Reinstating Urban Agriculture
For the early years of many Western cities, food animals were mixed amongst the public sphere of city life. Nineteenth century Australian cities were teeming with animal life: horses dominated transport networks, hogs and dairy cattle roamed the suburbs and chicken coops were a common structure in the yard of the family home, but animal species were removed from city life in different ways. Hogs which once roamed the streets as waste-collectors were the first to go, removed by public officials in the name of public-health during the early to mid-nineteenth century. Horses became displaced as technological advancements in transport made them redundant in the city setting. Cows and chickens were the last to go as refrigeration made it possible to transport food products safely from further away making it no longer necessary for food production to be located nearby the consumers. During the twentieth century geographic changes in food systems further separated cities and food production as agriculture grew and became more industrialised along with the growth of the supermarket which introduced a convenient source of food right at our fingertips. At the same time, women’s entrance into the workforce as a result of the First World War and the developing consumer culture that was tagged onto the supermarket meant that food production at home became both unviable and unnecessary. The population boom and a process that we geographers call suburbanisation meant that our cities sprawled outwards from the urban centres, engulfing formerly agricultural land and pushing food production further and further inland onto land less suitable for the growing of crops and livestock. By this point however our association with food production had been severed into two worlds, the city and the farm.
In the turn of the twenty-first century however, this mindset began to change. As social media began to rise so did our awareness around industrialised food production, health and food quality. Many city dwellers began to rethink their relationships with food and its production, social movements began which sought to transform our cities in our own image and rethink the way we use our city spaces. From this came movements such as the urban beekeepers, community gardens, backyard vegetable plots and urban chicken-keepers to reform the links between cities and food production. Along with these resurged household practices have come new community interactions, for example, a neighbour who produces eggs from their chicken coop will often trade with neighbours for other products such as herbs, vegetables, honey and sometimes even time. Urban agriculture doesn’t stem from a want for cheaper produce but rather the reassurance of knowing where your product has come from, a higher quality of crop, knowing that your animals products are sourced humanely or the simple feeling of accomplishment when you’re cooking some of your own homegrown produce. Though many started home agricultures for these reasons, it was the unexpected benefits that surprised them.
For those with children came lessons of food production and caring for animals, the unexpected individual personalities of the chicken opened a new way of thinking for others. The interaction with neighbours and community was another, whether it be trading products with others, working together to sustain a community garden or a sparked conversation from a passer-by as they notice chickens or bees in your front yard. In the USA it was illegal in all cities to keep chickens in a suburban area, but slowly over time people managed to convince their local governments to change the laws. It is up to us to advocate and shape our city spaces into places that are inclusive and sustainable for the whole community, to rethink how we view cities and the role they play in our lives.
To find your local community garden in the Newcastle area, click on the link below: