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The future of our food: Community gardens and sustainability

Lilith, Maggie (2014) The future of our food: Community gardens and sustainability. Other thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines limitations of the current industrialised food system in an era of rapid global population growth, peak oil and climate change, and explores the role that community gardens in urban areas can play in addressing these challenges. Narrowing the focus to Australia, one of the most urbanised nations on earth, the research aims to identify key elements that contribute to the ongoing success and sustainability of community gardens in urban areas.

The shortcomings of the current industrialised food production systems and the potential role of community gardens were examined by means of a literature review of key relevant sources. To identify some of the reasons why urban community gardens succeed or fail, case studies of community gardens in three Australian capital cities (Melbourne, Sydney and Perth) were conducted. Interviews were conducted with key personnel in these gardens to obtain historical information and to explore the current ongoing challenges the gardens face. Two examples of failed community gardens were examined in order to better understand these challenges. A case study examining the possible establishment of a local community garden in Hilton, Western Australia was also included. Drawing on a survey of Hilton residents, the case study examined residents’ current food purchasing behaviour and explored their attitudes towards having a local community garden.

This thesis research highlights that the current industrialised food production system is heavily reliant on finite resources and is one of the major contributors to climate change. The thesis also reveals why the industrialised food production system will face challenges from peak oil and climate change, particularly in a geographically isolated region such as Western Australia. Growing food in urban areas should be considered to be one of many solutions to address food insecurity and possible food shortages. It is therefore important to ensure community gardens themselves continue to be resilient to global changes. Identifying key elements and reasons for success as well as failures of community gardens is thus important to ensure continual food supply from community gardens.

The case study research conducted in this thesis reveals that some of the key ingredients of success for Australian urban community gardens are having long term succession plans, access to monetary and environmental resources, and fostering long term relationships with all members of a community. The key factors leading to failures in the case studies examined include the loss of focus on the core components of the garden, which are growing food and enhancing social capital.

The results from the Hilton case study and residential survey were positive, indicating that residents were willing to embrace a community garden within the suburb and were aware of its potential benefits. When asked about these possible benefits, the residents revealed that having access to fresh food was important to them on a personal level. Social cohesion and increasing community engagement for the overall community were seen to be the most important reasons for establishing a community garden. This thesis research is important in that it contributes to our understanding of how community gardens might be one of the solutions to addressing food insecurity in an era of peak oil and climate change. In identifying key elements that have contributed to the success – and failure – of Australian urban community gardens, the research provides insights that can help create community gardens that are able to sustain future urban populations.

Publication Type: Thesis (Other)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Management and Governance
Notes: Research Masters with Training
Supervisor: Johnstone, Allan
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