The Suburban Food Forest
Creating A Backyard Ecosystem
From Lawn To Habitat
When I Googled ‘How many acres of lawn in Australia?’, I found a lot of websites dedicated to lawn worship: what kind of grass makes the best lawn; how to make your lawn drought tolerant/weed-free/spectacular; how to lay turf; and, disturbingly, the glorious wonders of fake lawn. Everything but how many acres of lawn there are in Australia.
In the end I made a rough calculation by taking the square kilometerage of each capital city, plus fifteen of the biggest regional towns and adding them all together: the total was 64,283 square kilometres – almost 16 million acres. Obviously there are many parts of a city with no lawn, but since I did not include a large number of smaller towns across the country, I figure it’s probably fairly close. So let’s be conservative and say there are somewhere between 10 and 15 million acres of lawn in backyards, nature strips and parks across the country. That is a lot of lawn.
So why would I want to know this? Because of the enormous potential for food production and native habitat that exists in our back (and front) yards and public areas. This valuable resource can easily be used to grow healthy, unpolluted food for more people, but also to mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change – increasing food security for us and food and habitat for the ever growing numbers of threatened and endangered species we share the world with.
With our land and farmers under enormous pressure, with precious forests being lost at an alarming rate, and with the current massive extinction crisis of birds, mammals and insects, things can feel quite overwhelming – and we often feel helpless to do anything. But we have the capacity to take matters into our own hands and regenerate the small patches of Earth that we are the custodians of. Most of us do not have access to land or acreage where we can let our fantasies of self-sufficiency run wild, but many of us who live in cities, suburbia and regional towns would have access to small blocks of land that can grow a surprising abundance and variety of foods.
Turning our suburbs over to food production would not only provide good food, but could enhance our quality of life, provide habitat for native species and even bring communities together. In the era of COVID the whole world is going through a much needed shake-up, and now is the time to change the things that need changing. Food foresting has the potential to transform the way we think about food production – and about what kind of places we want to live in.
I am privileged to be living and gardening on Bundjalung land. I pay my respect to the Galibal people of Djanangmum, the original custodians of this land, and acknowledge that their land was never ceded.