I still don’t have an answer to that but by now I have a few clues. One of them is that by gathering people together around something they all have in common — food, for instance — we can build a sense of place in the city and, together, make it that humane, vital and resilient place in which to live.
That’s why I came, largely by accident, to consulting on community food systems…. to work with people to encourage them to collaborate and create the types of food systems that meet their needs. We do this by designing, cooperating and creating then sharing what we learn so that those who follow have an easier time of it.
Much of my work has been with people and local governments wanting to set up community food gardens… consulting with community garden teams to get them started, working with those established to develop submissions for assistance to their councils and to develop plans of management… and writing policies for local government interested in enabling community gardens.
It’s about more than access to good, fresh food. That’s important, but so is developing social capital — the skills that come with setting up community initiatives. All of this — the fresh, local food, the development of skills to manage community enterprises — are means to building that urban resilience so that out cities, communities and neighbourhoods can adapt rapidly and creatively to forces influencing them from outside.
In assisting people set up community food systems, the role of the social entrepreneur seems to be the best way to get things done. That’s because it is future-focused and builds a momentum that is absent from business-as-usual or from government (thought there is definitely a role in government for the civic entrepreneur).
New values, some of which are also old, are coming to the fore among the innovators in our society… values like collaboration rather than competition, creating rather than criticising, making a contribution rather than selfishness, innovating rather than business-as-usual… it is these that I find compelling because they are solutions-oriented.
I’ve worked in food security, food production and community food systems in Australia and in projects in the South West Pacific and what I find in all of these places are people working to make a difference to their own lives and to the lives of those in their communities.
People gather around food and, when done well, that creates possibilities for personal and community initiatives that lead to real progress.
I taught the Permaculture Design Certificate with a Sydney permaculture teaching team through the 1990s as well as the Permaculture elective of the TAFE horticulture certificate. Once an active member of Permaculture Sydney (now defunct), in 2000 – 2001 I served on the Board of Directors of Permaculture International Limited, assisting in the establishment of organisation’s website and editing its newsletter. My return to the Board was in 2008 and I continue to serve on it.
My recent work has been in community food system consulting is supplemented by my long standing affiliation, currently as media liaison and consultant, with the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network and with international development agency, TerraCircle, in the South West Pacific.
In relation to urban food systems, in 2010 I was urban agriculture adviser to the Callum Parklands masterplanning assessment and produced the Living Smart manual for the NSW Living Smart course in personal and community sustainable living, which I assist in teaching for Randwick City Council. I am currently afiilated with Sydney Food Fairness Alliance and the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. Currently, I’m working for the City of Sydney on a one year assignment as coordinator of the City’s community garden and volunteer program.