“What is the role of growing food at home or in community gardens during the pandemic?”
“Why have so many people taken up gardening over the past few months?”
“What impact has it had on their lives?”
These are all very interesting and important questions!
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A new Pandemic Gardening survey found that a huge 98% of survey respondents said they will continue food gardening after the pandemic. Surprisingly, 19% said they couldn’t have made it without their garden. The survey team received hundreds of comments about how very important food gardening is. Respondents described it as liberating, essential, and life-saving. There were comments like: ‘it gives me hope and peace”. “gardening gives me purpose in a way that I haven’t got from working” & “there is a future when you garden.”
Join me as I discuss the role of gardening during the pandemic with Dr Nick Rose on episode 17 of my podcast Sense-Making in a Changing World
ABOUT DR NICK ROSE
Dr Nick Rose is the leader of the survey team, urban agriculture champion, Churchill Fellow, Exec. Director of Sustain Australia, lecturer in Food Studies at William Angliss College, host of the National Urban Agriculture Forums , author (Fair Food & Reclaiming the Urban Commons ) & friend.
Nick sent out a call to gardeners around Australia and in just a month got over 9000 responses. His National Pandemic Gardening Survey was done in conjunction with Community Gardens Australia, Sustainable Gardening Australia, 3000 acres, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Yerrabingin, Pocket City Farms, and was supported by Costa Georgiadis of ABC Gardening Australia and Diggers Club.
The pandemic gardening report is released in November 2020.
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Read the full transcript here
Morag Gamble: Welcome to the Sense-making in a Changing World Podcast, where we explore the kind of thinking we need to navigate a positive way forward. I’m your host Morag Gamble.. Permaculture Educator, and Global Ambassador, Filmmaker, Eco villager, Food Forester, Mother, Practivist and all around lover of thinking, communicating and acting regeneratively. For a long time it’s been clear to me that to shift trajectory to a thriving one planet way of life we first need to shift our thinking, the way we perceive ourselves in relation to nature, self, and community is the core. So this is true now more than ever. And even the way change is changing, is changing. Unprecedented changes are happening all around us at a rapid pace. So how do we make sense of this? To know which way to turn, to know what action to focus on? So our efforts are worthwile and nourishing and are working towards resilience, regeneration, and reconnection. What better way to make sense than to join together with others in open generative conversation.
Morag Gamble: What better way to make sense than to join together with others in open generative conversation. In this podcast, I’ll share conversations with my friends and colleagues, people who inspire and challenge me in their ways of thinking, connecting and acting. These wonderful people thinkers, doers, activists, scholars, writers, leaders, farmers, educators, people whose work informs permaculture and spark the imagination of what a post-COVID, climate-resilient, socially just future could look like. Their ideas and projects help us to make sense in this changing world to compost and digest the ideas and to nurture the fertile ground for new ideas, connections and actions. Together we’ll open up conversations in the world of permaculture design, regenerative thinking community action, earth, repair, eco-literacy, and much more. I can’t wait to share these conversations with you.
Morag Gamble: Over the last three decades of personally making sense of the multiple crises we face I always returned to the practical and positive world of permaculture with its ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. I’ve seen firsthand how adaptable and responsive it can be in all contexts from urban to rural, from refugee camps to suburbs. It helps people make sense of what’s happening around them and to learn accessible design tools, to shape their habitat positively and to contribute to cultural and ecological regeneration. This is why I’ve created the Permaculture Educators Program to help thousands of people to become permaculture teachers everywhere through an interactive online dual certificate of permaculture design and teaching. We sponsor global Permayouth programs, women’s self help groups in the global South and teens in refugee camps. So anyway, this podcast is sponsored by the Permaculture Education Institute and our Permaculture Educators Program. If you’d like to find more about permaculture, I’ve created a four-part permaculture video series to explain what permaculture is and, and also how you can make it, your livelihood as well as your way of life. We’d love to invite you to join our wonderfully inspiring, friendly, and supportive global learning community community. So I welcome you to share each of these conversations, and I’d also like to suggest you create a local conversation circle to explore the ideas shared in each show and discuss together how this makes sense in your local community and environment. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I meet and speak with you today.. The Gubbi Gubbi people and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Morag Gamble: So welcome everyone to the Sense-making in a Changing World Podcast. And it is my great pleasure today to welcome Dr. Nick Rose. Now, Nick is actually one of the core champions of urban agriculture in Australia. He’s the CEO or the executive director I should say of Sustain Australia. Um, I first met him when he’d recently come back from his, uh, Churchill fellowship, looking at urban agriculture, in where were you… in the United States in Canada and also Argentina. And following that he released a book called Fair Food. Now I’m just looking for the Fair Food: Stories from a Movement Changing the World which was published by University of Queensland and Nick has also subsequently gone on to publish a book with Dr. Andrew Gaynor called Reclaiming the Urban Commons The Past, Present and Future of Food Growing in Australian Towns and Cities, which features a number of people who were actually joined me on this podcast before Mariam Issa and David Holmgren. And I’ve got a little chapter in there too, about Northern Streets, city farm, and the work that we did there. Um, and as well as that too, Nick is a, um, he’s a lecturer at, and I, I’m not sure if I’ve got that right, whether you’re a senior lecturer or a professor now, but anyway, you’re at the William Angus college and you and teaching around rather extraordinary program there, a master, a bachelor Masters in food systems. So before we get into, um, some of the questions that I wanted to ask you today, particularly around your very recent pandemic gardens survey, um, I wanted to ask you about why urban agriculture, what drew you to focus your, your life work really on urban agriculture? What, what is it that makes you focus on this particular point?
Dr. Nick Rose: Hi Morag. And, uh, yeah, thanks very much the invitations to be with you, um, today and hello to everyone who’s watching or listening today. That’s a, yeah, it’s a really a really good question. Um, I guess if I think back over the time I’ve been, uh, involved in working with this, I have always been looking for a way to be the best agent of social change that I can be. And over time it became clear to me that a really great way to do that was through food and food systems and particularly urban food systems given the Australian context, you know, what is it, 85, 90% of us live in urban context, some towns and cities that we’re very much an urban, we’re very much an urban population. And, you know, it’s pretty much an urban world and we’re going to be increasingly so,, yeah, I think it was a, you know, years of reflection and study and practice and, you know, growing food, myself and being involved in local food networks and community gardens, I just, uh, yeah, just, uh, you know, accumulated, over a period of time, and then as you’ve mentioned, you know, going off and doing the Churchill fellowship and, um, you know, being inspired by so many wonderful people that I met when I was doing that travel. Um, yeah, I guess, I kind of around that time, that kind of crystallized that, uh, you know, the urban food systems culture was a really empowering and inspiring and great thing to be involved in at, uh, an, a huge opportunity in need in Australia, I guess, as well, in terms of, you know, and trying to make a contribution in this country in particular. Um, it seemed that, yeah, that that’s, uh, that was something that I had some familiarity with, but, you know, gain familiarity with it, um, through those years of study and, and travel and practice, and now, you know, with the roles of William Angliss and sustained [inaudible] position to actually, um, be able to start applying some of that and hopefully make some positive contributions towards, you know, change, um, in Australia. So, yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s a, that’s a short version of it, I guess.
Morag Gamble: So what is, what is the change that you’re wanting to see in Australia?
Dr. Nick Rose: Well, I think the way I speak about it is we’re in a time of, for me, you know, systemic crisis and challenge. And I think a lot of us, you know, are feeling that, and certainly in the permaculture movement, I think that’s been understood, um, you know, fairly deep level for many years, you know, well before the, you know, what’s been happening this year with COVID and think about the major crisis that people write about and talk about and speak about, you know, the climate emergency or biodiversity and species loss or soil degradation, or, you know, overexploitation of water, fresh water sources, what’s happening with the public health crisis, you know, all those things. So many of them come back to the way we manage land, the way we produce and process and consume food and, you know, and the way we dispose of it, we waste so much food. So I think that’s, um, you know, that’s the, the challenge and the power of the work of food systems, I guess that it’s, it’s at the heart of so many of these contemporary crises, but it’s also, I think the pathway to a better future. And for me, my reflection is that, and this is, you know, we can talk about this in a bit, you know, with the survey. Um, a lot of it comes back to a disconnection thinker, you know, particularly in urban contexts. Um, a lot of people are not connected with, um, you know, with nature, with their environment, uh, with each other, with themselves. Um, and so I think all the crises that we’re seeing manifest to really in lots of ways, you know, symptoms of that pretty profound disconnection, um, and, and, and a wide back to that in a way back to kind of discovering their connection is through, is through food and gardening in particular and growing some of your own food and developing that level of, um, yeah, you know, food literacy, ecological literacy, but also connection back to, you know, the foundations of life, of soil and plants and pollinators and, um, you know, compost, um, everything that’s involved in it.
Morag Gamble: Thanks, Nick. I think, I think you’ve touched on it, you know, like all the things, you know, why I also focus on food and, and care about, and it really seems to be that food provides you with that sort of that platform or that focus to be out of reach into just about every different aspect of society from economic aspect to the cultural, mental health, social community, nutrition, any kind of thread that you pick up, you can weave it through, uh, our food system, look at ways that we can address that. And, and I know that you also talk a lot about food sovereignty and I just want to quickly mention what that is and how, what you’re working on, um, describes your work in food sovereignty.
Dr. Nick Rose: Sure. Uh, so I guess my thinking around food sovereignty goes back to a time when I didn’t really, even haven’t heard that phrase when I would have meant. And this was a, you know, picking up again on your, your original question about what drew me to this area. Um, a real turning point in my life came, um, when I was in my early 30s, living in central America, lived in Guatemala in central America for about seven years and, uh, was fortunate enough to do human rights work with some farmer organizations and women’s rights organizations, youth organizations. Um, and yeah, I got to understand the history and context and reality of Guatemala and, you know, the fact that there was so such high rates of child malnutrition and food insecurity and economic migration. And then as I lived there for a longer period of time, I came to understand this again so much of that came back to agriculture and land in particular, in that context it’s about land and who owns it and how it’s used, what’s grown on it. Um, and those are all issues that are central to the food sovereignty movements. Um, and as I came later to understand through, you know, through research and study andgoing on to do a PhD about food sovereignty and meeting some of the, you know, some of the leaders of the campus center, um, you know, came to understand that, that those questions about, you know, land ownership and farmland and how it’s, how it’s managed and, um, you know, what kind of values, uh, you know, and the underpin that, uh, really, you know, so central to the, to the histories and the presence and the futures of whole kind of cultures and societies and communities right around the world, and indeed to all our futures ultimately, um, when you think about things such as the station of the Amazon, or in our context, deforestation in Northern Queensland, um, and it really is, um, I guess food sovereignty is really about, um, you know, those questions, those decisions, um, how they are made according to what values and principles they’re made and who makes them, and who gets to participate in those debates and decisions. And it really is about, it’s a, it’s a struggle. Ultimately it’s a political struggle for the, you know, the, the heart of the national and global food systems and the future of agriculture. Um, and, uh, yeah, for me, it’s ultimately, an existential struggle with matter of life and death quite literally, you know, now and in the future. Uh, and it really comes down to, you know, what do we value as, as a people, as a country, as communities, do we value life? Do we value fertile soil, healthy communities, healthy people, ecosystems, a sustainable future, um, is that what we want and prioritize, or do we value, you know, um, money essentially and profits, and particularly the profit of, you know, some large corporations that happen to dominate and make most of the decisions in national global food systems. And, you know, as we know at the moment, um, it tends to be the latter, you know, sort of structures the way we make decisions. And what we prioritize is pretty much about a very short term decision making process that is about, um, you know, privileging and prioritizing those particular interests and, um, yeah, and devaluing life and life systems. And, and so ultimately food sovereignty is, is saying, we need to, you know, we need to foreground life. Um, and that means participatory and inclusive, democratic processes about making these decisions and, um, and that they guided by a set of principles in sovereignty speaks about, you know, seven pillars. Um, the seventh of which is actually a spiritual one. It talks about the sacredness of food. And that I think touches on questions of first nations, um, you know, cosmologies and sovereignties and ideas of stewardship and that kind of relationship to land and place and country and ecosystem and that should be the basis on which we understand our relationship and connection to our communities and our land and our ecosystems.
Morag Gamble: It feels at this point in time that, you know, particularly in Australia, if questions of food sovereignty or even food security had not been on people’s minds before, they are certainly now as a result of, of the pandemic, you know, we saw the big toilet paper run, then the seedling run and everything to do with gardening, you know, there was, you couldn’t buy chickens, you couldn’t buy seedlings, you couldn’t buy seed, you couldn’t buy fruit trees, everything had had just gone. And so people were obviously at this point in time realizing the importance of being food secure and the importance of local food. Um, and so it’s an interesting point now that we actually have got to where, you know, people like yourself have been talking about food security and food sovereignty for a long time. And all of a sudden it was like, is it a great big door that’s been opened or a crack that’s been wedged open, and we’re seeing the need for what you’re talking about so much more. And the survey that you’ve just done had around pandemic gardening, um, got a remarkable response and some really interesting results. So maybe if you could just start there. So, the pandemic gardening survey, what, what is it, and actually what inspired you to, to open that up? And you’ve got a number of partners that you were working with that I believe.
Dr. Nick Rose: That’s right. Yeah. So, I guess the context for that is that, as you say, we’ve been you know, I’ve been working in urban agriculture for a number of years and with sustain… We decided to make that a focus of the organization and a priority to really push forward the, um, you know, the agenda of urban agriculture in Australia. Um, so in 2016, we had a first, global agriculture forum at Melbourne University’s Burnley campus. And then we followed that up with William Angliss, having an event in 2018. Um, and we’d been, um, you know, planning and in preparation for the third one, which was to take place in October this year and next month, which we’d seed care, gardening and farming in the climate emergency. And we had sort of been working on that for some months and we’d put a steering committee in place. So, um, uh, we reached out to organizations like Sustainable Gardening Australia, Community Gardening Australia. [inaudible] Collingwood Children’s Farm, 3000 acres, [inaudible] Indigenous Consultancy, Pocket City Farms, and Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. Um, I think I’ve included everybody, I hope. Um, so that was like a steering group and then COVID happened and we, you know, reluctantly took a decision that, you know, events or just face-to-face events just non-starter this year. Um, but, uh, Community Gardens Australia Naomi Lacey, who’s the president’s, um, who was, you know, part of that organizing committee for this event and made us aware, uh, I think this was back in about April or May during the first lockdown that some community gardens and gardeners were being told that they could no longer attend the community garden during lockdown, that this was no longer a permitted activity. So she wanted our support in seeking clarification about that and decided to, you know, to write some letters and make some representations to all the health ministers at the states and territory level, and indeed the federal health minister to have community gardens in Australia, be declared an essential service during the time of lockdown. Um, you know, on the basis that if you can go to the supermarket and buy food, then you know, for a lot of people going to the community garden tend to get patch and, and getting, you know, really fresh food that, you know, you’ve cared for. And, you know, almost certainly grown without using chemicals is important and necessary, um, for a lot of people.
Dr. Nick Rose: So that was the first thing. And then, uh, so we did that and, you know, you’ve got certain level of engagement and response to those letters. And then, you know, media reports were coming out about, you know, nurseries selling out of seeds and seedlings and, you know, rush on seedlings at Bunnings and so on. Um, and, uh, yeah the perception that people, you know, being at home, what were they doing at home? Were they doing more cooking? Were they doing more gardening, seemed they were doing more gardening. Um, and then also, you know, discussions happening about, well, you know, all of us are now kind of isolated and we can’t socialize. And what impacts is that going to have on our, you know, our wellbeing and mental health, uh, and what is the role of gardening and growing food amongst all of this. So that was kind of, you know, the, the thinking behind the survey really to kind of like, just get a bit of a snapshot in is pretty unique circumstance that we see ourselves in. Um, this is early June this year. And, uh, but it was, you know, it was always kind of wanting to kind of like, you know, continue our agenda about promoting urban agriculture and raising the visibility of the sector in this space. And, and, uh, you know, having just made a decision to postpone our forum in 2021, we wanted to keep up momentum and continue the national conversation. So those were all the reasons why we decided to, uh, to do the survey. And as you say, we’ve got an absolutely extraordinary response. Um, a lot of that I should say is thanks to a couple of, well, one organization and one individual individual being Costas Georgiadis um, who yeah. Really embraced. He’s a supporter of our work, you know, as he has for so many different groups and people around the country for a long time, as you know, um, but he really embraced this survey and got really excited about it and decided to do a couple of what he called edible garden, Odyssey where he was in his kitchen in Sydney and then doing a Facebook live, stream, sort of going around the country, you know, just having people stand in their gardens and talk about what they were doing, uh, so that he did that a couple of times in early July, um, to help us get more responses. And then we also got the diggers club, um, to give it a push and send out a mail out their membership. Um, so with those two combined plus our own networks, uh, yeah, we managed to get over 9,000 people responding to the survey in a month, which was pretty extraordinary.
Morag Gamble: That’s amazing.
Dr. Nick Rose: Yeah. 90,140 people, um, yeah. From I can, I can show you, um, where they were, we’ve got, uh, we did, um, we can just show you who they were actually. So maybe I’ll, and I can speak to this as well, you know, for those who are listening. Um, so, showing in now my screen presenter mode. So I should say, this is what we presented to a national audience on the 16th of September. So you’ve got the link to the YouTube where this is, we would take about an hour to go through the whole presentation. So obviously I went to, I went to that. This is what we covered off in that, in that, uh, presentation. High level findings, um, as you were saying before Morag um, you know, what’s been interesting about this year is that these are kind of like a circuit breaker or prompting a moment of disruption and rupture in the fabric of normality. Although I have seen a lot of comments, which I agree with for, you know, the last thing we need to do is go back to normality or go back to normal because, you know, normal business as usual was, you know, the problem. And, uh, we, you know, as many respondents to this survey said, uh, we need to seize this opportunity this moment. It is an opportunity for, uh, you know, for a reset, for a reboot, um, and to, you know, to do, to make some sort of like pretty profound changes in the direction of, you know, sustainability and, and fairness. Um, but what people also said, um, and you see here, as we say, you know, time, um, it was kind of like being at home, not commuting, um, you know, this great kind of sense of slowing down a time and expansion, uh, that went with that. So, um, so as, you know, as we say there over 60% of the 90,000 people that responded to the survey said, they’d spent more time gardening because they had more time and that’s, you know, that’s really significant. Um, I talked about mental health before, and that was a key thing that we wanted to explore in this survey. And that was a key finding from the survey where over 70% of the respondents said, edible gardening either greatly or significantly improve their mental health. And that was really important, not just in terms of the impacts of COVID and isolation and social disconnection, but just, just generally, you know, there’s been talk for some years about, you know, uh, epidemic or pandemic of mental health problems in Australia and stress and anxiety and nervousness.
Dr. Nick Rose: So, um, you know, everybody who gardens knows, um, the mental health benefits of spending time outside and tending the plants. Um, but you know, to have it actually documented in this way with, you know, those kinds of numbers is really, really valuable. It’s a very big number. Then social connection, that was also, it was an important finding, is significant in terms of, uh, sort of policy change. Um, and another reason for governments at all levels and others to support these kinds of activities does bring people together. You know, even during a time like now of enforced, um, distancing, um, and this was a really big one for us and really, really important. Um, and this is, you know, from my interest and motivation, particularly as a Churchill fellow and doing that study, as you mentioned in the United States and in Toronto and Argentina, when I was particularly interested in exploring, um, back in 2014, when I did that travel was the importance and relevance of urban agriculture and community gardens and urban farms as a contribution to food security, particularly for marginalized and vulnerable people in our communities. And that came through very strongly in this survey, people growing their own food really does matter in terms of household food budgets, and particularly for, um, you know, members of low income households. Um, and then, yeah, there was a lot of, a lot of particularly new gardeners. And that was, I guess, another reason for doing the survey was to get a bit of a snapshot about, um, people taking up gardening. And as we’ll see in a moment about just under, I think about 8% of our respondents could be described as new gardeners, either taking it up since COVID or within one year in the last year. And those people in particular said they needed support and what they really want is advice and mentoring and guidance, which again is significant in terms of thinking about recommendations. Um, but also, you know, for people in the permaculture movement, it’s, I guess, really great validation for, um, you know, the work that’s been done over so many years with PDCs and workshops and courses and the like, um, so yeah, and then as well as the 9,000 responses, we had lots of parts of the survey where people could leave comments and people were, um, you know, very generous in their comments. And we had, you know, over 25,000 comments and some of them went to 200 words long or more. Um, so isn’t it, you know, a lot of work like days, if not, weeks of work pouring through all that and trying to, you know, um, analyze it. Um, and there were a number of themes that emerged from that. So you have to read people’s thoughts, some concerns about the future and worries about, you know, this being a time of increasing division and, you know, the politics of fear and xenophobia and racism, and, increasing kind of like economic and social political division. But, but also a lot of people talk about, you know, the silver linings of the pandemic and creating sort of community connectedness and, and a real awareness of what matters in life. A lot of people, you know, use that phrase that is slowing down and this being a time for reflection and to think about what what’s really important, what matters and…
Morag Gamble: Yeah, the sense of the deeper connection with local communities and that, and actually having the time to do the things that they’ve been wanting to do for a long time and getting into community sharing in different ways that they’ve never done before. And it’s, it’s been interesting.
Dr. Nick Rose: It certainly has. Yeah, absolutely. Um, so yeah, so this was, you know, just some feedback we got on doing the survey and how, you know, a lot of people really appreciated it and, uh, just, uh, you know, quotes, which I’ll read for the benefit of those listing this a younger guy in Adelaide, which I think is really touching. Um, and he said, I’m so glad someone is recording this awakening. I feel that gardening keeps me in touch with the basics of our existence. It reminds me that the complexities life can sometimes just require observation and interaction. It reminds me that the graciousness of life is abundant. These are qualities learnt in a garden. I think that’s really lovely. And, uh, yeah, so many comments were like, that was sort of like, sort of tossing up the of just, um, you know, capturing some of these, you know, very kind of poetic sort of, uh, comments and then turning it into a bit of a book with, uh, with pitches there.
Morag Gamble: Oh, that’d be an absolutely beautiful thing to do because obviously, you know, it’s, it’s such an important part of people’s lives. And as you’re saying about that connection and about feeling alive and about feeling a sense of safety, security purpose, all of those things, and as a sort of an inspirational guidebook and, and also valuing the role that gardening plays in that I think would be such a cool thing to do.
Dr. Nick Rose: Absolutely. Yeah. So let’s, um, another one on the, on the, to do list, it would be, it would be a great project to do. Um, but we’ve got, here is a pretty amazing resource and expression of sentiments that people expressed, um, over those weeks in June and July, um, uh, you know, it’s a real kind of snapshot into a moment, you know, you know, pretty unique here in Australia’s history. Um, and it’s, yeah, there’s, there’s so many kind of like beautiful and touching sentiments that, um, that, that could be, that could be, uh, yeah documented in that way. Um, so yeah, just quickly have a look at who the people were filled out the survey, and I think this is pictures , which obviously your listeners won’t be able to see, but those watching it as a video, we’ll be able to the, you know, the hands of a, you know, looks like the grandparents, with a little pot where a child is pulling out the strawberry, the young strawberry plant to report or plant, you know, it goes to that sort of sentiment of connection and passing wisdom and knowledge from one generation to the next. Um, and there’s such a wealth of knowledge in, um, in the, in that generation of people over 55, I think, uh, who’ve been doing, you know, many of whom have been doing this for 20 years plus, um, and I think it’s a huge opportunity to find ways for that knowledge to be passed on to younger generations and instill an appreciation of gardening you know, knowledge and how to do it well, it’s a real opportunity. Um, so yeah, so you see the majority of the responses to the survey were in fact from that older demographic. And I think that, you know, to a certain extent that reflects the Diggers club membership, where we go a huge kind of increase in respondents when the Diggers started out to thei r 75,000 old members. Um, uh, yeah, we did, we did get a, see a shift in the, the age range. Um, and so the, you know, the majority of the respondents are over the age of, um, 55, um, just around 70% actually are over the age of 45, but there are, you know, younger generations that are represented there.
Dr. Nick Rose: In terms of the, ethnic composition, see here that it’s a reasonably broad sort of, um, reflection of the broader kind of ethnic composition of the Australian, you know, Australia is a migrant nation, and we were pleased to see that over 2% of respondents identified as indigenous Australian as well. So we’re able to capture those perspectives and voices, as well. Now this was interesting. One in terms of income is to, I mentioned before about food security that’s, um, the poverty level in Australia is actually $50,000 per annum for a family of four. So 25% of the respondents to this survey, uh, or, or those that answered this question rather, um, stated their income has been less than, less than $50,000 per annum. So below that poverty line, um, and the average income, and then the main sort of need to make a distinction here between the, you know, the main, which is the, kind of li the raw average, if you like take into account, all kinds of income in Australia is actually $117,000 per annum for, for an adult. So, under 70 to $80,000, I should say for a household. Um, and so, yeah, the, the bulk of respondents to the survey were below that figure, but, uh, the median average income for the Australian adults, uh, is less than $50,000 a year. It’s about $49,000 a year. So definitely people answering this survey were, eah, word were, you know, on the whole kind of like below average in terms of their income. Overwhelmingly women, uh, answered the survey. So we’re not in a position, I guess, to say that that means that it’s overwhelmingly women who are the gardeners in Australia, or whether it’s women who are more likely to respond to this kind of survey. Um, but I think it’s worth saying is as you know, Morag and I’m sure many of your listeners too, as well, that, um, the majority of, uh, you know, gardeners and farmers and food producers worldwide, particularly in the global South, are, women. Small scale producers. And it’s certainly true to say that women do the bulk of the work of, you know, feeding the world, um, when we’re talking about, you know, growing food as distinct from growing sort of commodities that are traded.
Dr. Nick Rose: So that’s an important point, um, and sort of wanted to show you and just mentioned in terms of the geographical coverage that you see that, um, you know, people from right around Australia answered the survey. And in fact, those dots right around the country, uh, represent 62% of every postcode of all postcodes across Australia and about 29% of the total land mass. Um, so, you know, obviously the, you know, the concentration of respondents, uh, around the, you know, the major capital cities and bigger towns as you’d expect. Um, but there was a lot of people from rural and regional and even remote communities that answered the surveys. So, um, you know, so that was good to see and, you know, pretty good level of response from, uh, you know, from pretty much every state and territory, I guess, consistent, broadly consistent with the population distribution across Australia. With more respondents from Victoria, um, 42% in total compared to 23% in New South Wales. Um, so I just, you know, just quickly I can show you, um, Victoria there, um, inside it’s pretty wide coverage, um, you know, right across the States. And if we have a bit of a closer look at Melbourne, you can see as you’d expect that the, um, the larger numbers of respondents are from Louisiana, North suburbs of North… Brunswick. Um, but there’s, you know, um, people from, you know, most of the suburbs, um, with no radius from the CBT who, who answered this survey. So yeah, we really did capture, a lot of voices Queensland, right up the coast and several kind of inland regions. Um, there were respondents and in Brisbane itself, again, North and South of the river, um, and over towards [inaudible] So yeah, so there was, a lot of coverage.
Dr. Nick Rose: We can see, and I think this reflects perhaps the Diggers Club Membership as well, that over 50% of respondents were people that we might think of as longer term or experienced gardeners who’ve been gardening for more than, more than 10 years, and more than a third of them had been gardening for more than 20 years. Uh, but then you see in the upper left hand sort of part of that circle, uh, the new gardeners and I was wrong when I said before 7%, it’s actually closer to 10%. So 341 people brand new gardeners since COVID, and then a further 5% on top of that had been gardening for less than a year. And then another 20% who are, relatively inexperienced, I guess who’d only been gardening for one to five years. So, you know, a real range of kind of like a length of time that people have been gardening in response to this survey. And this is, um, what was another question that we wanted to know how productive the gardeners were, what kind of yields they were getting? Uh, so you can see there, uh, around 50% just under reported growing a little of their own foods are less than 10%. Um, then 30, just over 37%. So they grew some that was from 10 to 30% of their own food, which is still a fair amount. Um, and then a smaller number, but still significant 14%. That’s about 1200 people reported that they were growing a lot of their own food, more than 30%. Um, so, you know, I’ve got some pretty serious food gardeners out there. And then we wanted to kind of like blend those two kind of questions together and see what the correlation was between experience and productivity. And as you’d expect, um, more experienced -gardeners, uh, grew significantly more, um, of their own food. Uh, so the, the new gardeners, the ones that are doing it less than a year, or since COVID only 3% of them reported growing more than 30% of their own food compared with 18% of the 10 years, plus gardeners said they were going, um, more than 30% of their own food. Um, so yeah, so here’s like a younger, um, woman from Adelaide’s, saying, you know, she took it up since COVID spread here. Uh, and she said, our family realized how important it is to have the skills to grow our own food if need be. So we are learning from scratch, how to do so. We feel increasingly liberated as we acquire food growing knowledge and plan on doing much more in the future. And one of the other questions we asked was, you know, whether people want to, you know, plan to continue or expand their food growing in the future – 98% of respondents said that they did. And, um, a lot of people said they wanted to grow a lot more food into the future.
Morag Gamble: Significant isn’t it that 98% wanted to continue it. And, and I, I liked what that woman was just saying there about, you know, learning from scratch, but that she felt liberated. I guess there’s a really interesting point about how, you know, there’s a perception before that, you know, growing food possibly was something hard to do something that was, you know, you did only if you really had to, but people are realizing this sense of liberation and freedom and, and, uh, this opportunity that it presents when you actually do get involved in that and how it opens up doors to so many different things. It’s been quite a remarkable feedback that I’ve heard in lots of different ways too, and that, and the great sense of joy that comes from from doing it.
Dr. Nick Rose: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Those were, you know, there’s so many comments through this survey where people are talking about exactly those things. So we wanted to ask people what they were growing. Um, so that’s, how long have you been growing? How much are you growing? And this next question is what are you growing? Uh, and this is really important from a health perspective, um, you know, particularly people working in public health and what are the audiences that we wish to speak to in terms of the significance of this, is that people growing their own food eat well, you know, particularly if they learn how to do it at a reasonable level, um, they get access to all the things that we are told we’re supposed to be eating in terms of our, caring for ourselves and our bodies, and now nutritional health, you know, fruit and vegetables. So at 97% of respondents, so they’re growing vegetables, 66% fruits. Um, and then another 28%, very large number who are, you know, got backyard trucks and raising some of their own poultry. Um, so in terms of the vegetables, leafy greens, 94% of the people who were growing vegetables were growing leafy greens, uh, you know, herbs 71% legumes, 67% root crops and further 58% fruit and vegetables. So really, um, a wide variety of different foods. Um, and we see, you know, some tropical fruits and berries and vines. Then not just fruits and vegetables, but a whole range of other things that people reported from edible flowers to, you know, native foods, medicinal plants, mushrooms, foraged food, micro greens, nuts, edible weeds, of course, bees and honey. So, you know, really wide diversity of, um, 66 different types of, um, produce we counted going through the survey.
Dr. Nick Rose: And in terms of like, you know, what this means for people. This is a gardener from Western Sydney, uh, says, you know, planting in my garden has helped me greatly feel like I have more control and manage stress levels. So I’ve designed and created a new garden filled with only edible and medicinal plants, uh, food herbs with multiple functions. It had me thinking better, helped me get through some very challenging times. And now I’m seriously planning, converting my front yard into a food forest. I have more confidence in trying new things. Um, and an old lady from, uh, Victoria said, we already had two beehives and we have both morning and afternoon tea watching them. Sanity saver. Entertaining. The bees are addictive. So in terms of what this meant for people during the actual pandemic COVID itself, um, you know, we ask people what impact the pandemic had had on them. Uh, 47% of people said it made them feel anxious and worried. Um, 25%, they felt isolated and alone 21% lost work or income. Um, but interestingly about physical health, 27% said their physical health actually improved and only 13% said that their health got worse.
Dr. Nick Rose: Then there were a lot of other comments around this question, um, when we analyze them and looking through the survey as a whole, we come back to this, uh, these mentions of time, you know, there was thousands of comments and references to having more time and being happier. Like people talked a lot about feeling happier, even people who lost work, who lost income. So they felt happier because they were less stressed cause they had more time because they could spend more time with their partner or their kids or their family, um, and spend more time gardening and take care of themselves more. So, um, so that was a very common experience. I mean, for others, obviously it varied enormously, the pandemic experience, according to what your circumstances were and your experience, and for some sectors typically hard on education. And I guess, you know, people working in frontline health, uh, it has been intense and stressful and workloads have increase, those kinds of things. So I don’t want to sort of like paint an overly rosy picture, um, because it clearly hasn’t been for quite a lot of people. Um, but, uh, you know, for many people they experienced that expanded sense of time and, um, and that, you know, is important for people, you know, recovering from chronic illnesses, from serious illnesses, such as cancer, you know, forced kind of period of rest and self care, changing the focus of lives. This person says my partner and I spend more time discussing things that matter more in our lives, then statistics of profit growth in our bosses pocket. We now plan on ways of improving our lifestyle, our relationships and our friendship. Um, lots of, uh, yeah, lots of comments of that, to, of that nature.
Morag Gamble: The next one there too saying that they’re, um, in the process of, um, they were about to acquire a farm. So they’re actually, I wanted to be that they’re shifting they’re actually.
Dr. Nick Rose: Exactly. Yeah. Like people kind of making some really major life decisions and life choices and you know, this kind of like forced, um, period of reflection is really yeah. And it came through time and again, people saying, you know, it’s given us the space and time to think about what’s really important for us. Um, and yeah, a lot of people have, you know, made some, some really sort of important decisions. Um, and a lot of people really hope that there will just be a rush back to, you know, no more patents and business, and previous.
Morag Gamble: I think that also comes from us, not just rushing back, like each of us individually and, you know, the groups that we’re involved in to really make a conscious effort not to do that.
Dr. Nick Rose: That’s right. Yeah. It’s like, you know, that’s what I would say in terms of like where to next and what does this mean? It is about making conscious choices and conscious decisions and, and being, yeah. Being intentional about what we want the future to be, because it is one of those moments where, you know, the potential and possibilities for the future have opened up in many different ways and where it goes will matter a lot about what, what choices and decisions and actions we take right now. So that was a, you know, it’s, it’s been a major motivator for my work for years and particularly with this work as well. So yeah people spent more time gardening. So we, as a kind of like a baseline that we wanted to ask people, you know, typically how many hours a week do you spend in the garden? Um, so you can see there that, we got 16% of people who are very keen gardeners spending more than 10 hours a week. Um, and then, you know, another 20, I spent spending five to 10 47%, one to five hours a week and 9% less than one hour a week. And then we asked, um, you know, did the, uh, pandemic lead to more gardening? And the answer to that was overwhelmingly, uh, overwhelmingly. Yes. Um, so sorry, just to jump forward a bit, um, 25% said they’d significantly increase their edible food growing activity spent a lot more time in the garden. And a further 30% said that somewhat increased their edible food growing activities spend a bit more time in the garden, only 3%. So they actually had reduced their animal food growing activities during the, um, during the COVID periods. People taking the opportunity to grow a lot more food. So this gentleman from Broken Hill said, we’ve always had a home veggie garden then COVID happened. We set about to triple the size of a vegetable garden. We now grow 55 varieties of veg and 32 varieties of herbs. There are five adults in this household. We produce 80% of our vegetables and have large quantities in excess.
Morag Gamble: Fantastic. Yeah. It’s interesting how the localization of the food in our gardens has increased and also are people supporting local food systems. I know food connecting Brisbane was saying that they’re, you know, the people growing things, but then their business, um, quadrupled during over time too. So,
Dr. Nick Rose: Absolutely. Yeah cause people are thinking about where their food came from, like the reflecting about, you know, getting some control of their own food and growing some of their own food. But, you know, obviously, um, you know, most of us not in a position to grow most of our own foods, so we have to get it from somewhere. And I think with, uh, with supermarket shelves, emptying and concerns about panic buying and concerns about exposure to the infection, um, this, this is like food connect in Brisbane and CERES fair food here in Melbourne and their own little business that, um, we have started through the Melbourne food hub, uh, the grocery seed program, um, all those types of businesses have expanded. Um, you know, in our case, we started that in 19th of March with nine subscribers, and then within four weeks it was up to a hundred. Um, and then it kind of like fluctuated a bit and as, you know, seeing that lockdown was coming to an end, a dip back down to around 60, but now it’s back up around a hundred or so. So, I think that’s been a common experience for working in, in, um, you know, local food, um, veggie box type operations right around the country. So this question, you know, how important was gardening during COVID? Um, you know, nearly a fifth, 19% said extremely important. I could not have made it through. Um, and by that time, a lot of them psychologically mentally, but also in some cases, as a matter of food security could not have made it through without my garden. And a further 62% said, uh, very important being able to garden during this time has meant a great deal. And only 2% saying they could, they could take it or leave it.
Morag Gamble: Isn’t that interesting. 19% saying couldn’t have made it without the garden. That’s a huge proportion of response.
Dr. Nick Rose: It is. Yeah, absolutely. Um, you know, and this new gardener from the Western suburbs of Melbourne, um, only been gardening for a year, says it gives me hope and peace. It provides a sort of meditation or therapeutic quality, which allows me to cope. It gives me purpose, which I haven’t had from working.
Morag Gamble: Mm, wow. That’s powerful. Isn’t it.
Dr. Nick Rose: Is really is. Um, and this lady from the South Coast, New South Wales says gardening gave me a focus. It provided hope and reinforced my personal resilience. putting my hands in the soil each day, redirected my fear and anxiety about our future. I was able to transfer it to action. Um just, hundreds of comments like that, right throughout the survey. Um, and so, yeah, and then we came to the heart of what we’re wanting to explore which is just about mental health and gardening. Um, and so the question there was, to what extent have your garden activities resulted in improved mental health and wellbeing? And 38% said greatly – gardening makes me feel much more relaxed, less stressed and anxious and happier. And a further 32% said significantly – gardening makes me feel more relaxed, less stress and anxious and happier. Only 3% of people said gardening makes very little difference to me in terms of psychological and mental health. There’s this a new gardener again, less than a year, from Jalong. She said, my mother passed away in March and watching things grow, helping them into the world has been enormously comforting in a year where things feel like they’ve been put on pause. The inexorable growth of their vegetables has been a sweet and quiet lesson in motion, a sense of things carrying on. Um, and this, uh, this lady from Tasmania has heard it has kept me calm and focused on the future. There is a future when you garden. These are, you know, there’s so many comments. And so come back to the idea of the book, you know, just be The voices of gardeners around Australia during COVID is a great project. Um, I’m, I’m..
Morag Gamble: Oh you need to go? Well, thank you so much for that overview. And I know that there’s a couple of things coming up that people can follow up. So you have another webinar that’s coming up.
Dr. Nick Rose: That’s right.
Morag Gamble: That will describe, um, like you were saying where to from here, which is some of the things I’m really excited to hear about how to, how we can take this knowledge and then use that to advocate. I mean, for example, here in Queensland, we’ve got an election coming up, you know, what are the way that we can use this kind of information to then further advocate for positive changes in our local and state governments.
Dr. Nick Rose: That’s right. So when is the election Morag?
Morag Gamble: It’s on the end of next month?
Dr. Nick Rose: All right. Okay. Okay. Um, yeah, look I’ve kind of like felt this for years but I can’t sort of stress highly enough how valuable and important people growing their own food is. You know. It’s, it’s such a, kind of like a simple thing. That’s such a powerful thing. And maybe just like in with this, you know, last quotehere, I’ve got there a lady on the right, um, from the ACT who says I have cancer. My garden keeps me alive, especially on the bad days. My greatest joy is seeing my grandchildren through it, eating as they go for me. Keeping the garden going in times of stress is a way of asserting some control in my life of establishing and maintaining some normality while the world spins out of control. So, you know, from, from so many perspectives, um, uh, the simple act of growing your own food is, is such a powerful important thing to be doing. And, um, my hope is that with this survey and the data that is coming through loud clear from right across the country, that we can get the message through that this is a fantastic thing to be doing. The more of us should be doing it that, you know, we don’t need many of us who’ve got the space to do it. We don’t need anyone’s permission, um, often, um, but there is a role for state and local government to assist and help particularly when we’re talking about public spaces and community gardens and access to things like verges and nature strips, um, and making that space more accessible and more available. And that’s really, really important.
Dr. Nick Rose: When it comes to public land, the managers of that land be they water utilities or councils or state government have control over and can make that land available, or sometimes developers, in a private context can make that land available. Um, and also, you know, with some relatively modest funding, uh, providing the infrastructure in terms of, you know, beds or soil or compost or, or, you know, supporting labor, you know, to help people build those things. They can be such great projects, um, and ways of bringing people together with such positive outcomes. For me, it’s like a no brainer, but, you know, there’s all kinds of, you know, risk, aversion and fear on the part of government and, you know, worries about insurance, all these kinds of things. So, um, yeah, there’s a really great message that, um, that we want to be delivering to policy makers around the country on the back of these results. And so on the 9th of October, um, yeah, we’ve got this webinar where we’ll be, you know, going more deeply into the, into these findings and their implications, but also sharing some lessons from some people around the country. You’ve placed a bit of a trail in, in those kinds of areas. So one in particular, just to give you an idea is a guy called Chris Cornish, who was a counselor for eight years in the city of Bayswater in Perth, which became the first council in Australia to give permission to all residents, to grow food on their nature strips, without having to go through a permitting process or a planning process. And they just said, look, let’s go and put beds or raised garden beds, or, you know, just dig up your lawn and grow food. Um, you know, just as long as you take care of it, um, you don’t have to ask our permission and go ahead and do it. And if you want to grow food and sell a bit of a fruit orchard, new park, or a little community garden in a public park, um, that we’ve got responsibility for what you can do that as well. It’s a very simple process. And they met resistance from staff in the council and they met resistance from the insurance company, but they just pushed ahead and said, Nope, we, this is the right thing to do. It’s a great thing to do. And we’re going to, you know, deal with your objections and your concerns about risk, and we’re going to do it, and have done it so I can do it. It can be done anywhere. I know in Queensland, there was the very sad story of the urban food streets in the Sunshine Coast a few years ago. Um, so I know in Queensland that, uh, there is that kind of risk aversion. Um.
Morag Gamble: On the other hand, there’s also a lot of parks that are now got thriving community gardens and city farms. So there’s, you know, there’s, there’s an amazing amount of possibility that you see in all of the common spaces. And so sharing the examples, like what you’re saying with what’s happened in Bayswater over in Perth and how we can then ripple that out everywhere else. Cause I think it’s opening up the access and the possibilities to like what, you know, the title of your book, reclaiming the commons, that’s where a lot of the urban agriculture can and need happen. And I’m just making sure that there’s access to it, giving people the skills, giving people the tools. Running free workshops for community of how to get this up and running and, you know, maybe providing sets of tools to communities and seeds. And like you’re saying materials.
Dr. Nick Rose: Absolutely. That’s exactly right. So that’s part of what we’re wanting to do. So, you know, the next week when I was called an action agenda for edible gardening and urban agriculture in Australia, so the things that you just mentioned are exactly a part of that action agenda and that’s what, that’s what we’re wanting to do. And, you know, have a program, some parts of which are being done in some places and some in other places, but to bring it together and say, look here is how to do it. Here’s where it’s been done. Here’s what you need. Here’s a, you know, the resourcing that’s required and these are the benefits that are gonna apply from it. And, you know, there’s no better time than now to do it. You know, the need has never been greater.
Morag Gamble: I’ll put all the links down below of how people can get in touch with you, Sustain Australia, how they can find out about that webinar , a link to all the material that you shared today and also to urban agriculture, forum that’s happening next year as well.
Dr. Nick Rose: Thanks. Yeah. Thanks very much Morag. I really appreciate that. And, uh, yeah, so with the forum just quickly, um, we’re going to do for the first time and urban agriculture month, it’s kind of like a national kind of celebration acknowledging and celebrating people like you. So since so many others around the country have been doing this for so long, um, to make it visible, to, to, you know, progress this agenda for greater recognition support. And that’s really an open invitation to everybody to, organizing event. We had the garden tour, a workshop or a talk, a lunch, um, you know, seed swap, whatever it might be, um, you know, in that month of April next year and really try and make it like a massive national event, to say that, you know, this is something that Australians really love and value, and we want, we want, want it to be recognized and appreciated and, um, and, and supported and enabled.
Morag Gamble: Fantastic. Well, thank you for, thank you for sharing this today and thank you for all that you do champion urban agriculture in Australia. It’s absolutely what Australia needs right now. It’s what the world needs is far more support for urban culture. I mean, it seems to be one of the key things that’s going to make the difference. It’s the difference that makes a difference.
Dr. Nick Rose: Exactly, exactly. And likewise, Morag. Congratulations. And thank you for all the wonderful work that you do as well. And it’s been great to talk with you.
Morag Gamble: Thanks a lot, Nick. Take care. Bye bye.
Morag Gamble: So thanks for tuning in to the Sense- making in a Changing World podcast today, it’s been a real pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe and receive notification of each new weekly episode with more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration, and common sense for living and working regenerative and core positive permaculture thinking of design interaction in this changing world. I’m including a transcript below and a link also to my four-part permaculture series, really looking at what is permaculture and how to make it your livelihood too. So join me again in the next episode where we talk with another fascinating guest, I look forward to seeing you there.
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Thanks for tuning into Sense-making in a Changing World today. It has been a pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe (via your favourite podcast app like iTunes) and receive notification of each new weekly episode.
Each Wednesday I will share more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration, and common sense for living and working regeneratively. Positive permaculture thinking, design, and action are so needed in this changing world.
What is permaculture?
Take a look at my free 4 part permaculture series or Our Permaculture Life Youtube and my permaculture blog too. For an introduction to permaculture online course, I recommend The Incredible Edible Garden course. I also offer an online Permaculture Educators Program (Permaculture Design Certificate and Permaculture Teacher Certificate) and involve young people in permaculture through Permayouth (11-16yos).
Founder, Permaculture Education Institute
I acknowledge the Traditional owners of the land from which I am broadcasting, the Gubbi Gubbi people, and pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.
Thank you Rhiannon Gamble for audio editing – a challenging task this week with poor connection
Thank you to Kim Kirkman (Harp) and Mick Thatcher (Guitar) for donating this piece from their album Spirit Rider.