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ABOUT US

 

Who are we? 

Cofounders_ Caroline Kemp & Duncan McNaught + the lovely folk that live in the URBAN FOOD STREET™ neighbourhood.

URBAN FOOD STREET™ is a built environment initiative that tackles Australia's social suburban isolation by using edible plant species, grown on the suburban verge, as a catalyst to create active and engaged suburban streets. Caroline is a graduate architect and social scientist, with extensive experience in the public sector. Duncan is a horticulturalist with over 40 years experience in growing advanced tree specimens for small, medium and large scale public-realm projects.  Together, Caroline and Duncan cofounded URBAN FOOD STREET™ in 2009. 

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Words_ Caroline Kemp.   Image_ Melanie Lee Photography.

Challenging conventional responses to urban design, by retrofitting suburban landscapes with edible plants, for a smarter future,  Urban Food Street  introduces new purpose to the seldom-utilised 'threshold' space that is the great Australian nature strip.  At its heart the project questions the car-centric status quo of contemporary  urban planning and the sprawling suburbias that result,  by growing a greener suburban future.  Propagated on an intimate scale across a number of residential blocks, the project presents the collective possibilities that develop when we realise the potential of our suburbs to host tangible no food mile produce through edible landscapes that are public in nature. No longer are we prisoner to the relationship between the car and the broader social and structural context of our urban environment, which makes it near impossible to manage even the simplest of tasks without four wheels, a road way and an hour round trip. This is an organic lifestyle where the transaction between growing, sourcing and eating 'real' fresh food occurs within the context of the residential neighbourhood.   Suburbs for people, if you like, places which understand the collective value of a resource that is grown rather than mown and all the delightful benefits that result from planting the suburban food bowl of a green urban future.

URBAN FOOD STREET™ speaks of a common language and shared sensibility that prefers the absurdity of edible and engaging 'green' street edges over the absurdity of environmentally resource intensive concrete, bitumen and turf.  Relocation of the traditional community garden or backyard vegetable patch to a 'front of house' or street location presents an opportunity that could be applied extensively throughout the residential landscape providing the presence of a nature strip, verge or sidewalk that is functionally capable of accommodating edible plants and a collective that is committed to oversee fruition of the concept. However, being realists with a understanding of urban scale, horticulture and design, we don't advocate that planting the verge with plants that are edible is for every suburban block or location.

Rather, we advocate a considered understanding of site, the site's corresponding suburban fabric and how these elements are placed within the larger cultural context.  Essentially we natter about enabling neighbourhoods to forge a new way forward, one that is connected to the neighbourhood setting, wherever that may be.  For us, understanding the entire gig guides us in every single verge we plant and just as we apply this knowledge to the practical application of our own suburban neighbourhood we also recognise that this model is complementary to the many wonderful models of urban agriculture that are already operating across the globe. So how did it all begin?

It was 2009 when we stumbled across the A.S. Hook address by Ken Maher, at about the same time that the price of one lime was two dollars. Two dollars was a lot for the juice of one lime and we knew there had to be a smarter way. A way that reduced the lifecycle cost of that lime on the environment whilst also adding value to our suburban existence.  Mahers address gave us the courage to think about our engagement with the suburban landscape in an entirely different manner and resulted in the maiden planting of a citrus grove along the verge that year.

We knew that we could grow limes, and lots of them for people to share from a few strategically placed trees. The notion of sharing the crop dictated the public location of the grove and brought about a neighbourhood realisation that sharing provided each individual family with access to a greater diversity of produce and allowed individual houses to 'specialise' in a crop of their own interest and ability.  The grove which includes limes, oranges, lemons, lemonades, cumquats and mandarins along one residential street of this Buderim neighbourhood on the Sunshine Coast is only a small part of what has evolved into a thriving suburban genre.

Since 2010 the grove has grown linearly and botanically to include a warren of six residential streets that are paved with an abundance of seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. It is branching regularly into new territory with eleven residential streets in the URBAN FOOD STREET™ footprint.  In addition to the original grove, street plantings now includes, figs, olives, licensed bananas and custard apples, mangos, mulberries, tropical peaches, tropical apples, pomegranates, persimmons, tomatoes, tree tomatoes, avocados, paw paws, dragon fruit, lettuce, cabbages, melons,  ginger, turmeric and a range of every day culinary kitchen herbs. URBAN FOOD STREET™ encourages street interaction and an unhurried way of life, and growing food on our verges has created just that. By conceptualising our suburb differently, we have made the reality of popping just down the road for a sprig of rosemary, a freshly picked lime, tomato or a bunch of parsley an activated suburban experience that engages the union of people, street and food.

URBAN FOOD STREET™ is a bottom up, creative suburban work in progress that celebrates the collective possibilities that flourish when we choose and enable preferable urban realities.  It is an organic proposition exploring the design of our urban landscapes. It relies on the notion that great design enables us to live better. It acknowledges the suite of  environmental, social and health benefits that result from the alternative way of conceptualising and occupying the burbs.  

From the range and scope of produce grown throughout this warren of suburban streets, to the relationships with each other that are cultivated with a common understanding of an engaged and active way of living, we are delighted to present integrated edible suburban landscapes and organic lifestyles, the URBAN FOOD STREET™ way.  

Thanks for stopping by and taking a peek at our suburban neighbourhood. If you haven't done so, don't forget to like and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We are delighted to have you join with us as we expand, one house verge at a time.

Things to know

Are you a community garden?

We are not a community garden. We are an integrated edible suburban landscape. A deconstructed community garden if you like.  A new way of understanding urban occupation which focuses on a urban planning that acknowledges that great design enables PEOPLE to live better. PEOPLE just like you. Our focus is simply about creating sustainable neighbourhoods, both environmentally and socially.  In the case of the URBAN FOOD STREET™ neighbourhood, this involved retrofitting an established suburban setting, however the concept is not limited to this alone. With a little leadership from the authorities that shape the suburbs in which we live, the concept could be applied to the design and construction of new master planned communities.  We have already had interstate interest to this effect. 

Are you affiliated with any other organisations?

We are not affiliated in any way with any community or government bodies.  We choose to support the ethos and creative work of a few local cafes and restaurants and at times of abundance you will find the produce grown along our verges being showcased in these outlets.   We are delighted to foster relationships of this nature with like-minded people operating small businesses in the local area.

You plant edible plants along the nature strips in your neighbourhood. Is that legal?

We are a bottom-up initiative, meaning that we have evolved without government intervention in any way.  Over seven years ago we made a simple but life changing observation. All over the Sunshine Coast, from Caloundra in the south to Noosa in the north and as far inland as Maleny, we observed local residents to be growing ornamentals plant species  beyond the boundary of their residential allotment - on the verge.  In some cases those plants were edible natives and in some suburban locations they grew right to the street edge.  The number of people growing ornamental species on the verge around the Sunshine Coast is vast. In some cases that vegetation is so old that we knew this practice wasn't being 'approved' by council. Rather it had occurred throughout the evolution of urban settlement. Take parts of Sunshine Beach for instance. There are entire streets of prime real estate in Sunshine Beach were the division between public and private space occurs seamlessly.  The vegetation that grows on the verge is so old and established, that it is challenging to determine where a private allotment stops and the public land, commonly known as the verge, begins.  We liked this idea a lot.  The idea that boundaries could merge seamlessly, in pursuit of a greener, more aesthetically pleasing outcome, so as all design thinkers do we thought about this, logically.  This culminated in a rethink of the way we occupied and engaged with our own suburb setting. We thought, if vast numbers of people all over the Coast are growing ornamental plants both exotic and native (some of which were clearly edible) on the verges outside their homes, in many instances right up to the road edge, then why not extend this idea to included food producing species.  Just as people were doing in Caloundra, in Maroochydore, Nambour, Maleny, Palmwoods, Noosa and other locations right across  Australia, we planted the public space in front of the neighbourhood houses with plants, only the plants that we planted are edible. They are planted to produce fresh spray- free food for the people of the URBAN FOOD STREET™ neighbourhood to eat.  We do this as a neighbourhood collective, one house verge at a time.  

The issue really isn't about the legality of what we do  but more about the logic applied to that specific debate.  If people are allowed to grow ornamental varieties on the verge outside their homes (as is occurring currently all over the Sunshine Coast), then why can't they grow food, providing they are aware of their obligation to responsibly tend and look after it?  The precedent was already in place long before URBAN FOOD STREET™ burst onto the scene, we just choose to grow plants that people could eat from instead of plants that were purely for ornamental purposes.  

How many houses are there in the UFS footprint?

We believe that there are just over 200 houses within our catchment of eleven residential streets.  Six of those streets are growing extensively.

So how does the UFS model work?

The model is actually very simple. It works fundamentally on the notion of sharing.  By working from the premise of the collective, we know that we are stronger than than each individual part.  Essentially we consider all households within our footprint equal regardless of their status as owner occupiers or renters.  That one notion alone removed a raft of issues before we even began.  So regardless of contribution, all residents within the footprint are encouraged to pick produce front the street verges. On a simplistic level it really is that straightforward.  Contribution is fluid and works in a number of ways.  We have residents who actively choose to grow edible species on the verge and we have those who choose to assist in other ways, maybe through the provision of water to water the verge plantings,  by bee-keeping, attending a working bee or by assisting  with a letter box drop.  We don't value one form of participation over another, instead we understand that each individual has something to bring, regardless of age, agility, race or gender.  We enable each household to determine what level of participation is right for them and we understand that life isn't static.  Levels of participation can and do change according to the life-cycle needs of any household at any moment in time.

For those who want to grow, they finance the cost of the edible tree species to be planted on the verge outside their house. After the tree is established, that household is then responsible for the general care of that tree.  Additional tree care is provided through our experienced horticulturalists. This is done as both an educative process during scheduled monthly working bees or as part of the broader maintenance that  we do as a neighbourhood throughout the entire precinct.

How do you engage participation?

We don't entice participation in any way. We don't have a joining fee and we are not a club, society or foundation. We are autonomous of traditional structure and our evolution has been truly organic. Participation occurs naturally when the setting and conditions are right.  By co-locating the project with the suburban neighbourhood, we've designed simplicity into the model. You don't need a car to drive to your local community garden. Your suburb is the community garden. Participation is organic. We believe this happens because of the co-location of complimentary functions, in this case between suburban living and fresh, seasonal food.  Co-locating complementary functions to promote 'life' and 'activation' to a street or building is a strategy used in architecture all of the time.

 In our case the transaction between sourcing and eating a wide variety of seasonal produce is literally as easy as going for a walk around your suburban block, once you are walking and picking, you are participating. So you need 3 tablespoons of  parsley? Parsley is growing with basil and coriander three houses up the street. So engaging is the notion of growing food in this way - in the public realm of the suburban neighbourhood -  we have found that  people naturally want to contribute to the greater concept. For us that concept is now rooted in so much neighbourhood trust and belief  that  we have an entire self sufficient sub-section managing all aspects of our bees.  This group operates autonomously but within the broader Urban Food Street context.  We don't engage participation, participation happens because of the suburban environment that the project has created by engaging new understandings of urban design.

How do you decide on the species to plant?

We use the expertise of our URBAN FOOD STREET™ horticulturalists to select plant species that yield well for the climate zone of south-east Queensland. At the end of the day we want the species that we plant to provide tangible amounts of fresh food for the neighbourhood to enjoy for decades to come. For us that means tree crops like licensed miniature bananas, citrus fruits, mango, avocado and olives to name a few.  In addition to this we plant, herbs, spices and seasonal crops such as cabbages and corn.

Where do you purchase your trees and what do you look for in a tree species?

We source our trees from reputable suppliers and we ensure that the young tree has good structural integrity.  By this we refer to things like ensuring the quality of the graft, or making sure that issues such as root curl are addressed before the tree is planted, to enable longevity of that tree.  This ensures that the edible tree species that we plant, have the best possible chance of growing into productive, food producing plants with strength for adaptability to changing climatic uncertainties. So for our geographical location within the south east corner of Queensland we have a list of tree species what will yield well. We also considerer the tree's mature architecture, its size and height, and if this will fit within its proposed physical location in the neighbourhood without causing a problem to the general amenity. 

How is the produce distributed?

Produce grown along our neighbourhood verges is distributed in a two tier system.  The first tier occurs on an as needs basis and applies to the abundant crops like our culinary herbs, parsley, mint, bay leaves, thyme, sorrel, nasturtium, rosemary, cherry tomatoes and limes.  Crops that require more intensive harvesting such as our miniature bananas, are harvested and then door dropped throughout the neighbourhood or distributed at events such as our working bees.  We always distribute to our aged, infirm and pensioner community first, and from there we reward continuing contribution and effort.  This is part of the reason we take produce such as our bananas to working bees for distribution.

Over ninety percent of the food we produce remains within the participating streets. We call it foot miles.  Food miles measured only in steps. 

Are there any rules?

We ask that households only pick what they require for their next meal. This ensures that the plant isn't depleted.  It also ensures that people foraging on a regular basis throughout our streets, are picking and eating the freshest food possible. Activity on the street brings life, vibrancy and safety to our residential neighbourhood and is a huge catalyst for social and emotional connection with both others and the natural environment.

It would never work! What about stealing?

In over seven years the amount of produce that we have lost as a neighbourhood through redistribution has been negligible when compared with the thousands of kilograms of food that we have produced and consumed within the URBAN FOOD STREET™ footprint. We don't like to view it as stealing, but rather redistribution of food to those whom, for whatever reason, require something to eat at that moment in time.  So nano is this issue that we don't consider it an issue at all.

We've had dozens of no sayers throughout our evolution however we are a working model, the only working model of its kind and size in Australia. The lived experience of those who have enjoyed our suburban streets of food for over seven years is vastly different to the reality of the standard suburban neighbourhood.  We don't advocate that this model is appropriate for every suburban block or location and this is briefly mentioned in the US section of this website. The social foundations and physicality of the site must be right. Many neighbourhoods will have the essential foundations to achieve an URBAN FOOD STREET™ type lifestyle, others will not. Each neighbourhood needs to be assessed on its own merit. Every place is different.

Are their any houses for sale in here?

We are generally asked this question weekly.  Houses rarely enter the market in the URBAN FOOD STREET™ neighbourhood.  When they do they tend to sell quickly.  We have many families who have moved into this neighbourhood because of the unique amenity that UFS offers and our last five house sales have been people actively wanting to live within this neighbourhood.

Are you a food is free project?

We don't promote ourselves as a food is free project.  Rather we promote ourselves as a new model of urban occupation, a challenge to a post modern commonality as seen through the default design of the suburban setting.  We utilise food as a catalyst to promote dialogue and action around  socially and environmentally sustainable methods of suburban occupation.