Roots of recovery: Christchurch’s urban farm

New Zealand earthquake prompted 10-year plan to “look after ourselves”

January 2022

Words by Alexandra Nicodemo

Photo: Michael Reynolds

As Christchurch rebuilt after the deadly earthquake that struck in 2011, the New Zealand city implemented a Food Resilience Policy that allowed for the use of public green spaces to grow food. “The earthquakes were just devastating, in terms of loss of life, but also in terms of the buildings and infrastructure destroyed,” says Meg Back, a local landscape architect with WSP. “They really put it in people’s minds that we have to have a way to look after ourselves.”

Back has been supporting the Roimata Food Commons project to develop a 10-year masterplan, carry out a public consultation and secure a lease to occupy the land. Since 2017, it has transformed an area known as Radley Park into an urban farm, now home to more than 150 heritage fruit trees, organic vegetable gardens and a programme called Toha Kai, which provides low-cost organic fruit and vegetable boxes to locals.

“The earthquakes were just devastating. They really put it in people’s minds that we have to have a way to look after ourselves”

Meg Back, WSP

Production is still small scale, but coordinator Michael Reynolds has already noticed a shift in attitudes to food. “I’ve had at least a dozen families tell me directly that they have changed the way they eat due to the Toha Kai,” he says. “They work around what’s in the box each week, as opposed to shopping for the same meals at the supermarket.”

Back now volunteers at Roimata and participates in its regular programme of events. “In terms of sustainable food systems, it’s a really fantastic model,” she says. “The site demonstrates good permaculture practices — heirloom fruit trees, food forest principals, hugelkulture — but it’s also a great example of a group doing some really amazing things in the local community. Not just growing, but educating and providing food and other related activities.”

Photo: Michael Reynolds

From “Dinner for 10 million”, The Possible issue 08

Our food system isn’t sustainable and it isn’t working. We urgently need to find new ways to feed fast-growing 21st century cities — or to help them feed themselves

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