March 8, 2011

Urban Orchard - time for our own?

Sometimes, you see something that is such a good idea that you have to ask - why is there not one of these near where I live here in the Eastern suburbs?

Case in point:  Urban Orchards. 

Melbourne has one. Adelaide has one. Even Wollongong has a look-a-like. So what's wrong with the Eastern Suburbs? Why don't we have one?


What is an Urban Orchard?

It's a food swap. You grow too many lemons, so you swap them for other edibles at your Urban Orchard market. It's about the power of bartering... apple for asparagus, carrots or capsicum. It's simple, but for a monetary economy, it's profound. And it is working well in Adelaide, so well that they produced a video about it and sent me a copy.


The Video

Watching the Urban Orchard video was like watching a cavalcade of friends and colleagues… there was Joel Catchlove who is doing outstanding work advocating for local, South Australian food and the future of the Adelaide region's small farmers ( Just to show that someone attached to Adelaide's Fiends of the Earth can inhabit the social mainstream, he's formed a relationship with the new Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance ( Then there's Jeremy Nettle, another regional food systems advocate. And there's Kate Hubmayer, Black Forest primary's education-in-the-school-kitchen-garden maven and contact for the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network ( What surprised me was that (Dr) Harry Harrison of Adelaide's Rare Fruit Society ( was missing in the video. But you can't have all of this innovative mob at once, I guess.

The video takes you though how Urban Orchard operates. It traces the history of food production and gathering on the Adelaide Plains from the time of the Kaurna Aboriginal nation to the present day, and visiting productive home gardens of the past, the video features Phil Bagust, co-author of The Native Plants of Adelaide, Phil Dixon from the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre and Friends of the Earth's Jeremy Nettle.

Then, there's a minor disjunction as the Urban Orchard crew descend below a railway bridge and enter the murky world of an Adelaide creekline infested with what some would call weeds and others call food. Being Adelaide, there's no water in the creek but that's beside the point, for it is what grows on the banks that is interesting.

Which brings us to something that this gang or urban freerangers produced in the time before the Urban Orchard. I discovered it and got one when in Adelaide for last year's Paddock To Plate conference on the future of food. Then, I misplaced it - easy to do given the size of the thing - and only recently rediscovered it hiding between a couple of books. This hand written production sits comfortable in the palm of the hand between the fingers and wrist, and its link to the Urban Orchard video is a prickly one.


The Freerangers

Here's the link. The video shows the freerangers - including one of their young children - traversing the matted vegetation of an Adelaide creekline and harvesting the fruit of Opuntia. And that tiny handwritten microbook is on the same topic - it's about how to understand, harvest and cook the same species. And Opuntia? For those whose education did not include urban food foraging, the title of the microbook gives it away - The Gentle Pleasures of the Prickly Pear ( Yes, the spiky, flat-bladed prickly pear that few know as a food, unless they are Mexicans. It turns out, Jeremy explains in the video, that this plant - its oblong, spiky 'leaf' and its red flower so reviled by bush regenerators and other plant ethno-nationalists, is a culinary delight. Now, that rally is weed to wok.

Urban Orchard is a wonderful melange of edible ideas… food for the swapping and food for the finding. So, how would you use the 32 minutes of this video (apart from watching it for the pleasure of the sheer exuberance of people who set up something so simple yet so timely as a food swap, and who hunt the elusive Opuntia in its native habitat of Adelaide's urban creeklines)? Unlike many food issue videos, Urban Orchard is not so long that you don't have time for a structured conversation around the topic after showing it to a group. It's presentation is light and enthusing and skilled educators will be able to draw out pertinent themes for later discussion. A great video for community food advocacy groups.

Adelaide might be at the bottom of the continent in a map makers sense, but when it comes to innovations in community food, it's right there at the top thanks to that bunch of freerangers wandering around following urban creeklines and setting up productive community places where your excess production of food can be swapped.


And, so, the Eastern Suburbs?

If Sydney is not to fall even further behind Adelaide and Melbourne, what's the prospect of a food swap - our own Urban Orchard - here? 

First, you need interested people. Then you need excess produce, plant cuttings, home made jams and honeys and other edibles. These things may be available, all that's needed is bringing them together.

But then you need a venue. And that's something the Eastern Suburbs does have. It's called the Randwick Community Centre and it's recently been turned into something of s sustainability education hub, complete with an urban park/education centre called the PIG -  the Permaculture Interpretive Garden. What better place for a home grown eastern Suburbs Urban orchard than in a PIG?

Oh, the other critical element in creating our own Urban Orchard here in the urban east is a social entrepreneur with the interest to make this happen.

To paraphrase Bill Mollison, Urban Orchard is a proven way to turn consumers into producers.


An Urban Orchard. A film by Joel Catchlove and Jeremy Nettle, edited by Simon Gray.

Order from: Friends of the earth Adelaide:

$20.00 postage included.


Interesting links:

 ...Written by Russ Grayson

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