Urban farms: Unlocking Auckland’s potential for city agriculture

May 17, 2023

Urban farms: Unlocking Auckland’s potential for city agriculture

Healthy Families Waitākere representatives Michelle Eickstaed and Megan Beard present key findings of the West Auckland urban farming feasibility study to local communities. Photo: Rebecca Lu.

Council regulation of public land is a barrier to scaling up urban food production in Auckland, a recent study has found.

Five possible sites for growing food crops at large in the Henderson-Massey, Waitākere Ranges, and Whau local board areas were examined by Healthy Families Waitākere (HFW).

Key findings reveal that the sites are physically suitable but not yet ready due to restrictive legal requirements and permissions needed to establish a farm in residential zones.

Healthy Families Waitākere representative Michelle Eickstaed says urban farms are a recognised community-driven strategy to boost food security and tackle climate change.

“Making use of green spaces in the city for food growing creates the potential for a low-carbon, resilient, and localised food systems that reduce food miles.”

Urban farms employ farmers to grow produce, which is sold to local communities for profit, she said while sharing the findings with the West Auckland community.

The income generated from planned growing operations allow for a self-sustaining model of food production.

But Eickstaed says Auckland’s unitary plan does not clearly define how communities can unlock public land for the purpose of growing food to scale.

“If we want to implement sustainable practices and achieve any impact on lowering emissions in the food sector, there has to be a change to the framework of how public spaces can be unlocked for urban farming.”

She says the current consent regulations are “disabling” for the vision of Auckland’s climate action plan, which supports urban farms as a solution to decrease carbon emissions.

Megan Beard, also of HFW, believes that increasing the community voice and intention will add weight to the push for change with council.

“Food security and community resilience are topical conversations that people are having, especially after seeing how the pandemic and recent climate events can impact our food industry.”

West Auckland communities have started more community gardens as a response, added Beard, systems innovator for HFW.

“The gardens are a great example of community activation and the shift in thinking towards a more local and self-sustaining food system,” she says.

However, she says that most community garden projects are fully reliant on volunteer effort which is not sustainable in the long term.

“Realistically, they aren’t able to create the maximum yield that is possible from that piece of land. We have a transient community that will come and go and if members are leaving, the whole thing can fall apart.”

She says the next step is to consider how to better fund, resource and educate those involved in existing community gardens on the possibility of scaling up.

“It’s about creating a groundswell of people who are exploring, thinking and talking about the feasibility of starting an urban farm.”

According to both Beard and Eickstaed, the stronger the input and interest from communities, the stronger the case for legislation change and council support.

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