The History of Growing Food in Perth
Updated: Feb 23, 2019
by Andrea Gaynor
Saturday Plenary in the Art Room
In this fascinating exploration Andrea discussed the long history of community food production in Australia, with a focus on the Perth region. Starting with sustainable Noongar food production, she touched on the risks and opportunities of colonial urban food systems, before settling in to a focus on Australian food systems under pressure during the second world war.
This history tells us that firstly, rapid expansion of community food production seems possible, if you can motivate enough people.
Secondly, it shows us events that reduce access to food supply are likely to also reduce access to the materials needed to grow food: in the Second World War there were shortages of rubber, pesticides, seeds, and fertilisers. Resilient food gardens should therefore plan for sourcing inputs locally and cycling nutrients. There was also a shortage of know-how, suggesting that capacity for community food production must be planned for and built up.
Cities of the 1940s had much more open space, and the more spacious suburbs were more productive than the inner city, suggesting that town planners would be wise to maintain open space that can be readily turned over to resilient gardening, though we also might need to think differently about how and where we garden in cities.
Thirdly, top-down food-growing campaigns were also about producing a particular kind of citizen: patriotic, thrifty, industrious and responsible, with particular roles for men and women (though these were often challenged in practice). Thinking about future campaigns around community food production, it’s important to keep this in mind: while nurturing a new kind of city, such initiatives are also fostering particular kinds of values and attitudes though this time it’s (hopefully) inclusivity, cooperation and generosity. Also, while the language of war can be motivating, it also implies compulsion and duty; hardship and collective sacrifice rather than satisfaction and enjoyment. After the second world war, food gardening didn’t disappear, but it did decline. While change is urgently needed, the rhetoric of war is unlikely to produce sustainable change.
Our cities have always produced food, but the kind and level of production has depended on the availability of suitable land and other resources, how the activity fits in with the physical infrastructure and processes of the city, as well as the lifestyles and ideals of residents.
Gaynor, A. (ed.) & Rose, N. (ed.), (2018) Reclaiming the Urban Commons: The past, present and future of food growing in Australian towns and cities. Perth: UWA Publishing.
See this link for more of Andrea's work