Before the word Christchurch was synonymous with earthquakes, one of the city’s most famous attributes was its gardens – hence it being called the Garden City.
From the vast 165-hectare Hagley Park to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, one thing the South Island city isn’t lacking is lush green landscapes.
However, what it doesn’t have yet is an edible food park – and the Ōtākaro Orchard Project wants to change that.
The project is a three-phase plan to create an edible food park featuring herb and vegetable gardens and orchards, a food information centre and not-for-profit café, as well as a dome to grow more tropical produce.
Project coordinator Chloe Waretini says when the quakes of 2010 and 2011 hit, a local food resilience movement was sparked into action.
This was because the people of Christchurch realised how devastating a supply chain disruption can be, seeing as most supermarkets only carry three days’ worth of food at one time.
A visualisation of the Orchard
“During the quakes, we realised how vulnerable our food system here is and also that there are very practical solutions to this,” Waretini says.
“At that time people began gathering in community gardens, not just because there was food there, but because they were places of common refuge. This opened up the idea that Christchurch could become an 'Edible Garden City' - a city where our green spaces actually feed our communities in a significant way.”
Urban food hubs have grown in popularity worldwide, from an inner-city edible garden in Berlin called Prinzessinnengärten, to a 200-metre greenhouse being built in Melbourne’s city centre.
New Zealand hasn’t ventured into Urban Food Hub territory yet, but Waretini says the quakes provided Christchurch with the perfect testing ground.
“I think Christchurch is a great place for this to start because the quakes have given us the space and opportunity to deeply consider how we want to rebuild a city fit for the 21st century. So much of that centres around green space and food,” she says.
“We have all the natural resources and low enough population that it would be possible to produce all the fresh food we need to feed our people. There are not many cities in the world that could say that,” she says.
The idea for a community garden was first floated by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) post-quake, but a conversation with the Food Resilience Network led to the goal of something much bigger.
So far, the project has received over $300,000 in public donations and grant funding, with even the Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel chipping in $1000 to the PledgeMe campaign.
Waretini says aside from the obvious benefits of food, the community aspect of the Orchard will provide a boost for the region.
“I think there is huge benefit in there being a space in the centre of the new Christchurch which is developed with and by community. So much of the city centre rebuild has gotten away from this and there are very few venues for community groups and activities now that are affordable and beautiful,” she says.
“The other benefit is in demonstrating a different, more regenerative way of urban living where we can have an abundance of fresh food around us that we cultivate together.
“I think that citizens being able to cultivate the city together has a profound effect on their psyche - from being passive consumers of the city, to actually creating it. And there's something so rich about being able to use our open space to feed each other.”
Though they might not realise it, a lot of New Zealanders are food insecure – particularly in urban areas. Recent research found that to 40 percent of Cantabrians are food insecure.
People depend heavily on supermarkets to provide them with food, but as Kiwis in the Canterbury quakes and more recently, Kaikoura quakes, discovered, this can change in the face of a natural disaster.
As well as this, when people are under financial stress, fresh produce is often the first item to be knocked off the shopping list.
“It's not necessarily something particular to Canterbury, except that many people here have had their financial resources stretched by the quakes and often food is the easiest thing to scrimp on,” Waretini says.
“Through having spaces like the Ōtākaro Orchard where people are welcome to come and harvest fresh produce, and also have access to information about how to grow it themselves and turn it into delicious meals, we hope to alleviate some of this pressure.”
The Orchard won’t have any fences, so anyone is free to enter it and take food as they please.
However, Waretini says there will be harvesting guidelines on site, such as information about when produce is ready to be picked.
The designated site for the orchard is a rubbly lot that used to house the offices of Ernst and Young in the Avon River Precinct between the Town Hall and Margaret Mahy Playground.
If all goes to plan, the park will be open and ready for planting during winter this year.
Fundraising for the Orchard is currently underway on PledgeMe for the project, with just over $40,000 raised so far. The goal is to hit $60,000, with four days left of the campaign.
Check out the PledgeMe campaign here.
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