Community gardens and that vital green light

Residents turning a vacant plot into a community garden at Jalan Kelab Ukay 7 in Bukit Antarabangsa. Building a community garden requires teamwork, perseverance and good leadership. – Filepic

Residents groups must cultivate practice of getting all necessary approvals before starting urban farms

THERE has been growing interest in community gardening or urban farming in recent years.

The activity is not limited to those living in landed properties, as some residents of high-rise dwellings have access or live close to land available for gardening.

The reasons for such interests are varied, such as gardening as a hobby or therapy, environmental awareness, food security concerns especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, and mutual interest in a project that benefits a community.

During last month’s Placemaker Asean Awards (PAA) 2021, the organisers noted that “there was substantial interest in community gardens, with many being established to act as a platform for community building”.

The idea behind the Chiang Mai Urban Farm in Thailand was heartfelt and practical; its community concept also benefitted multiple groups within the northern Thai city.

It was a solution born of the Covid-19 pandemic — there was great need to feed some of Chiang Mai’s most vulnerable, such as low-income groups and individuals who had lost their jobs and were struggling to feed their families.

Jobless people were hired to work on a former dumpsite, which was transformed into an urban farm.

The produce they grew was either sold at affordable prices or distributed for free to homeless people and welfare homes.

Some garden beds were allocated to low-income communities so they could grow their own produce for their own consumption.

Other garden beds were allotted to local schools so students could gain hands-on experience in urban farming.

The harvest would later be sent to their school canteens for their meals.

Its community-oriented and sharing concept encouraged people to work and learn together, regardless of their social and economic backgrounds.

The Chiang Mai Urban Farm went on to win PAA 2021’s Best Placemaker: Placemaking During the Pandemic category.

Closer to home, several community gardens emerged as the top three finalists or won special commendation in other PAA 2021 categories.

These included TTDI Edible Community Garden in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur; Kebun Kita in Section 3, Old Town, Petaling Jaya; Mid Valley River Three Park in Kuala Lumpur; and Precinct 16 Community Garden in Putrajaya.

However, not all community gardens are welcome by neighbourhoods, especially if the projects are done without the permission of authorities or consent of neighbours, or are sited on land deemed unsuitable for farming.

My colleagues have written about how community gardens in the Klang Valley and Ipoh ran into trouble because the people behind them did not seek permission from the local council or government agency that owned the land, or they turned green or open spaces such as children’s playgrounds and recreational fields into urban farms or there were disagreements with their neighbours over the use of open spaces.

Residents groups in areas under the administration of Subang Jaya City Council (MBSJ) and Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) have to seek permission from the respective council’s Landscape Department before they can start a community garden in their neighbourhoods.

If the proposed farm is sited on land belonging to a different government agency or utility company (such as Drainage and Irrigation Department or TNB), then the residents group has to get the respective landowner’s permission before submitting an application to the local authority.

“Residents must get the support of their residents associations or Rukun Tetangga as well as endorsement of their local councillor, before initiating the process with MBSJ to start a community garden,” said MBSJ in a statement.

“A general consensus is needed, as some residents may be against the idea of having an urban farm in front, behind or near their houses.

“There are also other factors to be considered, such as public safety, not causing obstruction to infrastructure maintenance works or blocking back lane access,” it added.

The city council noted that building a community garden required teamwork, perseverance, understanding and good leadership.

“There have been cases where we had to clear out urban farms because the community failed to maintain them,” continued MBSJ.

“Poor leadership, lack of team effort, unsuitable locations as well as poor knowledge of growing methods and farm management have been among the factors that led to the failure of such projects,” the local council added.

For those seeking some guidance, they can refer to the Urban Community Farming Policy launched by Housing and Local Government Ministry in August 2021.

The policy covers, among other things, must-have elements of an urban farm such as crop rotation practices, watering methods and maintenance as well as types of crops suitable for urban farms.

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