In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and the enforced lockdown, some green shoots of hope are appearing which are providing some real opportunities for our region.  One of these is to build on the increased interest in growing our own food. We humans have always turned to our own resources in times of crisis and older members of our community may even remember the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign during WW2, when everyone’s backyard was turned over to growing vegies and a few chooks.

Growing local has so many benefits. Gardening has been shown to be really good for our mental and physical health. Getting out in the fresh air and the joy of planting something to harvest for the freshest of nutritious seasonal produce, gives real pleasure. We learn to appreciate how plants grow and how to make lovely healthy soil for them to grow in. We take part in the cycles of life from seed back to seed, and we are able to teach these valuable lessons to our children.

As well as our own health, growing our own food has many important benefits for our environment’s health. Growing locally means we don’t have to rely on food brought from afar, so our food miles are much less, reducing the amount of climate disrupting greenhouse gases associated with food production. Growing our own food in the backyard usually means our food is not too troubled by pests and diseases, so there’s no need to use pesticides. Instead, we control pests and diseases by growing a variety of plants to encourage biodiversity in the garden. Gardens can be home to a surprising amount of wildlife and especially the beneficial creatures that pollinate flowers and take care of the pests – birds, insects, lizards, spiders, carnivorous slugs and other good beasts. At the same time, we can help to stop the disastrous decline in insects that we are seeing all over the world due to land clearing, monoculture agriculture and pesticide use. Growing our own also helps reduce green waste. Kitchen scraps and garden waste can be turned into compost, worm food or mulch that help sequester carbon and add fertility to the soil.

Here on the Coast we do have to discourage a few of our local critters such as wallabies and possums from eating what we’re growing, but good fencing can take care of that.

We already have a wealth of knowledge in our community and many passionate people just raring to go with growing food and even developing it into small enterprises. The University of Tasmania runs courses on gardening, sustainability and developing small business. There’s a small demonstration vegie garden at the Cradle Coast campus, while students at the Rural Clinical School residences compost all their food waste.  Local organisations such as Permaculture Tasmania, Live Well Tasmania in Wynyard, and the RESEED Centre in Penguin can also provide advice and education. If we can’t grow our own, we can support local enterprises such as vegie box schemes and farmers markets. Maybe there are some farmers out there who might donate a small piece of land in return for fresh produce?

Many parts of the world have taken growing local food by storm and we can be part of this growing trend, one of the silver linings that have come out of COVID. A great example from the UK is Incredible Edible Todmorden, where the whole town takes part. Todmorden locals got together to grow flowers, fruit and vegies wherever they could – in community gardens, schools, on nature strips and even at the local police station. There are now ‘Incredible Edibles’ all over the planet including Australia.

The COVID-19 lockdown has emphasised the value of being out in nature and the importance of local community. My dream for the post-COVID era is that we seize the opportunity to re-imagine our region as a hub for local food growing with all its health and environmental benefits. Whether it be in our own backyards or supporting our passionate young people to develop small enterprises, everyone wins. “Incredible Edible Cradle Coast” has a nice ring to it!

 – Dr Caroline Smith is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Science Education for the School of Education at the University of Tasmania’s Cradle Coast campus. Caroline is also a member of the University’s newly-formed Environmental Sustainability Group which is working to develop, coordinate and manage a range of actions to enhance environmental awareness, and to improve environmental outcomes across the Cradle Coast community.