Emergence of food gardens prompts call for developers to turn vacant properties into urban farms

Posted by Media Release Agency on 21st October 2020

Recent growing fears of food shortages and empty supermarket shelves have spurred the emergence of fruit and vegetable gardens on residential properties, and independent ‘urban farms’ for local communities at apartment blocks and on suburban land pockets. Restaurant food gardens are also proving to be popular. Subsequently, award-winning urban design and planning consultancy Hatch RobertsDay (robertsday.com.au) is calling for developers to turn their unused land into urban farms, in the hopes of incorporating localised food systems into our communities.

Hatch RobertsDay has long identified the benefits of bringing locally and sustainably produced food to the community. A key driver behind this vision is Catherine Simpson, Queensland Senior Urban Designer at Hatch RobertsDay. Catherine is also a director of Brisbane Food City – a collaborative, community-led initiative consisting of several leading agriculture experts – which was recently shortlisted for the Rockefeller Food Vision Prize. RobertsDay contributed to the Brisbane Food City initiative during its early stages. The vision reimagines Brisbane as a sustainable, localised food system, bringing food production to 190 Brisbane suburbs through farms and hubs by 2050. Catherine’s expertise, along with Brisbane Food City’s project vision, prompted them to engage with developers to create urban farms throughout the city.

Catherine says: “Already, Hatch RobertsDay is introducing urban agriculture into a number of current projects and masterplans around the city and further afield including Yarabilba Town Centre and the Flinders development. We have also successfully advocated for an urban farm in the new Victoria Park project by Brisbane City Council. It is common for developments to have ‘undevelopable land’ that is often leftover from a project. This can include land that is flood prone, situated close to powerlines, near creeks, adjacent roads, or on easements. While you cannot build on this type of land, developers and Councils could use this to provide the community with gardens and other green spaces. We would love to see more developers get involved in transforming undevelopable land into localised food systems. We also hope to liaise with landowners about turning their private land into urban farms throughout Brisbane.”

She continues: “Hatch RobertsDay continues to support the Brisbane Food City vision by designing these urban farms and sourcing easily accessible land parcels around Brisbane, ensuring they offer good-quality and uncontaminated soil, and functional design. These farms and hubs will not only make use of undeveloped and underutilised land, but will help promote self-sufficiency, food security, and a greater sense of community. It also presents a great opportunity for developers to engage with the local community.”

The urban farms will vary in size, from 100-3000sqm, and include garden patches and small workshop spaces. The farms will feature a variety of fruit trees, vegetable patches, flowering plants, and herbs. Workshops will also be a key aspect, making use of existing spaces, such as sheds, to hold cooking, floristry and gardening classes for the community. It will be created as a family-friendly community space.

Hatch RobertsDay highlights four benefits of urban farms, and their increasing prevalence post-pandemic:

  1. Accessibility to produce. Urban farms can increase the visibility of food production within communities, and its localised nature means residents have immediate access to small vegetables and herbs while on the go. This can be particularly good for a locked-down society. People can also supplement their store-bought produce with these locally grown fruit and vegetables, which provide a fresh source of food.
  2. Increases a community’s self-sufficiency. Community involvement in harvesting produce helps promote independence and self-sufficiency while encouraging people to see the value in growing their own food. It helps reduce food wastage, as the community is sourcing its own food. Composting hubs will also be a key feature, encouraging people to bring their food scraps for reuse at the farms. Urban farms also offer better food security and control over where and how food is sourced and grown.
  3. Improves health. Urban farms can supply communities with fresh and nutritious produce and promote seasonal eating – a great health benefit. It also enables residents to have greater control over the use of pesticides, allowing for produce to grow naturally without the addition of harmful chemicals. Communities are also encouraged to volunteer at the farms and assist with gardening. Research suggests gardening is not only beneficial to physical health but can greatly improve one’s mental wellbeing. In fact, a recent survey found 66 percent of Australians feel a sense of satisfaction when gardening, while 58 percent cite an improvement in their mood. Growing evidence also suggests gardening can have a positive impact on those with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Engaging in repetitive tasks such as weeding can also mimic the benefits of meditation, providing relaxation, a chance to unwind, and help people find reprieve from their busy lifestyles.
  4. Strengthens a sense of community. The vision of these urban farms is to be a place for the community to gather, shop, eat, and celebrate. Residents can also connect directly to the farms where their food is grown. Urban farms and food hubs also foster community participation, resulting in more informed, connected, and empowered consumers. They can also be beautifully designed landscapes that are open to the public. For example, The Farm in Byron Bay and Ceres in Melbourne are already benefitting the community by supplying fresh, local produce, and celebrating local makers and suppliers, while also acting as restorative and relaxing green spaces for people to enjoy freely.

Catherine adds: “Urban farms and food hubs promote a localised food system that is not only sustainable but powered by and for the people, fostering a sense of community and encouraging Australians to be more self-sufficient, healthy, and empowered food citizens.”