Imagine a world where a mother is not allowed to gather food to feed her family

by Meg Ulman | Dec 5, 2019 | Public meeting presentation notes | 0 comments

I’m going to be talking about the proposed laws that want to prevent us from freely foraging on public land, removing fallen wood or planting out our nature strips.

It is my turn to cook dinner. I take my basket and my hatchet and head out to our nature strip, to our 12-year-old fruit, nut and indigenous trees, thankful that the rosellas, currawongs and cockies have left some fruit for us. I walk onto the public land behind our house. I gather mallow, chickweed, stinging nettle and various pine mushrooms. And for dessert: cherry plums, wild apples and big juicy blackberries.

My family, like so many families in this shire, is low income. We supplement what we grow, swap and buy with lots of foraged food. In fact, we forage for about 10% of our household’s food and plant medicine. According to item number 2.18 of the new local laws, I will have to apply to council for a permit each time I want to forage on public land, the same land that Chinese market gardeners, Swiss-Italian peasants and anglo homesteaders gathered food from, and our Dja Dja Wurrung brother and sisters for thousands of years before them.

I add some kindling to my basket and with my hatchet I chop a section of fallen eucalypt and drag it home to dock up. I light the stove with the kindling and throw on a decent log.

A week ago council released a statement saying it would consider how the community’s submissions around foraging could be supported through changes to the Local Law. I am most grateful to our councillors for this consideration because I am scared of what it will mean if this law passes unchanged. Imagine living in a world where a mother is not freely allowed to gather food from public land to feed her family?

There are thousands of working examples from around the world where councils are in collaboration with residents. Households are able to express themselves and enact their own culture, and councils are happy that their OH&S boxes are ticked.

As Patrick mentioned, Moreland council in Melbourne has very clear guidelines outlining what is and isn’t acceptable to plant on nature strips. The document begins: “Moreland City Council supports the beautification of nature strips with alternative plants to turf grass.”

Food not Lawns is an international movement of people who want to grow edible neighbourhoods, build community food security, and thrive. Their motto is Grow it, don’t mow it!

Incredible Edibles is another global movement that encourages communities to work with local councils to plant food in public places. The idea sprang out of a community consultation in Todmorden in the UK that focussed not on food resilience or localising food resource but on kindness.

Planting food on our household’s nature strip has led to many conversations with neighbours, which in turn has led to sharing produce, tools and generally looking out for one another. People in our shire need agency to develop their own forms of resilience. That’s why we are all here tonight. We want to work with council to make culturally appropriate laws in our shire as we all step into the unknown future together.

Meg Ulman

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