This report analyzes the practice of backyard farming which is a form of sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture is a concept gaining popularity since 1980’s and is being implemented in some of the developing countries particularly, to address environmental and socio-economic conditions of the place. The increasing concerns of globalization that has led to the world becoming a common market place with produces from across the world being sold any where, there is almost no control over the safety and monitoring of the production and packaging practices.
This apart, urbanization is leading to a score of environmental and socio-economic concerns like rising prices of essential food commodities, soil erosion, environmental pollution, increased dependency on imported and processed food products, malnutrition, unemployment and poverty along with other health issues (USDA-NRCS, n. d). With the increasing urban population, the needs also have increased and changed over time and the need for availability of resources at arms length has taken priority now.
A form of sustainable agriculture that has become popular again in the new millennium is the concept of backyard farming along with other forms of agriculture like community farming, rooftop gardens, etc. as a result of the growing need for cheap and fresh availability of food products for the urban population. This is not without the important benefits that it can bring to the urban population along with the few difficulties for implementation. Availability of space, need for low-cost fresh and nutritious food which are not always processed, etc. have all contributed to the rise of sustainable agriculture in the cities.
There are environmental policies by various governments to address problems arising due to urbanization. The City of Vancouver is one such city which has successfully implemented this concept of sustainable agriculture in good measure and has reaped benefits for its residents which in turn can help achieve the administrative concerns of its people for providing a better living. Backyard farming is the most common of this kind of agriculture and has been implemented in the city of Vancouver as a result of the regulatory framework by the government for the safety and security of the citizens.
It is a practice that can be cultivated by the residents in the comfort of their house and according to their choice and need. Melbourne is another city that is still trying to implement this concept to its full potential and there are various efforts by the local residents and the governmental bodies. In this report, we attempt to understand the success of Vancouver’s initiation in backyard farming and other sustainable agriculture and map the factors with Melbourne and how it can implement this idea of backyard farming.
What is backyard farming? There are more green houses in Vancouver and many of them with backyard farms where most of the food needs of the families are catered to from the produce in their own backyards. With increasing concerns over food safety and the health conditions of the urban population, who are accustomed to processed foods which are not always monitored and pose a risk to the health of the individual, backyard produce offer great value in terms of safe and healthy alternative.
Also, the cost of the produce can be controlled. With this type of farming, a small part of the land space is cultivated for producing a variety of food and stock which can serve the regular food needs of the family or even the local community. Fruits, vegetables, meat stock, nuts, herbs, etc are cultivated in the backyards in the comfort of one’s own houses. The food grown in the backyards use organic fertilizers and are healthier than the produce from commercial growers who normally use chemical fertilizers.
Using organic fertilizers results in the food being free of chemicals that can harm the human body, which result in a lot of allergies and other health issues. Further, the urban population is able to cater to some of its needs through this kind of farming in the comfort of their homes (Barrs, 2006). Backyard farming is encouraged to increase the consumption of fresh vegetables as these are not packaged or processed. This reduces a lot of the risks associated with the food that is imported from other places.
The cost is slightly high for the backyard produce as the organic fertilizers used for it is a costly and sparsely available resource. Although the regulatory bodies also give awareness on waste management techniques for better use of waste and other organic fertilizers for backyard agriculture, the process is a costly affair and loans and other resources are facilitated for the same. It is observed that there is also flexibility in engaging in backyard agriculture.
It can be taken up as a pastime, an employment, a socially responsible work, or even as a business. Some make it a business and cultivate the neighbourhood backyards and sell the produce at the local stalls. Backyard farming is a viable option for the cost cutting and healthy food practices. It provides employment, makes fresh and safe food available for the local residents, increases the environmental conditions, reduces health risks due to incompatibility of outside food to local conditions, economical in terms of cost, etc.
Hence, the socio-economic and environmental sustainability is ensured with backyard farming (Barrs, 2006). Why it should be applied? What are the benefits? Environmental or economical. Families which find it hard to keep healthy due to the increasing prices in the city can effectively leverage the advantages of backyard farming to cater to their needs and if possible make an earning by selling them locally as there are no regulatory restrictions to selling and can be a viable option for low investment and high yield business.
Apart from this, backyard farming provides an option to take fresh food which is important for the health of an individual. The government has concerns to address the growing risks of health habits of the urban population which requires an effort to educate them as to the benefits of sustainable agriculture. Regulations for encouraging its adoption also have been recognized and Vancouver has successfully charted out the same and there are various attempts to train the residents, particularly the unemployed to take to it.
While the adoption of the sustainable agriculture is definitely increasing in most of the cities along with Vancouver, the result of this practice depends on various factors related to governance, environmental, social and economic conditions of the place. As the government is required to ensure the safety and health of its population, there is a need for it to devise innovative techniques to help formulate policies for better living. A severe and harmful affect of urbanization is that an enormous amount of waste is generated by the industries as well as the people residing in these cities.
Almost every city irrespective of its size faces the problem of sewage. High energy consumption is another problem that these cities have to tackle on a regular basis. Further, the soil is eroded and the land availability is also limited. Industrialization has led to the contamination of ground water and the soil rendering it almost useless for cultivation. With the population increasing frequently, the land encroachment has spread in to the cultivated lands and forests and this has resulted in loss of habitat and agricultural land in the periphery of the cities.
Expanding cities means increasing fluid and solid waste from industries as well as households that pollute air, water and soil. This pollution results in contamination of the vegetation produced on the soil along with creating many health hazards due to pollution in air and water. With many harmful affects on the human population, the more vulnerable species of animals and birds are also at risk due to these conditions and have resulted in their migration to greener ecologies leaving the urban population with the dry and contaminated environment.
Further, the social responsibilities of the government are addressed, where it has to ensure to uplift the standards of living of the population and provide facilities for the same. Various governmental policies are developed and being implemented by the different governments to ensure that the safety and health of its population is maintained in spite of the ill effects of urbanization. Urban population is exposed to a range of pollutants and health hazards and need to be aware of the habits and lifestyle changes needed to sustain economically.
Globalization and urbanization together have resulted in both positive and negative developments for the society and urban population is more prone to utilizing the comforts of these trends. It is also observed that most of the cities tend to import food products grown, processed, packaged and transported to the cities form the rural areas. Although there is increase in transport and storage facilities, it can be noted that there is very less control on the methods used for production.
Processed and packaged food is also not considered healthy and nutritious by health standards and is said to take its toll on the long term health conditions of the city dwellers. Further, the price of the food products increases owing to the cost of transportation, packaging and storing. Due to increasing unemployment in the cities, affording the rising prices of the imported food products is a concern, more so among the economically backward communities. In such conditions, backyard farming enables particularly the lower income group to leverage the potential and improve and sustain their living conditions.
This also has a range of other benefits to the one who grows food in the backyard, but also to the community they live in, the environment and other places and populations. Urban places face a major problem due to heavy traffic congestion at all times and there seems to be respite even with the number of techniques employed to address it. Since the food products grown in rural and other places need to be transported to the cities while requiring storage and consumption of huge energy resources, it can become a costly affair to import food from other places than to produce its own.
This along with the concerns for unsafe and unhealthy methods employed while producing, processing and transportation renders the affordability and accessibility of fresh and hygiene food costly and sometimes difficult too for the urban population. Producing food in one’s own backyards removes these concerns and makes fresh and healthy food available at reasonable prices, which is to the benefit of the people and the government. The environment also is enhanced as there is less consumption of energy and fuel and reduces traffic woes (Barrs, 2006).
Backyard agriculture also gives the advantage of using the waste water and solid waste of the households for efficiently as they contain various nutrients and minerals needed for agriculture and soil conservation. This method of using sewage which otherwise pollutes the environment and is difficult to manage ensures control over the food production techniques for better and safer foods. Although the cost of implementing these techniques is slightly on the higher side, the advantage of availability of safe and nutritious food at the local stalls cannot be overlooked.
There is decreased level of petroleum in the backyard agriculture produce unlike the high level of petroleum in the food at commercial plants and farms. The cost of imported food products also includes the cost of petroleum, energy consumed, etc. among others. Thus, locally produced food in urban greenhouses is considered a viable solution to address the various problems of cost, safety and nutrition issues associated with conventionally produced food (Barrs, 2006). Another benefit sustainable agriculture has is in the form of providing employment along with affordable and healthy food particularly for the low-income population.
The governments of the different places implementing this technique also have various schemes for credit and capital to those engaging in sustainable agriculture as it is an initiative in conserving and promoting healthy lifestyle to improve the socio-economical and environmental conditions of its population. Further, sustainable agriculture is observed to promote and build healthy and co-operative communities which are empowered to grow naturally with the minimum resources.
However, there are problems in efficiently promoting and implementing the various sustainable agricultural techniques as urban land is largely rendered barren due to land and water pollution and the increasing levels of air pollution in almost every city is a concern. Also, due to the availability of high rising buildings, the access to sunlight also diminishes in large parts of the cities and the lack of awareness of the usefulness of these forms of viable solutions for employment and better lifestyle are concerns yet to be addressed seriously by the governments and the civic bodies at the different places.
Further, the effective promotion of these techniques of sustainable agriculture and the initiatives to arrange credit and incentives along with removing the barriers for the same through effective regulations and training the unemployed to develop the required skills is of importance to assess the success of these kinds of sustainable agriculture.
The City of Vancouver has successfully leveraged the benefits of this technique to a large extent, more so with backyard farming by multi-pronged approach where it conducts regular awareness and training programmes, has initiated policies addressing environmental degradation, arranges credit and capital for low-income groups along with encouraging community building (Barrs, 2006). How it should be applied? Melbourne is on the path to emulating the success story of The City of Vancouver in implementing sustainable urban agriculture to its benefit.
It is seen that “Vancouver has its own food bag scheme, A Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) allows its members to trade with other members without the need for national currency” (Barrs, 2002). There are several societies that are actively involved in promoting sustainable urban agriculture in Vancouver. Read (2007) notes a successful backyard farmer, Ward Teulon from Vancouver as saying that the environment offers limitless benefit for backyard farming as the season almost extends up to nine months in a year from March to November.
Canada has a about 20million hectares with potential for agricultural use, mostly animal based agriculture as it has climatic zones which are less favorable to other forms of agriculture (Barrs, 2002) while Melbourne is observed to have much more less favorable climatic conditions for backyard farming due to the unpredictable climatic conditions (Passioncomputing, n. d). The consumption of organic food is more of a trend in Vancouver than in Melbourne and there are more subsidies in Vancouver from the government to encourage this initiative as it has been observed that it imports more food (Barrs, 2006).
However, Melbourne with almost the same kind of drug and lifestyle problems, still ahs an advantage with its secure and large suburbs where most of the backyard farming can be concentrated. The people also are more passionate and the topography of the place enables backyard farming (Blainey, 2006; 260). Also, incentives from this employment can be a concern for both the cities more so in Melbourne as it is observed that most of the young unemployed do not have a passion or awareness in backyard farming as it involves intensive labor and skills.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1992 noted in one of its findings that the most productive suburban gardeners were aged between 55 and 69: those who grew the most food had the most time (Kizilos, 2007). Conclusion While Vancouver and Melbourne are similar in many aspects of socio-economic conditions, there a range of differences in awareness, climate, security, incentives and land availability in the city that underpins the usefulness of backyard farming in Melbourne against the more successful Vancouver initiation in this direction.
However, Melbourne can focus on developing landscapes in the outer suburbs of the city than the inner city to leverage the potential of backyard farming like the more successful City of Vancouver.
References- 1. ‘About Melbourne Australia”, Passioncomputing. 2. “Backyard Conservation – Bringing conservation from the countryside to your backyard”, lethbridgeherald.com/