After the recent earthquake in Nepal, I wrote a blog post about food security in the face of natural disasters, but I never actually posted it.
But this piece about using vacant red-zoned land to produce food in Christchurch, in the news today, made me come back to that post and decide it was worth posting.
After the February 2011 quake in Christchurch, I saw firsthand how much more devastating natural disasters could be in the city verses in rural areas. Responding to a request for help on Trade Me, my husband and I, along with a couple of neighbours, loaded the car with shovels, wheelbarrows, tools and food, and ventured into the hard-hit eastern suburbs.
We spent a day clearing houses and yards of liquefaction, tearing out buckled and destroyed linoleum, and sharing out the vegetables, bread, and milk we brought from our farms. The people we met were amazingly strong in the face of the destruction around them—not one house in the neighbourhood was still straight and level, and the street was nearly impassable, buckled and cracked.
But they had no tools to tackle the devastation. The carload of tools we brought with us for the day was more than the entire neighbourhood could muster. City living doesn’t require heavy duty wheelbarrows and large shovels, and there were more willing hands than tools to go around.
Then there was the lack of gardens in the city. With stores closed and power out for many days, getting and preparing food was difficult. While meals were airlifted into the city, in the country we simply lived on food from the garden.
So, how do we build resilience and food security into our cities? How do we create cities that can feed themselves, at least for a short time, after a natural disaster? Part of the answer lies in community gardens that can provide food and positive community support, as they did in Christchurch after the 2011 quake. Part of the answer lies in taking a long-term approach to city planning—planting fruit trees in public parks, preserving green space with good soil within the city instead of covering it all with buildings and roads.
I would love to see Christchurch, and all cities, bring food production back within the city limits. No, a city cannot produce all its food, but having community gardens and food-producing commons makes a city a more humane place, even when there isn’t a natural disaster to weather.