Since 2014, 3000acres have been working to break down the barriers to urban agriculture in Melbourne, Australia. They are empowering communities with the skills and knowledge to grow fresh healthy food, enabling the transformation of under-utilised land into community spaces, and influencing the regulatory environment to make it easier to grow food in more places.
3000acres want community spaces to be available for people to come together, grow, learn, share, and feel connected. Locavore spoke to Morgan Koegel, General Manager, about how a life can be changed by the growing of just one tomato plant.
How did 3000acres begin?
3000acres was born out of a question of how to improve access to healthy and fresh foods in urban environments. Our mission is to see more people, growing more food, in more places, which means breaking down barriers to urban food growing and empowering people to utilise land for food production. We believe that by working with councils, statutory bodies and individuals to embrace urban agriculture, we can build healthier and more resilient communities for the future.
I joined 3000acres just over a year ago coming from a not-for-profit management background. Six years ago, I had never grown a plant in my life and was working my way through law school. On a whim, I grew a potted tomato bush on my balcony, and just like that my life was changed. Now, with some training and a bit more room, I aim to grow 50% of my household’s food and have even taken up beekeeping. Becoming 3000acres’ General Manager was the melding of my personal and professional passions.
What is the main aim of what you do?
We want to see people connecting with the land and each other through food growing. The benefits of growing food are numerous – from improvements to physical and mental health to decreased food mileage and wrapping – and we believe that supporting urban agriculture empowers people to access these benefits. Urban agriculture refers to food growing activities in backyards, public spaces and small enterprises, which contributes to urban food security. It creates training opportunities for socially isolated groups, increases sustainability and improves community resilience in the face of climate instability.
To do all of this, we work with diverse groups to increase food growing in Melbourne. This work spans co-designing and building new community gardens to hosting community harvesting events for unwanted produce. Increasingly we find an interest in community composting initiatives as more people live in apartments, and opportunities for people to improve their food growing skills.
You utilise unused land within the city to build sustainable growing spaces. How much of this land is there in Melbourne?
There’s a substantial amount of land in Melbourne which is currently under-utilised and could be transformed into space for food growing. This includes vacant lots (such as those waiting for development), excess parking space at businesses and even people’s front or backyards. We’ve even seen some communities utilising the verge between the curb and the sidewalk to grow food!
What are the challenges of using land like this?
There can be challenges to utilising this sort of land. Sometimes the land itself has problems – such as contamination – but this can generally be worked around. The more difficult challenges are finding the funding to create new community growing spaces. Infrastructure can be expensive – particularly at a site where there isn’t ready access to water, or where growing can’t happen directly into the ground. We are always looking for new ways to fund a garden on land that is simply sitting waiting for the people to come and enjoy it!
Do you follow a specific form of growing, such as organic?
Our model is to work with the community to build a garden to suit their needs. A garden that is built to last is one that the community have ownership over, and you can generate those feelings by working through a co-design process together. By facilitating these co-designs we work through all the big questions of why a community is growing and how they plan to do it. We have a lot of experience with the administrative side of insurance, incorporation and governance structure, and we want the community to work with the creative stuff of generating a vision and mission statement for the garden, as well as the actual layout.
Who do you work with?
We work with lots of different groups who have an interest in urban agriculture: councils, statutory bodies, businesses and communities. A lot of our work is collaborative – there are so many other amazing not-for-profits who share our ethos and want to see urban agriculture expand in Melbourne.
What projects are you currently involved with?
So many! We’ve just finished a community garden build in the outer suburbs and so now we’re working with the community to learn new skills for the management of the garden. Two community garden co-design processes have recently finished so now we’re eagerly awaiting the launch of those new gardens to the rest of the community. We’re in the midst of a program we call Productive Gardens of Melbourne where we host guided tours and workshops in incredible productive backyards all around the city. Lastly, we’re getting ready for our annual Olives to Oil Festival where we harvest olives from street trees and turn them into delicious, local olive oil!
The Australian weather has been extreme this year. Has it affected what you do, or how you work? How might these climate changes affect the food network as a whole?
Our weather in Melbourne continues to grow hotter and more erratic with climate change which has a massive impact on growing food. For our work, we focus on creating a future in which people are resilient to the impacts of a changing climate, which includes rebuilding strong communities where people know each other and are willing to support one another. It’s scary to know that many Melbournians don’t know a neighbour they could ask for help if something goes wrong – and yet we see that food connects people across generations and cultures to build stronger communities.
How does sustainability influence other areas of your practice?
We have a big focus on sustainability in our work. Growing food changes people’s habits around food eating and processing, while simultaneously reducing food mileage and packaging. Much of the new interest in our work is people wanting to join a community garden so that they can bring their food waste there as compost, foregoing the green bin going to landfill. We often find that an interest in sustainability brings people to a passion for food growing, and then the great taste keeps them going!
What plans do you have for the future?
Our work is diverse because we always try to respond to the needs of the communities we’re working with. Looking into the future, we see a need for more work around food security and empowering people with the skills to help their productive gardening thrive. As a community, we have lost a lot of the skills that former generations grew up with – I know I certainly didn’t grow up understanding seasonality or knowing how to graft a fruit tree! People need support so that they don’t feel disappointed and give up on growing food, and we are developing a program that will help spread food growing knowledge rapidly.
Finally, why do you do what you do?
Growing food has changed my life and my connection to place. I feel like I understand the environment and the work of our farmers so much better through this fundamental act of turning a seed into sustenance. As 3000acres works to build new community gardens and support people to keep growing, I meet so many amazing people who are passionate about sustainability and healthy food – and passionate about sharing that with others. There is no greater joy than seeing people meet and build connections over a shared passion, regardless of who they are or where they’ve come from.
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