Some of the ideas around edible landscapes are making better use if public spaces to grow food – sure this is community gardens but not just community gardens. One thing that has been changing a lot in recent years is the idea of what is actually meant by a community garden. When they first started they tended to use the English allotments where people had their own individual patch and no-one else could touch and people had to die before you could get one because there was a waiting list. These involved high fences, gates and locks.
These days community gardens are being designed to fit in with the landscape and everyone gets to use them. These gardens are as much about community and sharing – getting a lot of people together, not just a few and building the strength of the community. These types of gardens can be anywhere – they can be a planter box on the main street with herbs, they can be fruit trees being used as street trees, they can be an area in a park that becomes an orchard, grown on the verge or even in the front garden where others can access them, they can be water gardens etc. there is a terrific project in Melbourne, which I understand is spreading further called the Lemon Tree Project where they are giving away lemon trees on the promise the tree will be planted in a public place – most of them will be going into front gardens so anyone can access the fruit – other will go on verges – with council permission of course and in local parks and gardens.
The other thing that has been happening is the enormous growth in vegetable growing – a lot of people are trying to reconnect with their food – and doing that with their children. There is some evidence to suggest that part of the reason behind the current obesity problem across our population is a disconnection between people and food – they no longer see or understand what it is and so much of it is pre-processed before they get it these days. The great thing about growing your vegetables is that you get fresh vegetables, you know where they came from, they taste better and you have done quite a bit of exercise to grow them.
One of the other things that buying a lot of our vegetables has done is actually limit the varieties that we use. We are just now starting to see heirloom or heritage varieties in some of the supermarkets – certainly you can get them at farmers markets but better still if you grow them yourself. But there are other plants that we are yet to see in shops that we can grow – things like New Zealand yams, Asian water spinach, duck potato, water celery etc.
There are also now businesses in some of cities that are making a living out of helping people set up their vegetable gardens – why? Apparently there is virtually a whole generation that missed out on that knowledge that was passed down the generations around the veggie patch. In the city of Melbourne there is now land set aside for local residents to participate in having a veggie patch – these are people who live in apartments – hence no garden. These places are being used not just to garden but socialise.