Our green inspiration this month was a no-brainer. While trawling entries for The Good Hood, we stumbled across Steve’s pic of a veritable jungle of vegies on top of one of our favourite small bars and knew we had to dig deeper. This month, meet urban gardening crusader, Steve Willis.
Despairing at the modern-day lack of connection to our food and how it makes its way to our plates, Steve set up Urban GreenSpace to fill Sydney’s vacant balconies, rooftop terraces and courtyards with herbs and veggies! He’s packed the walls of Surry Hill’s vegetarian restaurant, Yulli’s, with plant-filled wine bottles and in Glebe’s Timbah wine bar, he’s taken their desolate concrete roof space and filled it with wine barrels chock full of herbs. It’s a plus for punters who get fresh herbs in their tapas and a bonus for the neighbouring apartment dwellers, who now see a sea of green where once stood a cold, grey slab.
You’ve said that Urban GreenSpace was born out of ‘necessity’. Why is it so important that people grow their own food?
For me it’s about a connection to what I eat. To be able to eat something harvested minutes earlier is where it’s at. The nutrients are all still there, the plant is alive and you know how it was grown. Today’s industrial agriculture raises serious questions about what’s in our food, where it has come from, how much oil was needed to produce it and the long-term effects to the environment where it was grown. The ‘grow your own’ movement is a reaction to those things.
Small scale producing is often criticised as unable to feed the masses. What’s your take on food security?
I don’t think anyone is saying that backyard gardens will provide enough to feed all, but they’ve made really valuable contributions in the past. Think of the Victory Gardens during the two World Wars. We’ve become so agriculturally illiterate that we don’t know what’s in season and what certain foods are made from anymore. This can be a very dangerous thing.
We are in the middle of a perfect storm with radical weather events – El Nino’s predicted return this summer, a distrust of industrial agriculture, genetic modification, factory farming, and an unstable Europe. With the outlook a little bleak, people are arming themselves with the knowledge of how to grow their own to get a grasp on gardening and maintain a connection to the land.
I really believe that every child needs to learn how to grow a plant from seed and how to compost. Composting shows just how ridiculous some of the items in our everyday lives. Take the drinking straw – used once but lasts a couple of hundred years!
What makes backyard growing so enjoyable?
So many things! Outside of the satisfaction of growing food from seed in compost made from your own food waste, there’s the act of getting your hands dirty, learning from mistakes, sharing what you learn and just being outside. Knowing that you’re lessening your impact on the environment and watching the biodiversity increase with every seedling planted is the icing on the cake.
How have folks reacted to their new green spaces?
So much positivity! It’s a great feeling knowing you are helping people grow real food and reduce their waste footprint.