Growing food, growing communities

Climate change will require us to find strength in our local scene, re-discovering the pleasures of social interaction and food production. [25 November 2008 | Peter Boyer]

Food is suddenly back on the table. Not so much to eat, unfortunately, but to ponder. Years of plenty and rolling green revolutions meant we didn’t have to think about it much. Now we do.

Chronic food scarcity caused by demand for biofuel crops, made worse by high transport prices, has become a life-and-death issue for displaced and drought-afflicted people around the world. Commodity prices are now dropping but food costs remain stubbornly high – a sign, if it was needed, that the era of plenty is over.

With climate change now upon us, some in the agri-business – along with the federal minister for small business, Dr Craig Emerson – argue that the way forward is better science producing crops more suited to drier, harsher growing conditions.

Science may have some answers, as it has in the past, but there are problems with this broad-scale approach, including its impact on our land’s natural systems, its energy demands and its reliance on technology to solve a problem that’s not technological at all, but social.

The macro-model of food production has put a growing distance between food sources and consumers. Once, at least half the Tasmanian population knew how to grow their own food. Today such skills are all but forgotten.

But not quite. The backyard gardener never really left our country towns, but in the city they became an endangered species. Now, vegetable gardens and chooks are making a comeback. And that’s where meetings like Growing Communities come into the picture.

“Seeds of change” will be the theme of Hobart’s 2008 Growing Communities Conference at Lenah Valley primary school and the nearby Creek Road community garden on the weekend of December 6 and 7.

Growing Communities is about gardening in groups. It seeks to help people across Tasmania to accumulate the real, tangible skills of growing food while also developing community life.

Panel discussions, practical workshops, children’s activities, films and field trips will guide individuals and community groups in using organic gardening as a tool for social and environmental change.

Participants will learn how to create and maintain community and school gardens, get practical gardening tips from some of Tasmania’s garden gurus, network with others from around the state, and see how gardens and gardening can make our world better.

Special guests include cook and food writer Stephanie Alexander, Linda Cockburn (author of “Living the good life”), Steve Solomon (author of “Growing vegetables south of Australia”) and Sally Wise (ABC presenter and author of “A year in a bottle”).

This is very much about growing nourishing food – but not just about that. It’s also to do with taking back a little bit of control over our lives, developing individual and community  resilience, and feeling a lot better, mentally and physically, for having done so.

The conference is open to anyone interested, but participants need to book. Telephone Sustainable Living Tasmania on 6234 5566 or go to

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