grow food in public places

Nature strip vegetable gardens for Ballarat

Last week, the Ballarat city council approved a scheme to let us grow veggies on our front nature strips.

The scheme requires aspiring growers to obtain a permit for $10-$20 (less for concession), to seek the approval of their immediate neighbours, and to use a standardised planter box design.  More detail is available in the council meeting agenda (starting on page 14).

raised planter beds

The type of planters approved by the council. Dimensions are 1m x 2m x 40-50cm.

The council’s original plan was for a $150 annual fee, to cover increased insurance costs and the costs of administering the complex permit system.  The community were vehement in their dislike of the fee, which would serve as a strong disincentive and work against the council’s health and wellness priorities by making fresh veggies unaffordable to those who have least access to them.

At the council meeting last Wednesday night, Lou Ridsdale from the Food Is Free Laneway spoke in favour of nature strip gardens but against the fee, and Councillor Belinda Coates (a keen vegetable grower herself) put forward an alternative proposal, significantly reducing the cost and making it possible to have a nature strip garden even in a heritage overlay area.  Councillor Coates’s proposal was passed 5-4.

Of course, some people have been growing vegetables in public spaces in Ballarat for ages.  There are several nature strip veggie gardens known to us, including the Food Is Free Veggie Verge in Newington.  Established in 2014, this garden along a family’s front fence provides free food to the community.

wheelbarrow full of vegetables

A single day’s harvest from the veggie verge, including a huge bag of basil.

Kate, one of the people who maintains the Veggie Verge, said: “For me the biggest achievement is when kids come to the verge and get to take something that they have picked, they have seen how it grows, on what type of plant and then they get to taste it. I think people have become really disconnected with where food comes from and this is a tiny grass roots intervention. That’s my whole dismay with the whole issue – people are so disconnected.”

The Veggie Verge, along with other food-growing neighbours, received notice from the council in 2015 that their verge gardens would have to be removed.  Their fight to save the Veggie Verge led, after lengthy consultations and discussions, to the current city policy.  In a nod to the Veggie Verge, the new policy actually states that the council won’t do anything about existing verge gardens unless they cause an immediate danger to the public.

While the permit-and-approved-planter system will be of interest to many, the council’s public admission that they don’t intend to come down hard on unofficial gardens may actually be a more promising sign of their growing support for locally grown food.  We look forward to seeing much more food being grown in public places in the months and years to come!

Are you planning a nature strip garden? Drop us a line below and tell us what you think of the council’s plans.


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