I applaud Ballarat City Council for deciding to allow citizens to grow vegetables on nature strips. But I implore it to drop the excessive $150 annual fee proposed for citizens wanting to do so.
Food security is a right, not something you should have to pay for.
In 2015, Ballarat council declared that it would seek to "promote the local production and consumption of healthy and sustainable food”. It also aims to change attitudes, policies and legislation around food based on ethics, food security, health and well-being, and urban and regional livelihoods.
Indeed, one of the points it promotes in the declaration is “a food system that supports the health and well-being of all, recognising that access to good food is a fundamental and universal human right”.
Food is Free Inc. agrees with and supports the council’s commitment to food security in its various guises, including community gardens and, now, the revision of the policy of veggie verges on nature strips.
Food Is Free feels strongly that food security is a 24/7 issue in Ballarat. It is imperative that access to food is not hindered or obstructed by annual fees. It is impracticable and marginalising to potential participants.
Ballarat council, on its website, states that: "In general, food security may be understood as the flow of healthy and desired food throughout a system of production and supply, availability and distribution, affordability, access and consumption." There is nothing affordable about a $150 annual fee to grow your own vegetables.
Food security is a serious issue in Ballarat. According to the 2013 Foodbank Hunger report, one in six Australians did not have enough food to eat that year.
That same report found 63 per cent of Victoria's 451 welfare agencies couldn’t meet demand for food relief, turning 7000 people away each month. Of those who had been assisted, 65 per cent stated they did not receive all they required.
Locally, recent data revealed that more than half of Ballarat’s population (56 per cent) did not meet the dietary requirements for fruit and vegetable intake, more than the rest of Victoria (48.2 per cent). This is coupled with the fact that about 5 per cent of Australian households are severely food insecure, and 16 per cent experience mild to moderate food insecurity.
Food Is Free Laneway started almost two years ago. I know what a special and magical space for all our visitors we've created. And it never ceases to amaze me the positives it generates. During peak times we can enjoy up to 100 visitors per day. That's a lot of happy people who are benefiting from freshly grown produce.
What it's done for my immediate neighbourhood is that it has brought us all together, in more ways than I ever expected, and lifelong friendships have been formed.
The same applies for my good friends at Food Is Free Veggie Verge in Queen Victoria Street, two blocks from the Food Is Free Laneway.
That's what green spaces do – they create harmony and cohesion.
Imagine a society where you can pick a corn ear at the local post office and take a sprig of basil, home picked from the train station garden bed. That's happening right now in Todmorden, UK.
Wouldn't Ballarat be smart to put ourselves on the map of forward thinkers and deservedly claim the title of a garden city with that idyllic view in mind?
Give sharing a go, you'll be amazed what happens next.
Lou Ridsdale is the founder of Food Is Free Laneway and Food Is Free Inc.