Climate change adaption has always been an important tactic of farmers and food gardeners. As an urban farmer, the key questions I work with on this subject are:
- Is climate more changeable now than in the past?
- What specific tactics can I use to adapt and thrive with the changes?
- What broader role can urban agriculture play in climate change adaption?
There is a mountain of evidence on the acceleration of global climate change since industrialisation commenced. I feel the key questions are:: (1) how much of this climate change is because of human activity, (2) do we focus on adapting to the change or reducing the change (mitigating), and (3) what can I do?
Rather than getting bogged down in the climate change argument, I prefer to relate climate change to my own experience. As an urban farmer, this manifests as:
- Differences in plant rhythms – fruit trees flowering out of season, optimum planting times for vegetables becoming earlier or later and conventional vegetable crops becoming less suitable for use.
- More extremes of temperature, moisture and wind – resulting in greater potential for weakened plant vitality, leading to lower yields.
The main climate change adaption tactics I use in our outdoor food growing spaces are:
- Experimentation – Experiment with crops I don’t usually grow, as well as changing the timing of working with my common vegetable and herb crops. More often than not I expand yield by tweaking the timing. Key principle – localise knowledge from observation and experience.
- Soil management – Focus on building soil life as the number one priority. This takes a consistent blend of activities using mineral, organic, biological and biodynamic methods to activate the natural living process in the soil. Key principle – guide the soil process to serve the crops l grow and minimise tillage whilst maximising soil cover and water retention.
- Space design – Ensure the food growing space is: well drained, gets appropriate sun, has reasonable airflow, is easy to work in and designed so to create some protection from the strongest winds. The key principle is to make the growing area functional and beautiful.
- Plant management – Work with plants that are more adaptable to local weather extremes by choosing different varieties of common crops. This can be enhanced by savings seeds from these crops to localise them. Use shade structures at seasonal crossovers to protect from weather extremes and consider more native food crops. Key principle – soil management is the number one tactic for plant management, but at times of weather extremes, I give the plants some extra stimulus to maintain vitality and reduce potential for pest and disease to attack when they are weak.
- Biodiversity – I manage the space so that native animals and insects are welcome and recognise that by focusing on soil and plant vitality, the insect and animal impact is naturally reduced. I also include a diverse range of native plants around the borders, mix of flowers, companion plants and water features. The border areas are managed using biodynamic methods to stimulate vitality. Key principle – Biodiversity includes all life in and round the space, the more diverse it is, the healthier the space will be
Urban agriculture is a globally significant cultural, ecological and economic movement. Climate change adaption is weaved into the movement as follows:
- Culture – Communities that connect to urban agriculture are regaining connection to food sources and appreciating local provenance, including native foods. Well being of the community through more active engagement in the culture of food is leading to greater resilience to climate change impacts and building of social capital.
- Ecological – Urban agriculture works predominantly with organic methods benefiting consumers and the biodiversity of growing and agricultural run-off areas. Local organic waste streams are recycled into food production.
- Economic – By shortening the supply chain from grower to consumer, accessing community owned land and deepening the social and economic relationship with local communities, the economic picture is transformed into one of sustainable economic viability.
In these times of uncertainty with climate change, this profound shift towards localising our food supply provides new pathways to community resilience. We have quite a way to go with this transformation. By embracing the regenerative urban agriculture methods discussed above, our journey has already commenced.
Urban agriculture enables us to adapt to climate change and at the same time, mitigate it by reducing carbon, chemical emissions from food production and healing the earth.
Bite the Land provides design and implementation services to balance the cultural, ecological and economic aspects of commercial scale urban agriculture. We work with governments, property owners, communities and the property development industry.
ABC Landline recently ran a story on urban agriculture and its potential to transform our food system in South East Queensland. I was interviewed and have strong connection to the urban agriculture ventures in the show.
Authored by Peter Kearney – Bite the Land