Growing our kids and our community

Usually, it’s our politicians who get hit with the tough questions, but last week the tables were turned by Councillors Fuller and Fitzpatrick who swung by Derailleur keen to know why I think it’s so important we teach young people about growing food. Yeah, I had a some feedback for them.

Cr Fuller wants our help to shape next year’s Council budget. He’s keen to know our ideas which is lucky, because I’ve got a few. I’ve suggested we need an Urban Farm Social Enterprise, interest-free loans for small plot farmers, and school gardens. Let me explain:

Urban Farm Social Enterprise

You all know I pitched a Pick My Project idea for an Urban Farm Social Enterprise at Mitchell Avenue last year.  It didn’t get up but what would happen if Council supported this idea by investing in it this year? Currently Council are funding an interactive children’s garden near the site.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I think the children’s garden is great, but lets look a bit further.  Imagine if an Urban Farm Social Enterprise was to reside next to it.  A place where people could learn to grow vegies, harvest the fruits of their labour, build skills, get active (no need for gym workouts anymore) and be social.  Where children learn gardening skills for life. Where processing and preserving the seasons bounty builds community as much as it stocks your pantry.

We need a local training farm.  Somewhere for TAFE students to learn skills, and get hands on.  Where people can build the confidence to farm their backyard and to know there are support groups out there helping them to succeed.  A place where people get a hand up not a hand out.

Seed money for local farmers

Let’s create a fund for plot farmers.  I won’t call them urban farmers because we are rural, but you get my drift. There are plenty of urban farmer models out there and the online resources are pretty awesome.  Even I want to test them out and create my own urban farm - but how would I finance it while I’m learning the ropes? 

Here’s my proposal to the Rural City of Wangaratta – start an interest-free plot farmers loan program.  Offer $600,000 across three years to 15 plot farms (that’s up to $40,000 per farm) and create a vibrant local seasonal produce market, a resilient, healthy community and a pumping weekly farmers market.

And guess what?  It'll be a self-funding project because as plot farmers pay back their loans, that money can be reinvested into more plot farms.  Win-win, I say. 

Now if Council doesn’t want to stump up the cash for this, then how about North East Health Wangaratta or Regional Development Australia?  It’s not hard to join the dots between the benefits of growing and eating local, seasonal produce and a reduction in hospital admissions.  I bet there is some money floating around in the health system for prevention?

School gardens

It’s the digital age but we can’t eat bytes. But I bet we can join the two and have students of all ages and abilities engaged in the growing, marketing, cooking and selling fresh food.

Imagine each high school in Wangaratta with a productive food garden. 

Interschool sports would take on a whole new level: whose farm is the most productive, uses the least water, makes the most money, and feeds the most people? We’d need some pretty good tech stuff to monitor and assess this so maybe our Digital Hub could pump out an app and perhaps our award-winning VEX Robotics Team could engineer a few robots to help tend the food, monitor the water usage and the moisture levels?

Now, all this food - how do we get it to market?  Oh, that’s the students studying business and marketing. There could be school farmgate sales, stalls at farmers markets and school-based social enterprises selling vegie box subscriptions.   

Hospitality students, it’s your turn to shine: we’ll have school canteens fuelled by produce grown on site and that’s been prepared, cooked and sold by students, for students and teachers. 

School gardens are living laboratories. They’re outdoor classrooms ripe for studying nutrition, science and biology. They’ll do the impossible and make maths fun.

Who’s going to fund this you ask? See above as your first option. I know where I would be going for sponsorship too! Would you like to sponsor or support your school farm?

So, look out parents because your kids are going to want to retrofit your backyard into an urban farm, your nature strip into a productive space and that park near you into the community garden!

These three ideas grow food and community. I think they’re worth our Council investing in them – what do you think?