that are often used for fruit trees. Each garden is then administered by a convenor (who has a plot at the garden). Each garden is largely self-managing; however, all plot holders must be members of COGS, which provides the overall administrative support for operating the gardens. COGS has a Constitution and Community Garden Policy setting out the rights and responsibilities of plot holders, being largely related to how the notion of community is understood and the organic principles that must be adhered to in the gardens.
Key things the COGS committee is responsible for include: applying to establish a new garden; managing the budget (including calculating the annual cost of the plots which is based largely on the cost of water); producing a quarterly newsletter; assisting convenors deal with problematic plot holders; and carrying out an annual risk assessment (for insurance purposes). The risk assessment involves visiting each garden and identifying any potential hazards for gardeners or garden members. Common issues include plots encroaching on communal space, the erection of unapproved structures and the use of uncapped star pickets or other pointed items on the corners/edges of plots. Garden convenors then circulate the report which identifies issues requiring attention.
2.5.2 School Kitchen Gardens
School kitchen gardens in the ACT take several forms. These can run under the auspices of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation (SAKG) or are run independently by individual schools. SAKG is an Australian organisation founded by Stephanie Alexander; the foundation website describes kitchen gardens as school gardens that are created to provide edible, aromatic and beautiful resources for a kitchen.
Majura Primary School in Watson is the first SAKG in the ACT. It is the demonstration site for SAKG in the ACT and was officially launched on Thursday 25 March 2010. Currently there is also a ‘subscriber’ SAKG school in Garran which enables the school to access practical information about developing and running their own version of a school kitchen garden without needing to run the full SAKG program.
The majority of schools in the ACT that have kitchen gardens (over 70), do not operate with the support of a formal program such as the SAKG scheme. Community gardens in non SAKG programs are run autonomously and do not always include a kitchen / cooking aspect to their activities. All school kitchen gardens rely heavily on volunteer participation and anecdotal evidence suggests that they are ‘easier’ to establish in primary schools where there tends to be a greater degree of parent involvement and therefore access to volunteer support.
Issues such as school catchment also play a role in determining the potential success of a school kitchen garden. One high school administrator pointed out that their students travel large distances to attend and therefore they do not have access to the same pool of volunteers that a local primary school may have. While this can be managed during school terms with student involvement, it can become a challenge in holiday periods.
There are also 2 COGS gardens on secondary school sites in the ACT (University of Canberra-Kaleen High School and Dickson College). These are fenced in areas separated from the main school population.
2.5.3 Land Share Garden
Pialligo Garden Lots is a commercial landshare arrangement whereby a private farmer rents out plots of land to individuals, families, groups or businesses. For $200 per annum people can access a 20 m2 plot, a lockable garden shed and access to lucerne mulch.
This is in contrast to the not for profit Landshare Australia group that links people who are wanting to access land to grow food on with those that have land to share.
2.5.4 Community Gardens and Transport in the ACT
A 2011 Report for the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (NGIA) examined how people travelled to COGS gardens throughout the ACT. It found that “[j]ust over two-thirds of respondents go by car, one-fifth by bicycle, one-eighth walk; a single respondent car-pools, and nobody goes by bus.” This is similar to findings that emerged from a 2012 online survey of ACT residents (described in the Methodology Section 1.2) which found that most use a car to access their community garden (COGS or not) (Refer to Figure 10 below). Some also arrived by bike or walked and one person (other) used a motorbike. The 2012 survey findings diverged from the NGIA report in that a significantly higher number of respondents (30% in the online versus 12% in the NGIA report) indicated that they walk to the garden.
Respondents to the 2012 online survey were also able to provide open text comments in relation to the question of how they travelled to community gardens and these responses highlighted that the mode of transport chosen could depend upon whether easily bruised produce was being taken home or if tools needed to be transported to the garden.
Figure 10: Community Garden Members - Transport to Garden
3.0 Stakeholder Interviews
As discussed in the methodology section, to supplement the existing research that has been carried out on COGS gardens in the ACT, in-depth interviews were conducted with a range of community garden stakeholders from four key stakeholder categories: the ACT Government, Non-Government / Not for Profit Organisations, Commercial Enterprises, and Developers.
3.1 ACT Government Directorates
Four key ACT Government Directorates were contacted for the purposes of this report: Health; Community Services; Education and Training; and Economic Development (Sport and Recreation Services). All expressed support for community gardens and an interest in seeing the development of cross-government coordination for such proposals. Economic Development (Sport and Recreation Services) were interested in discussing the issue in relation to specific proposals, rather than as an holistic approach and were not interviewed. The key concepts and approaches of the former three are presented below.
ACT Government Directorate
View on Community Gardens
Education and Training
The Health Directorate is interested in exploring broader usage of school kitchen gardens/ school-based food gardening sites for the wider community. They identify the need for community gardens to be grassroots initiatives with their design, management and approach developed by community members. The Directorate is particularly interested in gardens that target those vulnerable to poor health outcomes (e.g. lower SES) and see community gardening as a way of improving food security and social inclusion for these groups. Through their annual grant schemes, the Health Directorate has a record of providing seed funding for community garden projects in schools and supporting projects that improve community knowledge and access to these garden sites.
ACT Community Services
While generally supportive of community garden projects, Community Services (CSD) assesses proposals on a case-by-case basis in relation to their capacity to promote social inclusion and community building. Currently there are a total of 22 community gardens in public housing in the ACT. Proponents of gardens are required to demonstrate how the site will incorporate the broader public housing community. CSD is particularly interested in the development of gardens in multi-dwelling sites with 40-50 houses/flats.
The necessity of an ongoing plan to promote broad community involvement as a form of succession planning was identified as a key concern for CS, as their experiences indicated that community gardens generally succeed or fail on the basis of a few motivated individuals. The focus on communal aspects was also an attempt to avoid the creation of ‘exclusive’ spaces viewed as being ‘owned’ by one or two residents rather than the public housing community. Incorporating the whole community is the key aspiration and challenge for these gardens. Community Services sees gardens as a potentially effective way to achieve this because it leads to useful outcomes—the satisfaction of producing one’s own food:
But then how you get the rest of the people on board and sustain them being on board, I think is the next step. There’s opportunities with gardens because they have that cycle where …there’s a product at the end, so you are more likely to engage with some people when there’s a product at the end.
To best fulfil the potential of community gardens, CSD identifies the need for residents to be trained or assisted by those with gardening knowledge and skills to improve their chances of growing success and encourage communal interactions.
While the public housing community gardens in larger complexes have experienced some vandalism, overall the gardens are considered to be a useful way of growing collective ownership and pride amongst the public housing community.
The Community Services Directorate has a record of supporting community gardens in public housing through the Tenant Participation Grants (formerly Tenant Initiating Grants) with 15 gardens established through the grants program. Currently, funding is paid to Woden Community Services who work with tenants to develop their ideas – some of which are community gardens. In addition, 7 gardens have been developed through other schemes.
ACT Education and Training
The Education and Training Directorate is supportive of community gardens being on school sites to make more effective use of existing facilities to create multi-faceted community hubs. This is their aspiration, and currently no community gardens have been approved through the Directorate (though there are COGS community gardens at University of Canberra High School- Kaleen and Dickson College).
ETD’s interest in gardens is motivated to some extent by the development of Environment Learning Centres (e.g. Gold Creek School) funded through the Building Education Revolution. These centres are intended for wider community use and there are plans to fund more of these throughout Canberra. There is also a plan to establish a larger resource centre/community hub which would include things such as: gardening sites (for community use and demonstration purposes); convening of education and training workshops (e.g. composting, healthy eating); and a café (this concept is similar to CERES in Melbourne and also overlaps to some extent with the Canberra City Farm proposal and Fusion’s learning hub).
Community gardens within schools are identified as a way of improving the health and physical activity of students through participation in growing, cooking and eating their own produce while also improving their skill base and knowledge of food systems. The potential for community gardeners to work productively with children to pass on knowledge and develop skills was raised as an added benefit; however, this did also raise the issue of student safety:
And as from a community perspective, we see further benefits in we can engage the students in that as part of their curriculum, in terms of growing and cooking and eating, but also we see the opportunity for people who are engaged in Community Gardens to actually become the teachers, the mentors. And so it’s not just left to the teachers to do the education, but it’s a shared community learning, and the students actually learn, they engage with people of all walks of life. Obviously currently… later on, but there are things that we need to be cautious about in terms of student safety and security.
In the only current garden attempting to be located on a school ground (Lyons Early Childhood School), the issue of safety and how to provide a suitable risk assessment and risk management strategy has been identified as a key barrier to the approval process. The issue of risk and safety also relates to fencing. Schools in the ACT are currently in the process of being fenced, and thus planning for access to community gardens may need to be incorporated into that process. Fencing of community gardens is discussed in more detail in Section 3.2.6.
Majura Primary School, which has an established school kitchen garden program, has overcome potential concerns with safety by ensuring that children are never left alone with an ‘outsider’ and that there is always a teacher present. This has alleviated concerns for both parents and staff and has enabled local community members to volunteer within the school kitchen garden program. However, it is likely members of a community garden would expect open access to their food-producing plots which would make constant teacher supervision impossible. More research is needed on this issue to understand community desires in relation to garden access.
The Education and Training Directorate also identify the potential for community gardens to provide passive surveillance to improve security of the site, particularly out of school hours, including holiday periods. They also identify the potential for a community garden site to provide a space for green and organic waste management, though, unless managed correctly, this was identified as a potential problem as well. The therapeutic benefits of such a space were discussed, as was the potential to harvest rainwater from the existing school buildings.
Two key considerations for ETD in the planning and design of community gardens were: Firstly, sites need to be accessible for differently abled people; and, secondly, concerns were raised that food producing gardens can lack aesthetic appeal and look untidy.
3.2 Community Garden Exponents: Key Findings
This section discusses the views of the remaining three stakeholder groups: Non-Government / Not for Profit Organisations; Commercial Enterprises; and Developers.
The 13 Non-Government or Not for Profit Organisations interviewed were: the Heart Foundation; Reclink Australia; Northside Community Services; Woden Community Services: Companion House, Majura Men’s Shed, SEE-change, Lyons Early Childhood Centre, Fusion, ANUgreen, Narrabundah Community Garden, Kingston Organic Garden and Pialligo Garden Lots. Details from a previous interview with the ACT Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Foundation are also included in the following sections.
The final stakeholder group consisted of 3 developers in the Canberra region planning for, or currently incorporating community gardens into their developments. Representatives of three developers were interviewed: Rock Development Group (Loop Development in Belconnen), Molonglo Development Group (NewActon project) and CIC Australia (Forde project).
Across each of these 4 categories there was widespread support for community gardens, recognition of growing demand for small-scale food-producing spaces in Canberra and a desire to see these initiatives continue to grow. People are motivated to participate in, and facilitate gardens for a wide variety of reasons ranging from the commercial aspects of the venture for Roy Priest at Pialligo to the contribution such sites play in assisting people deal with trauma and mental illness (Fusion, Companion House and Reclink Australia).
3.2.1 Characteristics of Community Gardens
Organic versus Conventional Gardening
The majority of community gardens promote organic gardening methods but the level of commitment to this is varied. ANUgreen, Kingston Organic Community Garden and Gardening@Limestone are all organic gardens. The Narrabundah community garden promotes organic gardening, however, it is not strictly enforced due to respect for the “multicultural nature” of the community and their traditional approaches to gardening. The Pialligo Garden Lots is not an organic garden, but individuals wishing to use pesticides and herbicides must first gain the approval of Roy Priest, the owner of the land, as he encourages users to respect the gardening approaches of their fellow plot-holders.
Communal versus individual plots
All of the existing community gardens, with the exception of the Reclink Australia public housing spaces, the ANUgreen garden and the Majura Men’s Shed garden are constructed into individual plots with some communal areas. In contrast, those planned by developers (Rock Development Group and CIC) and the Lyons Early Childhood Centre/SEE-change/Woden Community services are focussed on communal cultivation. The individual nature of plots is particularly important for Roy Priest at Pialligo Garden Lots due to the commercial nature of the venture and his focus on supporting independence (individual motivations and desires to produce food for private consumption and/or commercial sale)
A recent study analysing urban community garden systems in southeast Australia in public housing complexes and areas with large amounts of public housing identifies some key issues to consider in the design of community gardens for these populations. The study notes that individual plot-style systems significantly restrict the number of people able to be involved in the garden, noting that such gardens “become exclusive spaces as they reached their participation carrying capacities”; while communally cultivated sites “could accommodate increasing demand overtime, as well as inclusion of gardeners with a range of skill levels”. The majority of publically accessible Canberra community gardens are organised into individual plots, and the recent survey data gathered in the ACT indicates that this is the most desired format. It is possible that imposition of communal cultivation would limit the number of willing participants.
However, there is scope to incorporate aspects of both designs. This occurs in the Kingston Organic Garden which has a mixture of plots for personal use (52) and nine communal plots which are shared by multiple members. The inclusion of community spaces enables people with limited time to become part of the garden’s community, contribute to those in need (as 50% of production is distributed to those in need through the Church’s Verandah progam) and satisfy desires to garden and grow some of their own produce.
3.2.2 Diversity of Community Gardens in the ACT
The most significant finding of this research is the identification of the diversity of models of community gardens in the ACT outside of the COGS model outlined in Section 2.5.1. The managers of non-COGS gardens express the need for future planning to support and facilitate various models of community gardens which respond to the particular needs and desires of the potential gardeners, the neighbourhoods and the wider community within which they will be sited. A one-size fits all approach to community gardens is not desirable and may in fact prevent the realisation of the multiple benefits, beyond food production, that these spaces can bring about to users and the broader community. This can be seen in the approach taken by Reclink Australia in public housing developments in the Inner North of Canberra. These gardens are communally cultivated spaces and also function without specific codes of conduct and written rules. They have become important sites for communal interactions which have assisted residents develop independence, pride in their living environment and provide a space for the community to interact with other Government services as well as not-for-profit groups such as the Red Cross. The garden provides a safe and enjoyable space in which these interactions can occur.
Companion House is exploring a flexible model of community gardens that will be able to accommodate the needs of the client groups they serve. For example a current pilot project is in development which aims to provide one of their client groups (Burmese refugees) with a choice of gardening communally (potentially at Pialligo Garden Lots) or utilising land share backyard sharing. Clients will be provided with options and also with support in the form of horticulture training. This pilot project represents the potential of community gardens to respond to the needs of the clients/community groups they serve.
Planning policies and governmental mechanisms for supporting and approving community gardens need to be flexible to facilitate the various models of communal urban food gardening that members of the Canberra Community desire.
3.2.3 Importance of Partnerships
The need for flexibility is also evident in relation to the capacity for gardens to be developed through multiple partnerships between government, community services, community organizations and unaffiliated community members. Partnerships should be encouraged both as ways of seeking funding support but also community engagement for those wishing to establish community gardens in the ACT. Briefly, they can include: State and Federal Government agencies (e.g., agencies focusing on Housing, Health, Mental Health, Disability, Training and Employment); community service organisations; property developers; education providers; schools; community groups; church groups; and service clubs (e.g. Rotary or Lions Clubs).
The Heart Foundation strongly support and encourage partnerships in any community garden development. From their perspective, partnerships include both public and private stakeholders and community members. The Heart Foundation view one of their roles as supporting potential community garden projects in the government arena and linking various stakeholders to facilitate the development of community gardens. Thus the capacity for these varied relationships to be developed in response to the particular needs of the community the garden will serve should be maintained and we recommend that these forms of partnerships are actively advocated by the ACT Government.
For instance, this could include provision of guidelines that detail examples of community gardens which have successfully adopted this model. The Reclink Australia example discussed above indicates this to some extent, but it finds particular expression in two other gardens: one that currently exists (Harrison) and one that is in the planning stages (Lyons Early Childhood School). In the former, the development and management was coordinated by Northside Community Services, with project manager Wendy Prowse noting that:
I don't think it would happen without having a community service organisation or some sort of organisation that's there to champion and try to pull everyone together and having the contacts that they can ring and say ‘Hey, do you fancy coming out and giving us a hand?’
The Harrison community garden relied heavily on partnerships with community, government and businesses. This included consultations with COGS, who were able to recommend the volunteer convenor. ACT Corrective Services provided labour to develop the community garden and the Lion’s Club hosted a morning tea and BBQ at the first working bee. Plot holders (community members) were also instrumental in its development.
The garden at Lyons Early Childhood Centre is being developed through extensive community consultation and cooperation between Woden Community Services, Lyons Early Childhood Centre, Lyons School and SEE-Change. There is strong community demand and a committed cohort of drivers but they are struggling with negotiations with the Education Directorate related to risk assessment and management.
The Narrabundah community garden also benefits from an ongoing relationship with Corrective Services which provides people to work on regular maintenance of the site, significantly reducing the burden on volunteers to maintain a large site. The aesthetically pleasing, well-manicured site is reported as having improved community pride in the area.
The SAKG Foundation demands that schools interested in applying for funding from the Foundation consider a variety of partnerships, not only Government but non-Government and private businesses and community organisations. The SAKG School at Majura Primary School has strong links with local businesses which operate on many levels. For example, local cafes supply them with biodegradable scraps for their worm farm, chickens and compost and other local businesses support them with financial or in kind donations. They have also established a Friends of Majura Kitchen Garden in order to incorporate the local community. This was seen as a way of incorporating local residents on many levels. For instance, to volunteer in the garden or the kitchen or to share specialised knowledge with children.
3.2.4 Motivations and Benefits of Community Gardens
In the majority of gardens, food production is not (or is not envisaged to be) the most important motivation or benefit for the garden managers. This is directly related to how/why the garden was established. Community building, usually incorporating social inclusion, is the motivation, and the benefit, cited by the majority of garden managers. The Reclink Australia gardens and the former Fusion garden were designed specifically to assist people in public housing with various needs to connect with others, develop a sense of pride and feel a sense of belonging in their communities. John Brummell from Fusion believes doing this assisted people with their mental health and occupied their time productively, observing that:
During the 12 years or so that our main clientele was coming from Burnie Court and other welfare flats none of those at risk people got into serious trouble with the courts or police or were sent to jail nor did they have any continuing or serious mental health episodes requiring mental health team intervention.
The Reclink Australia public housing gardens were established to improve health and wellbeing through gardening and food production but also to provide a positive environment for gardeners and residents to engage with each other and essential community services and support from other service organisations e.g. Directions ACT (Drug and alcohol support). A key outcome from this process is the development of independence through the development of new skills and pride in having produced food. Mark Ransome from Reclink Australia cites an example of a volunteer at a public housing garden learning irrigation skills and going on to study horticulture at CIT.
Companion House is in the process of developing a pilot community garden project targeting Burmese Refugees. The benefits to this group were perceived to be extensive. It was acknowledged that refugees often experience severe trauma and that gardening could assist them with mental and physical recovery from trauma. Additionally, community-based gardening can assist them with a reconnection to their culture and /or their spirituality which could further assist with healing processes.
Most identify community gardens as sites available for education and training (for both children and adults) but, apart from School Kitchen Gardens, Reclink Australia and the former Fusion gardens, there is little evidence of them being used in this way. The infrastructure exists for horticultural workshops, such as composting, pruning etc., to be held in these spaces, but this is not currently being pursued by the gardens. This is also the case with COGS community gardens, the exception being their sporadic open days. However, the recent hosting of a community night with a horticulturalist speaking at NewActon was an exception. The key barrier for non-commercial gardens undertaking such events was identified by Narrabundah community garden as insufficient funds.
Despite this gap between ‘what is possible’ and ‘what is practiced’, the potential for community gardens to provide education and training was identified. The Lyons Early Childhood Garden proponents envisage it being a place where people can share knowledge and learn from others and then being able to use that in their own backyards. Sharing of knowledge and development of ideas and, thus a growing sense of community, were also identified in the Narrabundah community garden, NewActon garden, ANUgreen garden and Pialligo Garden Lots. The latter is particularly interesting as the garden was established as a commercial enterprise designed so gardeners could be independent while also being part of a community. Roy Priest also identifies his commercial venture as a way of enabling Canberrans to capitalise on some of the region’s most fertile soils. Priest notes:
… they’re up there, talking to one another, sharing their produce, as well as sharing their knowledge with one another. And, which has been very, very, great. And, and the community response is really fantastic, which is better than I anticipated. And I'm, I'm over the moon about it all, actually.
The Narrabundah site also provides a space where community members can take green waste for composting. This is not widely advertised due to fears of abuse and/or an inability to deal with the large quantities of material that may be delivered.
3.2.5 Concerns and Barriers
Despite all the positives engendered by community gardens, community garden stakeholders also raised a range of issues that posed concerns and barriers to development and management of community gardens. These are outlined in the following section.
Information - Lack of Centralised Information Source for Community Gardens
The key stakeholders interviewed who are involved in the planning (excluding the developers) and early stages of community gardens identified the need for a central repository of information to assist people wishing to set-up community gardens. A particular concern was how and from where they could seek funding for development and ongoing infrastructure and management needs. The inclusion of information on relevant sources of government and non-government funding for community gardens would be a useful addition to the centralised information repository.
Other information that was considered important is how to engage community. It was acknowledged that various community groups and individuals contributed to a garden’s success but ways of optimally engaging community were not always clear. Information on a grass-roots approach to garden design would also be useful for some. This was a particular concern for the managers of Gardening@Limestone who, while continuing to experience growing demand for their plots, were keen to improve community spirit among their gardeners. In this case, the garden had been constructed with little input from community members and so ownership of the project does not yet seem to have extended beyond people’s plots. The inclusion of advice on community consultation in design and demand in the central repository would assist those groups not asking for ACT land to follow best community development practice to maximise the benefits for both themselves and their community.
One group, the Kingston Organic Community Garden, also suggested the creation of an ACT Community Garden online portal for members of all community gardens and those interested in setting them up (or being part of them) as a way of sharing information and resources. None of those interviewed discussed the resource-rich National Community Gardens and City Farm Network as being useful to them – instead they identified the need for locally focused information and support.
Clear Guidelines Required
Given that school sites may well be a useful site for future gardens, clear risk assessment and risk management guidelines (and possibly assistance provided to groups attempting to comply with these) to support the establishment of community gardens on school grounds need to be developed and publicised. The need for clear guidance from schools on the information required is highlighted by recent experience for the community garden project team for Lyons Early Childhood Centre.
Location of future sites
Schools sites have the capacity to provide stable, communal gardening sites that are easily accessible. This was identified by the Lyons Early Childhood Centre’s director of early childhood, Janine Beaumont:
And I think that’s why it needs to happen on the school premises because a school is a stable place. Even though communities come and go, just like in Canberra people come and go, the school grounds itself, it’s always there and it’s always giving the same sort of thing. So I see the A.C.T. gardening, community gardening, more and more they should be in school grounds because school grounds are community hubs.
The majority of people in Canberra’s community gardens drive to their gardens. The use of cars to purchase food makes the most significant contribution to the carbon footprint of Canberrans. If community gardens are to play a significant part in sustainability, they should be within walking distance of people’s homes. There is also a requirement for adequate infrastructure to be provided (e.g. lockable tool sheds) so that people can store equipment on site, better facilitating walking. The lack of toilets on the majority of existing community gardening sites may also be a barrier to participation. Finding locations near accessible public toilets (or school toilets on school grounds) is another important consideration.
Although there were often many participants (gardeners) in the community gardens surveyed, some relied on the ‘drive’ of one or two individuals to function. There was concern expressed by managers and garden participants about what would happen to the sites if these ‘drivers’ were no longer able to manage them. Similar concerns have been expressed in the COGS gardens. While there is an awareness of a need to ensure gardens are self-managing, concern for their future also exists.
In particular concern over succession planning was significant in some community gardens. Representatives from three gardens expressed concern about losing the current convenor and/or manager who is seen as the driving force of the project. This was expressed in regards to the Harrison community garden, the Narrabundah Community Garden and the Gardening@Limestone Garden. All were aware of the danger but it is unclear what steps are being taken to manage this. The Old Narrabundah Community Council Inc which runs the garden at Narrabundah has a broad committee, but there is one key driving force and fears were expressed for the entire organisation’s future if/when he retired. The Gardening@Limestone site is currently managed by Pastor Ken, his wife and one other gardener. However, there was a lack of communal ownership and they were keen to see it run by an independent committee of gardeners rather than by one or two. They were struggling with how to do this and, while they had consulted COGS, they did not feel they had sufficient support or information on how to do this.
Transport as a barrier to access
Amongst the stakeholders interviewed, there was little hard data available on transport methods to the community gardens; however, it was indicated that the Narrabundah Community Garden, ANUgreen garden, Harrison garden and the NewActon garden were all easily accessible to their clients on foot or by bicycle. Fusion (with a garden targeting public housing residents and then recently arrived refugees) cited a lack of easy access via public transport as a barrier to use of their garden (which ended in 2010).
There was one garden where cars were almost mandatory for access: Pialligo Garden Lots. Roy Priest identifies the reverse problem, noting that he wants to encourage people to be willing to access a site that they have to drive to. The compensation, from his point of view, is the highly productive soil and the infrastructure such as in-built irrigation, an individual shed, and access to mulch.
3.2.6 Fencing: Pros and Cons
There is a lack of consensus on the issue of fencing. Vandalism and stolen produce occurs in community gardens with and without fencing. There was no clear evidence that not fencing increased the risk. The only community gardens that did not report theft or stolen produce (that they were aware of) were the unfenced site at Harrison and the fenced, but not locked, site at Ainslie (gardening @Limestone) and the (fenced and locked) Majura Men’s Shed garden.
The stolen produce from the unfenced Narrabundah Community Garden site has prompted the manager to recommend that all plot holders grow more than they need as they should expect to lose some produce. This seemed to be accepted and damage was rarely done, with the worst vandalism being the stealing of copper taps some years ago.
Those who did not believe in fencing were quite adamant that fencing worked against the aims of their community gardening project by preventing community engagement. For some, it was seen as inappropriate for the characteristics of their potential participants such as former prisoners (for instance Reclink Australia) and it is possible that this could also be true for people coming from refugee camps and or immigration detention centres (e.g. Companion House’s project).
In contrast one interview raised the positive aspect of fencing, noting that it increased feelings of security for people when at the plot (this was in a garden which was fenced but not locked). This was also found in research into community gardens at or in close proximity to multi-dwelling public housing sites. The researcher noted that the sense of safety for participants “may actually support social inclusion for some individuals who seek a feeling of safety from the exclusion of others” going on to observe that: “Designing garden environments that allow participants to feel safe and to take ownership over the garden may be fundamental aspects to developing inclusivity and exclusivity in perception and in design”. However, there are of course other ways to improve feelings of security, through surveillance, including provision of seating to encourage public use, and the inclusion of symbolic barriers, such as gates, or low fences
This issue of fencing, again, seems to require a flexible approach. To fence or not to fence can best be answered by the community involved in the garden in consonance with their aspirations and the garden’s location.
4.0 Community Gardens: Growing Demand
This section explores current interest in community gardens in the ACT. Based on evidence from community garden stakeholders, community garden managers and waiting lists for community gardens in the ACT, it is apparent that demand for community gardens exists. Although it is not possible to quantify this demand, evidence for demand is examined in the following sections. This is examined in terms of waiting lists of community gardens, interviews with community garden stakeholders and the online survey of ACT residents.
4.1 Demand for Community Gardens in the ACT
4.1.1 Current Waiting Lists
Interviews with stakeholders revealed anticipated growth in demand for sites. This was evident in waiting lists. There were 2 people on the waiting list at Kingston Organic Community Garden and 60 people on the mailing list for the Lyons Early Childcare Centre Garden.
A 2011 survey of COGS members found that over half the people who are already gardening would like more land. This is supported by the 3-year waiting list for some of COGS community gardens and the fact that the COGS Committee is currently assessing several proposals for new community gardens. Complete information is not currently available however, there are at least 34 people on waiting lists for a plot in a COGS gardens. There are, also at least 2 plots available in COGS gardens. This indicates that there is higher demand in some areas of the city than in others.
Pialligo Garden Lots and the NewActon representatives identified the capacity of these sites to cater to greater numbers of people, discussing the need to advertise to increase demand for their sites. They are both new ventures and the gardens are neither highly visible nor conventional.
4.1.2 Demand Indicated in Online Survey Results
One in four respondents to the 2012 online survey were not current members of a community garden but of this group, almost 70 per cent expressed an interest in becoming involved. Of this 70%, almost all (90%) had a garden at home. Therefore, only 10% of those interested in joining a community garden did not have a garden.
Figure 11: Non Community Garden Members - Interest
Figure 12: Non Community Garden Members - Home Garden
The main reasons cited for wanting to join a community garden (for those with gardens) was that there was no room for one at home, shade was an issue for some, wildlife ensured that food gardening at home would entail excessive fencing and some just wanted more space to enjoy the pleasure of gardening.
Broader explanation of motivations for joining a community garden included both individualistic motivations and communal ones. Respondents were permitted to select multiple responses from a range of options (including the opportunity to provide open text comments). Most respondents sought a connection to community and a willingness and desire to contribute in some way to the wider community.
Figure 13: Non Community Garden Members - Motivations
Open text reasons for wanting to join a community garden reflected aspects of those in the chart above. For instance, some cited the desire to contribute to their own (and Canberra’s) food security. Concern was expressed for our over reliance on supermarkets and how community gardens could go some way to alleviating this. The desire to create and be a part of a community was a strong theme throughout all responses. The opportunity to learn from others, to share produce and to “work towards a common good” were reasons potential community garden members cited as motivations.
In terms of motivations stemming from individualistic sources, some respondents were renting a dwelling or lived in apartments and the opportunity to join a community garden enabled them to have consistent access to a garden: something they were unable to do under their current circumstances. The health benefits of physical and outdoor activity were also mentioned.
4.2 Impact of Type of Dwelling on Community Garden Membership/ Demand
People often assume that community gardeners join gardens as they do not have access to a home garden. However, the type of housing people live in (and whether they have access to a garden) does not necessarily have a direct impact upon their interest in community gardens or their desire to join a community garden.
The majority of current members of community gardens who responded to the 2012 online survey lived in detached housing (73%) with 5% living in a flat and 22% in a townhouse (Refer to Figure 14). Almost 9 out of 10 members of community gardeners in this survey also had a garden at home (Refer to Figure 15).
Figure 14: Current Community Garden Members – Dwelling
Figure 15: Current Community Garden Members - Home Garden
Interestingly, for respondents who were not currently members of a community garden, 78% lived in a detached dwelling – marginally higher than for community garden members (73%). One in ten lived in a flat and one eigth in a townhose (Refer to Figure 16 below). Nine out of ten also had a garden at home. Thus it becomes apparent that it is not enough to simply consider existing home gardens as being usable space for growing food. The majority of both current and potential community gardeners live in free standing dwellings with gardens and still either use or want to participate in community gardens.
Figure 16: Potential Community Garden Members – Dwelling
Figure 17: Potential Community Garden Members - Home Garden
4.3 Type of Community Garden Wanted
People who are interested in joining a community garden were largely in favour of individual plots (67%) rather than communally cultivated spaces (33%). Open text comments were also permitted and the answers, while not reflected in the graph below, included wanting a mix of both communal and individual plots. This is the way in which the majority of the existing community gardens in the ACT operate whereby people are allocated their own plot to cultivate but also have shared responsibilities for, and ownership of, shared plantings (mainly herbs and fruit trees) in communal spaces.
Figure 18: Non Community Garden Members - Type of Community Garden
When examining whether future community gardens are organically or conventionally gardened, the majority (84%) of those interested in joining a community garden were keen for food to be organically grown. Only 16% cited that it was not important to them.
Figure 19: Potential Community Garden Members - Organic Gardening
4.4 Transport to Community Gardens
Potential users of community gardens, i.e., those who are interested in joining a community garden but are not currently in one, were keen to be able to walk to the garden they joined. Examination of the open text comments found that this was, not surprisingly, distance dependent, irrespective as to whether it was by bike or walking. Some respondents did recognise that it would depend upon what they needed to carry. It is possible that potential community gardeners are unaware of the need to occasionally transport equipment and this could impact upon the choice of transport method. It is also possible that current practices are a better indicator of what people would do in reality (refer to Community Gardens and Transport in Section 2.5). However, encouraging walking or cycling needs planning. For example locating gardens close to public transport and cycle paths and ensuring there are lockable, accessible sheds for tools on site.
Figure 20: Potential Community Garden Members - Transport
4.5 Location of Future Community Gardens
Respondents who wanted to join a community garden in the ACT came from a wide variety of suburbs around Canberra making it challenging to provide clear recommendations as to the location of future community gardens in the ACT. The online survey was designed to capture both the postcode and the suburb of where respondents currently reside; however, not all responses included both. The data below presents findings both by post code and by suburb.
Of the 135 respondents who were interested in joining a community garden only 93 specified the suburb in which they currently resided. The remaining 42 respondents did not identify a specific suburb – only a postcode. Of the suburbs specified, 36 rated one mention. 13 suburbs rated two mentions (Bonner, Braddon, Bruce, Calwell, Fisher, Franklin, Hughes, McKellar, Nicholls, Palmerston, Scullin, Wanniassa, Yarralumla) and 8 suburbs rated three mentions (Ngunnawal, Latham, Flynn, Lyons, Belconnen, Downer, Harrison, Fraser). Holt was the only suburb to rate 5 mentions.
Figure 21: Potential Interest in Community Gardens - Location by Suburb
All respondents noted their postcode and the findings are presented in the Table below. Due to the grouping of suburbs into single postcodes, this data is only a guide to areas which were more popular than others. Suburbs in the Inner North, Gungahlin and the Belconnen areas had the highest levels of responses. These are all areas where community gardens exist.
Demand (# of respondents)
Barton, Yarralumla, Deakin, Parkes, Russell
Ainslie, Dickson, Downer, Hackett, Lyneham, O'Connor, Watson
Forrest, Griffith, Manuka, Red Hill
Curtin, Garran, Hughes
Chifley, Lyons, O'Malley, Phillip, Woden
Farrer, Isaacs, Mawson, Pearce, Torrens
Brindabella, Chapman, Cooleman, Coombs, Coree, Duffy, Fisher, Holder, Rivett, Stirling, Stromlo, Uriarra, Waramanga, Weston, Weston Creek, Wright
Braddon, Campbell, Reid, Turner
Aranda, Cook, Hawker, Jamison Centre, Macquarie, Page, Scullin, Weetangera
Charnwood, Dunlop, Florey, Flynn, Fraser, Higgins, Holt, Kippax, Latham, Macgregor, Melba, Spence
Belconnen, Bruce, Evatt, Giralang, Kaleen, Lawson, Mckellar, UC
Erindale, Oxley, Wanniassa
Fadden, Gowrie, Macarthur, Monash
Bonython, Calwell, Chisholm, Gilmore, Isabella Plains, Richardson, Theodore
Banks, Conder, Gordon
Casey, Franklin, Ginninderra Village, Kinlyside, Ngunnawal, Nicholls, Palmerston, Taylor
Amaroo, Bonner, Forde, Harrison, Moncrieff
5.0 Summary of Findings and Recommendations
This section presents the findings and recommendations stemming from the research in this report.
- Demand for community gardens in the ACT will continue to grow and is likely to be based across the Inner North, Gungahlin, Belconnen, Inner South and Woden Valley. Focus on new developments in these areas is recommended; however, estimating quantifiable demand for community gardens in the ACT is difficult based on the scope of this study.
- The relationship between increased residential densities and community garden usage is not clear-cut. It is accepted that residents in higher density housing often lack the space for a garden. However, this report demonstrates that residents in low density houses can also lack useable gardening space. In older suburbs this can be as a result of shade trees and in newer suburbs a result of having a large house on a small block.
- Characteristics of current and future users appear to be similar. Current users partake in community gardens for a myriad of reasons prompted by limited usable home gardening space. Motivations for participation include wanting to produce their own food, engage in community, and pleasure in gardening. This report indicates that future users of community gardens are likely to be motivated by similar reasons.
- There are numerous models of community gardens internationally, within Australia and within the ACT. These vary in relation to design, intention and governance/management and tend to be developed in response to the characteristics, needs and desires of the community they intend to serve. A flexible approach to the development of community gardens is identified as important for their success (realisation of benefits) by key stakeholders.
- The majority of Australian and ACT community gardens rent individual plots to participants but have some communal spaces (e.g. fruit trees and herb gardens). The online survey carried out in this research indicates that the majority of future users prefer this approach over communal cultivation and sharing of produce.
- Within the ACT most gardens (including those outside of the COGS system) espouse an organic or low-chemical input approach to gardening. The majority of potential future users indicate a preference for organic production.
- Benefits of community gardens for participants, the group and the broader community are multiple and well documented. They can be understood through the following macro-level categories: social, cultural, health, economic, environmental/ecological and education. Food security is increasingly important and relates to a number of these key categories. However, more data is needed on the productive capacity of the garden sites to substantiate this benefit. We recommend support for research that quantifies the food production in the ACT’s community gardens. The multiplicity of community garden models and diverse nature of participants and communities means that realisation of these benefits varies from garden to garden.
- Productive community gardens in Australia are sited on a range of grounds ranging from decommissioned rubbish tips (CERES- Melbourne), disused bowling greens (Veg Out- Melbourne), disused tennis courts (ACT- O’Connor, Kingston, Ainslie), school sites (ACT-Dickson College and University of Canberra High School Kaleen) through to highly fertile agricultural land (ACT-Pialligo). Potential participants’ desires to have community gardens within walking distance of their homes indicates that people may be more willing to garden in neighbourhood sites which require significant human input to improve the soil rather than wishing to travel by car to garden locations which already have highly fertile and productive soils.
- School sites have been identified as a suitable location for community gardens with the potential to become ‘community’ hubs. Community gardens at schools provide benefits such as close proximity to potential participants, increased community engagement for the school, school access to gardening ‘mentors’, and increased surveillance of school buildings in non-school times. Risk assessment of student safety is one barrier to realising this.
- There are a number of key concerns and barriers for the continued growth of community gardens in the ACT. These relate to: lack of a central portal for relevant community garden development information; difficulties with succession planning for managers/volunteers; lack of community gardens within walking distance of people’s place of residence; and lack of communication of clear guidelines for risk assessment for gardens on school sites. While secure land tenure has been identified as important to community gardens in previous research, this was not raised as a key concern by the stakeholders interviewed.
- Fencing of community gardens remains a contested issue. There is no direct correlation evident between not fencing and increased vandalism or theft of produce. Fencing is identified as a barrier to community engagement as well as one way of increasing a sense of safety for gardeners.
- There is no one ‘right’ model for a community garden. Government approval processes should be developed with an understanding that the design, intention and governance/management of community gardens varies depending on the community it is intended to serve.
- Partnerships between government, community services, community organisations and unaffiliated community members should be encouraged for those wishing to establish and maintain a community garden. Support and examples of best practice (provision of information on key case studies) should be provided by the ACT Government.
- As is planned by ESDD, a central online Government portal for all information pertaining to community gardens is required. This portal should include information on:
- setting up community gardens
- funding/grant sources
- garden design
- types of community gardens and their management structures
- risk management guidelines
- volunteer management
- importance of partnerships
- common pitfalls and barriers and how to plan for / avoid these
- guidelines related to best practice in community development
Information related to non-ACT specific issues is readily available on the internet, particularly through the Australian City Farms and Community Garden Network’s website. Identification and links to key documents on this site should be included in the central portal.
- Community gardens have the potential to act as training and education facilities for the gardeners, local community groups/schools and the broader public. Development of guidelines and consideration of seed-funding to explore this potential in the ACT should be considered. This would help contribute to educating the wider community on issues pertaining to sustainability and how people can act in their own ‘backyards.’
- Some community gardens may have the capacity to assist the surrounding community manage their home-organic waste. Consideration of waste management should be factored into future community garden design.
- To maximise usage and to contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of Canberrans, community gardens should be located within walking distance of the place of residence of its users.
- School sites (or previous school sites) for community gardens have significant potential to maximise the benefits of these spaces for individuals and the community. We recommend inter-governmental cooperation to further explore this option. Risk assessment and student safety issues need to be identified and ways of overcoming these barriers (in consultation with relevant community groups) addressed. We recommend that this process identifies differences (if any) between the risk related to siting gardens at primary schools, high schools and colleges.
- While most potential community gardeners indicate a preference for individual plots, we recommend the promotion of gardens with a mix of communally cultivated (not exclusively by non-individual plot members) and individual plots similar to the design of the Kingston Organic Garden (KOG). The communal plots at the KOG garden are tended by volunteers (who do not pay a plot fee) who share 50% of the produce amongst themselves with the remaining 50% being distributed to those in need. This form of design: assists gardens increase their human carrying capacity; allows for time-poor people to be involved; can provide people with a ‘taste’ of the gardening experience possibly encouraging further commitment to sustainable food production; and enables the gardens to be used to promote assistance of those in need in the Canberra community, thus contributing to community food security.
- To adequately assess the contribution that community gardens make to ensuring food security we recommend that research be undertaken to quantify the amount of produce grown in these sites.
Appendix 1: The Benefits of Community Gardening
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