Domestic and community-based food security

7 October 2013
When I was a young girl it was common for suburban backyards to have a vegetable garden and fruit trees; my grandma grew peaches in her backyard and my parents grew plums. They all lived in Sydney. Occasionally there would be a flock of chickens kept for eggs and meat, and maybe a meat rabbits or pigeons. I was born in the late 1940s so the second world war was still a fresh memory and the majority of people had lived through the Great Depression. People were much more self-reliant then; they had to be. There were still shortages in food after the war, and for many people, providing for themselves was just a continuation of what they'd always done. These were the days before supermarkets, people shopped for food either every day or every second day and very little food was wasted. Now, if something happened in the food chain that supplies supermarkets, most people wouldn't know how to feed themselves. Sudden unemployment also has the potential to impact on food security. We should all be learning as much as we can about our food, where it comes from, and if that source of food stopped, how we could replace it.

Climate change, peak oil, water shortages and population increases have all played a part in increasing the price of food. Unemployment, natural disasters, wars and terrorist attacks also impact on food security. No one knows what the future holds but I can't see any imminent improvements in the weather, oil prices, water supplies or population figures. I think things will get worse before they get better; but food security is something we should all be dealing with now. I have no doubt that eventually we'll learn how to live in a more sustainable way. We have no choice. The trick will be to live well during the transition and not, when food becomes much more expensive, get dragged into the changes, resenting every step along the way.

Most countries have a food security policy and while I think that's a good thing, I like the idea of being responsible for ourselves, being prepared for anything and, if possible, helping others in our communities.

As you know, we changed how we live over a decade ago and have not had one moment's regret. I can't say all of it was easy, but as a whole, the change was fairly trouble-free and straight-forward and I wish we'd done it much earlier. Our decision to simplify life also gave us the chance to learn about our food and water supply and to reduce the risk of food insecurity by learning about small scale food production, cooking, food hygiene, food storage, heirloom seeds, pure breed chickens, aquaponics, bees, water harvesting and many other concepts that make up the huge topic of food security.

Our path took us back to backyard vegetable gardening, chickens and stockpiling - all things we'd done on a small scale in the past and then stopped for some reason. But this isn't the only way to go. Community gardens, allotments, farmers markets, bartering, eating seasonly and locally can all play a big part in a transition towards food security. We still rely on our community to supply things like milk, honey, fruit and vegetables, depending on the season, and we shop at supermarkets for things such as tea, coffee, oil, sugar, salt. Our system is heavily reliant on the work we do for ourselves to produce food but as we age, I can see us becoming more reliant on our community when less comes from our own efforts in our backyard. I hope we can be a bigger part of the community system then and teach others what we know.

I guess the best way to move towards a more sustainable future and food security, is to assess what we can do right now and what we'll be capable of in five or ten years. You may need to learn how to grow some food at home while you're still doing all your shopping in the community. What you learn now can help sustain you and your family in the future. And its not all about growing and buying local food, it's also about cooking from scratch, harvesting water, saving seeds, keeping pure breed chickens and doing it all as cheaply as we can. And if you can do nothing, being okay with that and relying on your family and government to support you. Hopefully your situation will change in the future and you'll be able to do more.

Over the next week or two, I'd like to start off with the two systems of food security I know well - the backyard model and the community model. I'd also like you to discuss what your experience is and hopefully we can all help and learn along the way. I believe this collaborative approach will be the way of the future. I hope we can start right here to reduce vulnerability in our own homes and to work towards sustainability and building resilient and strong communities.

Further Reading