Life and death for Sydney’s food supply

Gordon Ha in his threatened market garden at Botany. Photo: Peter Rae, SMH

Sydney’s urban sprawl crawls across the landscape like some sort of 80’s sci fi blockbuster acid sludge beast; tacky, fake and irrepresible. To drive out of Sydney in any direction these days is to be fare-welled by winking windows of identical McMansions, row after row of them sitting uncomfortably close and anonymous. Much of Sydney’s rich arable land has fallen victim to this advance. Thankfully the city’s Chinese market gardens were saved from this fate by being slapped with a heritage listing in the 1990s in recognition of their cultural significance.

 In a bizarre new twist it is not the living who are encroaching on Sydney’s last few plots of arable land but the dead. The Eastern Suburbs Cemetery Trust are running out of burial plots and have proposed a resumption of 60% of the gardens. The trust has chosen as it’s champion the lobbyist and former Labor MP Gary Punch, according to the state lobbyist register. The local Chinese community, who have farmed the site for 78 years, are afraid for their future.

 Mr Ha who has farmed there for 25 years, remarked ”They say they want to find land for us in the vicinity, but where?… Around the metropolitan area there’s no more land.”

 The case brings to the forefront what will become one of the most significant issues of the C21st; food security. Having reached peak oil, in future it will no longer be economically viable to import food over large distances. The fringe of Metropolitan Sydney produces $1 billion of agricultural produce each year – which represents 12% of the total NSW production. Many of these are under threat of development.

 If we let our remaining local arable land be developed, where will our food will come from when we can no longer afford to import it?

 The Labour government announced this week the first ever ‘National Food Plan’, with a focus on ensuring Australia’s food security. The plan intends to work with the major grocery players (Woolworths and Coles, who dominate 80% of the market) and all levels of industry to increase national food production. How Woolworths and Coles can contribute to the long term expansion of our farming industry is unclear, considering their price repression combined with rising costs keeps many farmers teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Hopefully the Food Plan will survive the election long enough to be held up for real scrutiny and contribute something meaningful to policy. It might be a good idea to grow your own veggies, just in case.

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