In 2017 I laid out a vision in Feeding RetroSuburbia: from the backyard to the bioregion for how a parallel food systems could realistically grow over the next decade to feed 20% of the population of Australian capital cities from their own gardens, urban farms and bioregional hinterlands using organic methods and permaculture design. While the frenzied building bubble afflicting our cities and towns in recent years has lost precious time, I still see the potential for Australia to lead other similarly affluent countries in growing relocalised food systems.
The predominantly low density residential areas of our cities and towns with mild all year round growing climates are ideal for garden farming within the household non-monetary economy. The case studies in RetroSuburbia suggest home gardens could be supplying one quarter of the food (mostly fresh fruit, veg, eggs and small livestock) products of a healthy and diverse “RetroSuburban Diet”. Another quarter would come from commercial and community urban and peri-urban farming using larger areas of public and private land in and around our sprawling cities and towns. Most of the grains, legumes, oils, dairy and larger livestock products could come from bioregional hinterlands within a few hundred kms of our largest cities. In this vision we could be producing half of our food where people live, and in the process radically improve our health and that of the environment. The unfolding property bubble slow down (or burst?) is the ideal opportunity for food to flourish in soil rather than covering more of it with concrete. Just one of the spinoffs from a RetroSuburban retrofit of our cities would be attenuation of storm water flash flooding greater than can be achieved by engineering solutions. As in all permaculture designs many functions are achieved with every design strategy and technique.
Even though the global supply corporations are likely to maintain their grip on what’s on offer in Moles and Bullies, and governments are likely to do everything to keep that system working for as long as possible, gardening farming in the non-monetary household and community economies of gift and reciprocity will have a big part to play in growing the new food supply system in the shadow of the old.
In more ways than one, the so-called problems of suburbia can become the solutions of RetroSuburbia.
Please join me on Monday November 28 from 8pm – 9pm AEDT for a free online RetroSuburbia masterclass, hosted by Morag Gamble. The masterclass is presented by the Permaculture Education Institute and Sustain: The Australian Food Network, who is the initiator and host of Urban Agriculture Month. The theme for 2022 is Growing Edible Towns and Cities.