Sparrow and Finch Gardening Paving market gardens: choosing suburbs above food

Paving market gardens: choosing suburbs above food

Metropolitan Plan proposes that 60 years later the area of Basin Farms be reduced to 600 hectares through the development of 220,000 residential homes in the growth areas of the north-west, south-west, and west. The development will pave 603 hectares or 52% of Sydney’s remaining farms for fresh produce. The area dedicated to greenhouse vegetables may decline as much as 60 percent.

In 2006, 40 percent of the market gardens in Sydney’s designated urban growth zones were located by the 90 percent of vegetable growers that produced 90% of Sydney fresh vegetables. There was no strategy for their relocation.

Local farmers benefit from economic and social benefits

The existing agricultural production in the Sydney Basin generates $1.5 billion at the farmgate and $4.5 billion multiplier effects for the NSW economy2. The farmers produce 12% of NSW’s primary production, or “farm-gate value”, using only 1% of NSW’s total land area.

Vegetables accounted for $250,000,000 per year (pa) of the $1 Billion farm gate production, poultry was $278,000,000 pa (both representing 40% of NSW production), while cut flowers accounted $185,000,000 pa.

Peri-urban gardens are also valuable socially. Market gardens were crucial in helping successive waves of immigrants establish their livelihoods. Each wave began to cultivate fresh vegetables that they were familiar with (and for whom their own communities served as a captive audience).

Working in factories and restaurants and driving taxis helped them establish their capital base. They also bought land. The motivation was to “be their own boss,” to avoid situations in which language would be a barrier to earning an income, and to avoid having to rely on social security. Around 80% of market growers come from backgrounds that do not speak English.

All things are interdependent.

The interdependence of global financial and food markets is essential for capital city food security. Other factors include political trade agreements, low fuel prices, sophisticated logistics, and cheap fuel in transportation. Food security is a guarantee of constant food availability.

Sydney, as well as most of South-eastern Australia from 2006 to 2009, became susceptible to drought. In Queensland, flooding and cyclones caused shortages of certain foods. Bananas were the most notable. NSW already imports 75% of the seafood it consumes.

Sydney is susceptible to the volatility of international market prices in a variety of commodities. Should the price of crude oil increase, transporting fresh food over long distances will become problematic. Sydney is, therefore, in need of its food supply.

Better health with fresh food

In an October 2009 report by the Victorian Local Government Association, the topic of food security was discussed from the perspective that agricultural production has been steadily declining near Melbourne. The study linked food security and land use planning with the decline of the agricultural output in peri-urban areas.

Food can account for 40% to 70% of your weekly budget. Any price increase could be life-threatening. In 2008, there were Food Riots across 28 countries as the prices of staple foods such as wheat, rice, and maize tripled or doubled. In Australia, food accounts for only 15% of our weekly budget. We are also fortunate that we can afford a large portion of our food purchases.

What is more important, food or development?

Other stakeholders, such as land developers well received the release of NSW’s planned growth regions. The headline of their article captured this not-so-surprising perspective: Grow suburbs not vegetables.

The proponents of development and growth look to the technology to provide “industrial” food production. They are looking to implement capital-intensive hydroponics glasshouses and large transport hubs for food distribution to Sydney.

Real estate developers are heavily invested in the State Metropolitan Plan’s growth areas. Sydney’s urban farms and periurban farms are a major factor in the growth of the city. They will reduce housing and rental stock as population increases, and increase prices. CEO Mr Aaron Gadiel asks: “Should we… deny ourselves housing and jobs-creating industries in order to support an industry that is not economically viable?

But I do wonder: Should local, fresh food be considered a priority in the same way as development?

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