Back yards an untapped resource

Gardening is likely to be on many people's minds as spring continues to sprout. But it's probably not on many government ministers' minds. Perhaps it should be.

There are tens of thousands of home gardens around the South, many of them sunny, fertile, well drained and basking in a relatively benign climate. Some of them are their owners' pride and joy, treated as part of the family, tamed, toiled and invested in. Many are virtually ignored. Most probably sit somewhere in between.

Meanwhile, in the Beehive's curving corridors of power, the country's first Green-infused Government has released various statements, policies and positions indicating we are hosting our most environmentally focused government yet.

New Zealand is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050. There will be no new offshore oil and gas exploration permits issued. Single use plastic bags could well be banned. Dairy cows are unpopular. Petrol taxes are rising and the revenue raised is being shared with public transport projects.

The goals are laudable. Pollution, be it in the air, water or soil, has no up-side. If there was a policy to eradicate it without eradicating society at the same time, no-one would vote against that. New Zealanders, on the whole, don't like pollution any more than the present Government.

It is fair to ask, though, what is the end goal of environmental governance? Pollution follows consumption and consumption will exist as long as people exist; taking what they need from the environment and discarding what they don't back into it. And there is no suggestion the Government wants to reduce our population. The key, of course, is reducing harm - having us consume in a manner that does the best for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

Which is why the Government could consider shifting some of its focus from banning what we're consuming, to improving how we produce what we need. Many of our back yards are potential production powerhouses of fresh, organic food. Compost is already there, just waiting to be created from a mix of lawn and garden waste, household food scraps and even old newspapers. Seeds are cheap to purchase. Home gardens don't require dairy cows, single use plastic bags, fuel-burning car trips or the pollution of industrial-scale production. Coastal Otago and much of Southland in particular boast fairly mild winters and summers long and hot enough to produce a plethora of healthy food.

The Kiwi back yard has long been a symbol of a healthy upbringing. A lawn, a ball, some laughing children and parents overlooking their domain. Dunedin and many other Otago and Southland towns are still lucky enough to offer such a lifestyle. And with a small shift in culture, knowledge, assistance and funding, many of those back yards could produce much more food than they currently do.

This Government's quiver of environmental arrows so far seems weighted in favour of rules, regulations and bans. New Zealand's last Labour-led government lost votes when it went too far with that philosophy; proposed bans on high-output showers and traditional light-bulbs were scorned in the lead-up to the 2008 election Labour subsequently lost.

It seems voters demand more than a government pointing out what is wrong with the world and, in lieu of innovative thinking, falling back on regulations and bans to change behaviour. Maybe a scheme sending great gardeners - perhaps the young and unemployed, perhaps the elderly with time to spare - into unloved gardens, with funding to help establish compost piles, raised beds, seedlings and so on, could do more to make New Zealand a healthier country than any number of bans. Perhaps it is time the country's greenest government to date sought to invest in the country's most untapped of green spaces - our own back yards.


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