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August 28, 2014

A growing city

If Adelaide was a Rorschach inkblot test the associated words would be things like 'steel' or 'graffiti', not 'harvest' and 'prune'. Despite this, city residents show a powerful desire to grow their own food. We delve deep into Adelaide's undergrowth to uncover what's been taking root.

  • Words: James Dunsmore
  • Pictures: Brendan Homan

Along South Terrace, between Pulteney Street and Morphett Street, a gentle grassy hillock acts as a backdrop to the picturesque Veale Gardens. Venture over this small rise and you’ll discover Walyo Yerta Community Garden.

“Many people who come here live in the city but don’t have any garden space,” says Greg Martin, Walyo Yerta’s co-ordinator. The garden is run by a small army of volunteers and is open to the public, with no fences or designated plots. 

“For years people had been throwing down seeds in any patch of dirt they could find in the city, but we wanted to have a dedicated space that we could really develop.” 

Walyo Yerto Community Garden co-ordinator Greg Martin

Walyo Yerta Community Garden co-ordinator Greg Martin

The thriving garden is in its fourth year and doesn’t only offer fresh food – it  also fosters valuable social interaction. “Everybody who comes here brings their own knowledge, ideas and stories,” says Greg. 

While the initial stages of finding a site and getting approval took around five years, it is now a successful community-run project that operates with support from the Adelaide City Council. 

Community gardens aren’t the only sites for city agriculture. For city resident Sarah Bethany, the decision to grow food in her small backyard was an easy one. “It just makes sense,” she says, “it is cheaper, the food travels fewer miles and having food growing just a few steps away is so convenient.” 

Sarah has lived in the city for six years and while her courtyard is small, it’s capable of producing a surprisingly large amount of food. “You can’t grow everything, but when I first moved into the city I was surprised at how much I could produce in pots and the small patch of soil we have.”

Some of the produce harvested from Walyo Yerto

Some of the produce harvested from Walyo Yerta

It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of growing your own food. The cool, damp soil dotted with young green shoots reaching for the sun provides a connection with the earth and a reminder of our hunter-gatherer past. However, according to Brendan Gleeson, this reverie should be taken a little more seriously.  In his essay, Backyard Gardens: Creating Future Cities, the urban planning academic points out that for the future of food security, we simply must start seeing all available land as potentially food producing.

While Gleeson encourages city gardening to redress the problem of humans having settled on the most arable land, the benefits of growing your own food can go beyond simple nourishment. As Sarah points out, it also improves confidence and creativity in the kitchen. 

“If I have a recipe which lists thyme as an ingredient and I have oregano growing, I just substitute the two which has helped me discover new flavour combinations,” she says.

Individuals like Greg and Sarah represent a small sample of people who are passionate enough about growing their own food to ingeniously use some unconventional spaces.  However, according to Gleeson, the question to grow or not to grow is a luxury we can no longer afford. So, as we welcome in the warmer spring weather, keep an eye out as this urban jungle becomes a little less concrete and a little more crop. 

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