Thursday, May 26, 2022

Opinion: Could we – should we grow more food in our towns?

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Planting bush tucker trees
School students planting bush tucker plants next to the Richmond River in Casino.
Photo: Susanna Freymark

Bernice Shepherd, indyNR.com

In the Adelaide Parklands, the annual gathering of Greek and Italian locals spreading blankets and bashing olive trees is quite the spectacle.

Picking olives in Adelaide park
Picking olives in Adelaide’s parklands. Photo: Contributed

Olive trees proliferate around that city and no self-respecting ex-European would dream of letting that bounty go to waste.

Adelaide City Council supports this marvellous display of public food harvesting by issuing free permits to pick the olives – although you are no longer allowed to bash or shake the heritage trees, some of which were planted as far back as the 1850s.

The website Falling Fruit catalogues more than half a million free food sources all over the world. Australia has over 6000 edibles listed on the site including trees, plants, herbs and fungi.

Kerrie-Anne Maunder and Ben West
Ben West and Kerrie-Anne Maunder on the banks of the Richmond River in Casino.
Photo: Bernice Shepherd

In the Northern Rivers area, foods such as grape, kumquat, paw paw, bunya pine and slippery jack are named – but it is likely the true total of publicly accessible food plants is far greater.

Here in Casino, I am reliably informed we have ‘Chinese apples’ (whatever they are) and pecans growing by the river, along with what look suspiciously like date palms. Lilli pillies, mangoes, bunya nuts and fig fruits are all over town.

And now we have the Junbung Walkway – a bush tucker trail led by Kerrie-Anne Maunder and Ben West and planted by local students through the Water Is Life program.

But could we go further?

Imagine walking into town through the shade of native food trees lining the streets, having a fruit orchard on the corner of your block, or being able to step outside your front gate and pick a lemon or lime from the nature strip.

Not only would our surroundings be cooler and more pleasant, but we could harvest fruit whenever we needed it.

Harvesting oranges in a Spanish town
In Spain, a custom built machine harvests the oranges in the town.
Photo: Contributed

Around the world people are increasingly looking to enrich their local areas by growing public food plants: Copenhagen is a notable example where the council voted to plant fruit trees and berry bushes around the city to enhance the amenity, beauty and food security of residents. In the U.S. many cities have embraced urban orchards and food forests on public land.

And anyone reading the IndyNR in the last couple of weeks would have seen footage of the bizarre Valencia orange harvesting contraption doing its thing in the middle of a Spanish city street.

Such initiatives are not without challenges: sometimes there may be community concern about public fruit trees and councils can be wary of them, foreseeing issues with their care and maintenance.

But the overwhelming benefits of urban orcharding, not only in providing free food for local communities, but also for cooling the ambient temperature, improving soil, increasing biodiversity and creating habitat makes it an attractive proposition.

We have the space and we have the climate for it.

Imagine if Richmond Valley was one of the first LGAs in Australia to embrace full scale urban orcharding and become self-sufficient in fruit?

A win for residents – and an undoubted win for tourism.

This article appeared on indyNR.com on 8 November 2021.

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