Why Eat Local?
Local food tastes better - The less time that it takes for produce to get from the farm to your plate, the fresher and tastier it will be.
Eating local supports local producers - Spend your money to support your local community and ensure the future of your region.
Eating local reduces greenhouse gas emissions - Food that has travelled only a short way to your plate has not required extensive transportation and has therefore resulted in significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than non-local food.
Know what is in your food and who grew it - When you buy direct from the producer it is much easier to enquire about the farming methods that were used to create your food and the people who have laboured to grow it.
Grow your own - Eating food that you have grown in your own backyard is incredibly rewarding and is a great way to connect with nature on a daily basis.
The Capital Region
In Canberra we are well situated to source the majority of our food locally. Fresh fruit and vegetables, meat products, dairy, wines and even some grains are available in the Capital region and can be bought directly from producers at the growing number of farmers' markets in the region.
Canberra's local food region extends northwest to Young, northeast to Goulburn and the Upper Lachlan, southeast to the Bega Valley and southwest to Tumbarumba and the Snowy.
If that's a bit confusing, anything that has been produced within a couple of hours of where you live is considered local compared to produce that has been transported from across the country or overseas!
Where to buy locaL produce
How to start your own vegetable garden
A backyard vegetable garden is as close as it gets to eating local. Veggie gardens come in a range of shapes and sizes: a couple of raised beds, a series of pots on the balcony or even a no-dig garden. Here are a couple of things to think about when you are getting started:
The site. Is there enough shade or light for the type of food you want to grow? Is there enough space for an entire patch or are planter boxes more suitable? What will grow best in the climatic conditions? Will I have enough time to tend to a big garden? . Be sure to survey your area – it might even be helpful to draw a map or plan for your garden.
Soil and compost. Soil is one of the most important parts of growing food – it’s the difference between plonking seeds in the ground, and having them grow or struggle. The best way to cultivate good soil is to start a compost. Scroll down to read about compost. Chicken, horse or cow manure is another sure way to condition the soil and add right nutrients to the soil. Growing ‘green manure’ or legumes will add nitrogen, lime will add acidity. There are a variety of ways to improve your soil – a soil test using a soil testing kit will help you determine what you need. See this infographic for quick fertiliser facts.
Seeds and seedlings. Pick up your seeds and seedlings at local Canberra nurseries. Organic varieties have been grown without chemical treatments. Heirloom varieties are older varieties that are great for seed-saving, and have high nutritional value. Different seeds may require different treatments such as soaking in water or mixing with sand before growing. Be sure to read the sowing or planting information, including where and when to grow. Seedlings can also be purchased for a quicker growing period, or if you have missed the sowing window.
What should I grow when and where? Canberra is lucky enough to have four distinct seasons to guide our planting. The Canberra Organic Society has produced a fantastic set of fact sheets for each season. We recommend having a look here. This is also a good growing vegetable chart and this is a chart of vegetables to grow in the shade.
Alternatively, you can drop into the Canberra Environment Centre to pick up our Canberra specific gardening calendar. Other ideas to consider: companion planting (what grows best together), seed- bombing, crop-rotation and growing fruit trees.
Harvesting. Harvest time at last! Most times it is obvious when a vegetable can be harvested. Others such as pumpkins are a bit different (keep an eye on the pumpkin vine – it’s ready when the stem and vine starts to brown). There are countless online resources to help if you are unsure when to harvest your crop. Enjoy your bounty and celebrate the good food and produce at our annual Canberra Harvest Festival!
Compost and Worm Farms
Did you know? Almost 50% of household waste is organic. Composting is a way to recycle this waste into organic fertiliser to feed your garden
Composting is a great way to turn your food waste into healthy compost and organic fertiliser – fantastic for gardening, pot plants and improving the soil in your backyard. Composting is a biological process in which organic material decomposes into rich soil and a perfect natural fertiliser for your garden.
Each year on average, every Australian produces 180 kilograms of food and garden waste. If sent to rot in landfill, the same amount of food and garden waste produces 15.3 kilograms of methane – a gas with 21 times more impact on climate change than carbon dioxide. By composting, not only will you be creating an important resource for your garden, you will also be decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from landfill.
A quick guide to setting up a compost
To get started, make sure you have a small container to collect food waste inside and a compost bin or heap outside. A compost bin might be a ventilated container that sits over the soil, or you might have a compost tumbler or one build from pallets or wire. Some things to think about when choosing your compost container include the quantity of food waste produced relative to the size of the garden, how quickly you would like to use compost and the location.
Build your compost up in layers. The first layer should consist of larger and coarser materials such as straw, newspaper, twigs, and leftover cuttings. This will help with drainage and aeration. Then, alternate between green (wet) and brown (dry) layers. Greens are kitchen scraps and garden clippings, and browns are dry leaves, newspaper, etc. Don’t forget to add water between layers, as well as some manure or good soil. The last layer should be brown.
Add your food scraps and turn the compost about once a week. Compost is ready to be used in the garden when it resembles a dark, rich soil.
This particular layering technique is called the ‘slow and cool’ method, but there are a number of other ways to compost. Check out the Clean Up Australia guide for a more detailed guide to composting as well as compost troubleshooting.
Worm farms turn your food leftovers into rich soil-like ‘castings’ which are great for feeding house and garden plants, adding to seedling mixes and potting soils or top-dressing around plants. The liquid produced by your worm farm is full of nutrients – dilute and use it on your plants. Worm farms also work well if you live in a unit or are short of space.
We recommend a rectangular worm farm with a couple of trays. There are different layers for bedding and kitchen scraps. Worms travel up through the layers, leaving behind castings and ‘worm tea.’ See this simple chart to see how it works and this troubleshooting guide, if you’re stuck.
The CEC has partnered with Tumbleweed to provide compost bins and worm farms at a special community rate – details here.
Community gardens are places where people come together to grow food, to learn, to share and to meet the neighbourhood. Some gardens operate by assigning plots to each member; others host working bees and are open to the public. Anyone can join a community garden and the benefits extent farm beyond having your own plot.
10 benefits of community gardens
Fresh food – community gardens produce fresh food, providing easier access to fresh and nutritious food.
Exercise – Community gardens are sites for recreation and exercise. Gardening itself is a great way to exercise.
Social inclusion – community gardens encourage community and neighbourhood interaction across different ages and backgrounds.
Sharing tips – community gardens are sites of sharing and learning where gardeners can come together to learn.
Community learning – gardens can be sites of education beyond just gardening. Skill-shares on all sorts of topics from preserving and cooking to language, music and community activism are just a few examples of what can happen when people come together.
Social venues – community gardens function as social venues. Why not swap that coffee date for a few hours in the garden?
Urban improvement – gardens often improve the urban environment by introducing greenery and utilising vacant, disused space.
Urban ecosystems – the diversity of vegetation in urban gardens creates habitats for wildlife.
Civil society – community garden governance and interaction with local government and councils can improve communication between citizens and the government.
Community identity – community gardens foster a sense of community ownership and stewardship, helping to prevent crime and increase community well-being.
Join a community garden in Canberra
The Canberra Organic Growers Society (COGS) operates 12 different gardens throughout the ACT. Apply for a plot at Charnwood, Cook, Cotter, Dickson, Erindale, Holder, Kaleen, Kambah, Mitchell, Oaks Estate or O’Connor here.
Canberra City Farm/Urban Agriculture@ Dairy Road
The Dirty Beanstalk (ANU Lena Karmel rooftop garden)
Permablitz (permaculture and gardening group)
The Canberra Environment Centre Community garden
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA): a collaboration between groups and individuals committed to building an equitable and sustainable food system. In 2012, the Alliance produced a response to the federal government’s National Food Plan Green Paper. The AFSA People’s Food Plan is a charter for a fair food system. AFSA also coordinate Fair Food Week in October.