A Climate Emergency?

So, Auckland Council have declared a “Climate Emergency”.

In the words of Councillor Penny Hulse, chair of Auckland Council’s Environment and Community committee, this declaration is “a call to action for Council to take seriously, its role in climate change.”  She went on to say that Council needs to “… make sure that all policies we set and budgets we set, are set with a climate change lens in mind.”

That is signalling a clear intention to take action.  But it’s not actually taking action is it?

If the emergency were say, seismic readings indicating an increased likelihood of a volcanic eruption, then for sure, Civil Defence would be activated and we would see real actions aimed at protecting Auckland’s population and property.

To be fair to Council, they are taking some actions around climate change.  They have drafted a plan – the Auckland Climate Action Plan (ACAP) – that will go out to public consultation in July/August.  They adopted the Auckland Plan and Unitary Plans adopted in 2018.  Then they have plans in development around: Strategic Asset Management; Measuring Asset Performance; establishing a Landslide remediation fund; profiling spatial dimension community asset risks (flooding); a Natural Hazards Risk Management Action Plan; a Natural Hazards Research Plan and plans for Coastal Compartment Management.

They have implemented a Live Lightly programme, a Sustainable Schools Plan and a Waste Management & Minimisation Plan. 

The current state of Council’s Climate Change mitigation and adaptation actions is an impressive list of plans but contains little in the way of what is needed – actual climate mitigation actions.

Some people will leap to Auckland Council’s defence and say that I am being unfair, that the thinking and planning work needs to be done before actions are implemented.  They are right, that desktop work does need to be done.  But.

Actually, action is required to mitigate the drivers of global warming.
(excerpt from Auckland Council report “Climate Change Risks in Auckland”

Can we afford to wait to see if these plans and intentions translate to an actual reduction in Auckland’s emissions?  If the emergency were say, seismic readings indicating an increased likelihood of a volcanic eruption, then for sure, Civil Defence would be activated and we would see real actions aimed at protecting.

Perhaps Council see no hope for mitigation actions having an impact worthy of going for.  That seems so in the framing of this header in their risk assessment report.

This may be why their report Climate Change Risks in Auckland focuses more on adaptation and less on mitigation.  Perhaps that too is unfair on Council, for the report is a risk assessment and as they say in the report, “Understanding the climate change risks and impacts on vulnerability for Auckland is imperative to both mitigate and adapt to climate change and to inform planning and decision making.”  

If it leads to a new climate change lens, where the word “URGENT” is writ large across it, then perhaps we will do what needs to be done – to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

Actually, taking mitigation actions is not that difficult.  As we have experienced in many of the St Andrews events and projects this past year or three:

  • Our Earth Day events have been carbon negative – we have sequestered more atmospheric CO2 than was emitted in the running of the events plus that emitted by all the people attending them.
  • Our communal food garden has
    • provided food-miles-free food
    • not required any artificial fertilisers
    • used no town-supply water even given the particularly dry summer we just had
    • reduced wastes going to landfill with kitchen waste from parish events going to the worm farm plus garden waste going to the compost
    • provide an opportunity for local people to gather as Friends of St Andrew’s Food Garden
  • Six “Grow Your Own Food” courses have taught many people how to increase their self-resilience.

These are all real climate actions that any parish can implement. For advice on how your parish can do similar things, call the Sustainability Fieldworker, John, on 021 46 36 86.

Sustainable Anglicans

What does sustainability mean to you?

One dictionary defines sustainability as “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”.

Let’s consider water.  On the one hand, we have had enough flooding throughout the country, to realise that we do not have a water flow (rate) problem.  On the other hand, the dry period we have experienced this year has, for many, severely tested their access (level) to water.

What this tells me is that we do not have a water flow problem but instead, have an issue with water storage.  That problem is easily fixed with the local collection and storage of rain water.  This concept, a rain water harvesting system, is what we have in the St Andrews, Pukekohe, community food garden.  The consequence is that in this growing season just finishing, we have not used town water to keep the garden growing.

In our food garden then, are climate and water sustainability actions that anyone can replicate at home.

The food garden also features waste sustainability in the form of a worm farm and composting system that recycles food and garden wastes to apply to the garden as fertiliser.  We have not imported any fertilisers to apply to the garden this year so from those perspectives, production from the garden can be sustained at its present rate.

And of course, the garden itself adds to our community’s food sustainability and energy sustainability by growing our own food locally, and avoiding the carbon emissions from transporting it.

Not only do these actions meet the sustainability definition above, they also provide for local resilience and a measure of adaptability to climate change.

However, I prefer a more compelling definition of sustainability: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

This is what last month’s global School Strike for Climate Action was all about.  In what may well have been the largest global day of climate action ever, these young people are coming of age at a crucial time in our response to climate change.  Unless we take action now, they will be the generation that will have their futures compromised, the generation that has to face the consequences of our past actions, but to which they have contributed so little cause.

Here are two climate/sustainability actions that local people can take to help ensure their future is as fulfilling as our past has been.

One is to join us on the Grow Your Own Food course that starts at St Andrews on April 10th.  For six Wednesday evenings, from 7:15 pm to 8:30pm, we will cover food growing: from the role of soil organisms, through when to plant seeds and seedlings, and crop rotations, to planning your own easy-as productive and no-dig food garden.

Second is to plan on coming to our 2019 Earth Day event.  Spread over two days (Saturday April 27th and Sunday 28th) where we will take the next essential action in mitigating climate change: removing carbon from the atmosphere.  So mark your diaries now: The Charcoal Fire Earth Day 2019 event will be held at Footbridge Centre for Innovation and Sustainability, 59 Chamberlain Rd, Bombay, Auckland.

Join us for Earth Day 2018 in Buckland

The future of the Earth as we know it, is under threat.  Scientists have named that threat global warming.

We already see some of the impacts of global warming: climate change; extreme weather events; the loss of animal and plant species; rising sea levels; and the acidification of our oceans.

The main drivers of global warming are twofold. First, the mining and burning of fossil fuels adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  Second, when we cut down forests, we reduce the Earth’s ability to tolerate those gases.

To reduce the impacts of climate change, two things we must do.  One is to significantly reduce our individual and household greenhouse gas emissions.  The other is to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The longer we take to do these two things, the harder is the task of ensuring a liveable climate for future generations.

EARTH DAY 2018, is the day to show that we cherish our Earth, the day to take a personal climate action to help ensure the Earth’s regeneration and protection for future generations.

Next Sunday, April 22nd, the Anglican’s Climate Action Network are offering an easy-do climate action that anyone can take.  The Pukekohe Anglican Parish are holding their second Charcoal Fire event in the grounds of St Paul’s Anglican Church in Buckland Road, Pukekohe.

For each person attending, a 1kg wood block will be burned to make biochar which will be buried in the soil and fruit trees planted on top.

This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding the CO2 that would have been released back to the atmosphere as the wood decays.

It will also sequester1kg of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

And even more carbon will be removed from the atmosphere over the fruit trees’ lifetime.

Join us between 9 am and 11 am to place 1kg of wood on the fire and learn about biochar.

Or join us at 11:30 am for a sausage sizzle before the fire is quenched at 12:30 followed by the planting of fruit trees on the biochar.

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Click to view full size map

Park at Buckland School – 72 George Crescent, Buckland.  A gold coin donation on entry will help us continue our sustainability work.

For more information, call John on 09 238 1357

The Charcoal Fire event 2018

Here’s three reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Glyphosate was back in the news last week.  As expected, a second European agency found that that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.

On the face of it, this latest determination is contrary to that of a UN agency’s classification in March 2015, that glyphosate was “probably” a human carcinogen.

Both determinations looked at the hazard that glyphosate poses to human health and came to different conclusions.

Of the two agencies, the UN one studied only independent research.  It also explored the impact of other chemicals added to glyphosate.

These differences mean that the UN research carries more weight for me when I consider using chemical pesticides.

Instead of looking at hazard, the European Food Safety Authority looked at the risk that glyphosate poses, and also found no basis for classifying the chemical as a carcinogen.

Hazard and risk?  Are they not the same thing?

No, not really.  Hazard is about the possibility of a substance being a carcinogen.  Risk is about how likely it is that you will get cancer from being exposed to the hazard.

If you don’t expose yourself to a hazardous substance, whether nuclear waste or glyphosate, then the risk of contracting cancer is negligible.

So if you have to use this hazardous chemical, then taking precautions will reduce the risk of it undermining your, or your children’s, health.

The risk is zero when you grow your own food without using glyphosate.

Laying out the St Andrews Communal Food garden

When it comes to the risks of eating GMOs, there are no precautions we can take despite the risks being real.

Scientists are concerned that we do not know how differently our genes will work, when we eat GMO foods.

Again, these risks posed by GMO foods are minimised when we grow our own food.

The St Andrews Communal Food garden early in its development

The third reason to grow your own food, is around the need for us to take action on climate change.

Harvesting fresh produce from our own garden achieves two climate actions.  One is a reduction in green house gases emitted to the atmosphere.  The other is to increase the carbon stored in our soils compared to industrialised agriculture.

Glyphosate, GMOs and climate change, are all hazards.  All are issues of our time, consequences of a capitalist economic system focused more on corporate profits than on the health and wellbeing of people.

As hazards, there is now little that we can do individually, to undo their presence in our society.

But the risk these hazard pose can be minimised when you grow your own food.

Just a part of the harvest from the St Andrews Communal Food garden


A beginners Grow Your Own Food course runs at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting April 5th and running for six weeks.  Interested?  Please leave your name and contact number at 09 238 7228.

Or download our brochure: Growing Your Own Food Course.page1

Waste sustainability through composting

Of the four sustainability issues we individually can do something about (energy, food, waste, water), there is one that almost everyone can take action on today and every day.

So easy it is to put your domestic waste in to the rubbish bin each week and see it disappear. Out of sight and out of mind? No, not at all! And nor should it be.

We see our rubbish dumps growing from the unwanted detritus of a consumer society. We smell decaying organic matter as it putrefies away. We hear the big trucks transporting huge quantities of waste around the city and country side.

In 2010, Aucklanders sent over one million tonnes of waste to landfill with around 20% of that being organic waste that could have been diverted from landfill sites.

To enable that diversion, Auckland Council initiated a waste minimisation program that aims to avoid the social, environmental and economic impacts of excess waste.

A major part of that initiative is the composting of domestic organic waste streams as a simple way to divert waste from landfill.

Easy composting method makes for an easy sustainable waste management process.

Composting at home is one part of that program.

Why make compost?

Composting your kitchen and garden wastes turns the nutrients, minerals and organic matter in those wastes, in to a resource for your garden.

The first reason to make compost is that it saves you money by retaining soil moisture levels and avoiding the need to apply fertilisers. Compost replaces the soil nutrients and minerals depleted when crops are harvested and adds organic matter to the soil.

It also sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil, reducing the release of carbon dioxide and methane gases from landfill to the atmosphere. So the second reason to compost, is the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and hence, climate change.

Who can compost?

Anyone can – just choose a system that is appropriate to your site, your waste types and the amount of waste you create.

Those with a garden and sufficient volumes of waste can install a compost bin to manufacture a beneficial garden resource. A worm farm that converts the same range of wastes to vermicast is better suited to smaller gardens or those with small waste volumes. For those living in an apartment without access to a garden, a Bokashi system achieves the same result – the conversion of wastes to a useful resource.

When to compost?

All the time. Year round, your composted kitchen and garden wastes are an accumulating resource that will save you money.

What to compost?

It is easier to define what not to compost than it is to list what can be composted.

Don’t compost meat, bones and fish scraps as these may attract pests that you do not want around the garden. The Bokashi composting system can handle these scraps but I find there is too much competition for kitchen scraps to use this system. Those who live in an apartment where access to a garden is not easy, will find the Bokashi system ideal for all of their kitchen wastes.

Inadvertently spreading pests and diseases around your garden can be avoided if diseased plants and the seed heads of perennial weeds are not added to the compost. Likewise manures from your domestic pets (dogs and cats mainly) are best not added to compost, especially if the compost is to be applied to food crops.

Foods that may contain pesticide residues, for example banana skins, or are allelopathic, are best kept out of the compost. Allelopathic crops (for example black walnut leaves) exudes chemicals that inhibit germination or growth of other organisms).

Finally, petroleum based machine oil or chain oil ought be avoided.

Otherwise, compost everything, including small amounts of paper and cardboard.

How to compost

Instructions on purchasing or creating your own bin compost, worm farm or Bokashi system can be found at our household composting page.

Composting has so many advantages that it is an integral part of our communal food gardens project.

Four ways to a communal food garden

Last week I presented the Anglican Church’s food sustainability project Communal Food Gardens providing a number of social justice benefits and climate change mitigation actions. So this week, I look at the practicalities of establishing a Communal Food Garden.

To appeal to as wide a range of parishes as possible, the first-up food sustainability project of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland offers a number of variants on community gardens.

These range from a conventional food garden utilising raised beds, through two approaches to high raised beds for those less able to work at ground level, to a food forest garden.

My favourite approach to community food gardens is a food forest but that is suitable only where sufficient land is available – at least 50 square metres. To get a handle on what that means, a typical double garage will measure 7m by 7m or 49 m2.

Having established the Franklin Food Forest at Pukekohe High School, I know that food foresting has the potential to grow a wider variety and achieve a greater yield than a conventional garden and/or orchard. Whilst it is more work to establish, within 3 – 5 years, a food forest needs less maintenance and care.


food forest layers
Food Forest garden

So what is a food forest? Alternatively known as a food garden, it has been defined as a ‘perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants‘.


Perennial plants grow for more than two years, so a food forest implies permanence.

A polyculture is the opposite of monoculture with all the implications of a variety of fresh foods, sustainability, and reduced use of poisoning ‘cides’.

Multipurpose means they can provide two or more of the seven ‘F’s: Food, Fibre, Pharmaceuticals, Fodder for animals, Fuel or Fertiliser. And not to forget Fun.

To me, a food forest is a designed agronomic system, based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants, that mimics the most stable and sustainable type of ecosystem – a natural forest.

All that makes food foresting sound more complicated than it is! Have a look at this food forest page for a fuller description.

If space for a food forest is not available, or perhaps tall trees are not appropriate on your site, then a conventional raised-bed food garden is a great alternative.

Lazy garden

This can be as simple as a single garden bed, a long row or multiple rows according to the space and helper support you have available. Have a look at the Lazy garden beds page for more details.

For some people, bending down to work at ground level is no longer an option. For them, we have an exclusive design for a higher raised garden bed. Higher means a bed with the soil surface at waist level.

Actually, we have two options here. First is a ‘keyhole’ garden, the second a hugelkultur garden.

Keyhole raised garden

The keyhole raised garden beds are circular and only two metres in diameter so that all parts of the garden can be easily reached. Of course, multiple keyhole gardens could be installed to provide the planting area needed.  Keyhole gardens can be clad in stone, wood, plastic or earth bags.

Hugelkultur raised garden

Hugelkulture raised garden beds are raised to waist height by burying tree logs in the ground, hence their name which in German means hill culture. The logs, which last for many years, provide a nutrient store and hold water for long periods which makes them suited to drier climes. Of course you need a supply of large tree logs to make this method work.

When considering these options, please do keep in mind that this project is title Communal Food Gardens, which implies more than a place for visitors to relax in, although that is one of the project’s objectives. As discussed previously, this is a place for the community to work in as well as enjoy, socialise and harvest crops.

For further information on the establishment of a communal food garden in your parish, either email me, visit our resource page at Communal Gardens Project or leave a comment below.

The Justice of Communal Food Gardens

There are four broad aspects of sustainability that we individually and collectively need to face up to: energy, food, water and waste. This post focuses on food sustainability and adds justifications for the Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s sustainability project introduced last week – Communal Food Gardens.

Last week I introduced Communal Food Gardens as a food sustainability project that provides a number of social justice benefits as well as being an action that mitigates the effects of climate change.

Following organic growing principles, our gardens yield food that is healthy, nutritious and safe, and thus helps improve positive health outcomes in the community.

Each parish will decide for themselves how to distribute the food grown in their gardens. This can be to the workers who planted the seed and nurtured the growing plants, to the sick or elderly, or to those in greater need. The choice is the parish’s to make.

Any one of these social justice benefits is in itself, a sufficient reason to start a food garden. So what additional climate change benefits do communal food gardens bring?

First is that food grown locally means a reduction in the green house gas emissions from the transport fleet required to bring produce from the growers to the market.

Second, by adopting organic growing principles, we do not requires fossil fuels to be used to manufacture and deliver fertilisers and various poisoning ‘cides’, to the garden.

Third, by eliminating the risk of individual exposure to pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, we eliminate risks to human health.

Fourth, by eliminating the excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilisers, we eliminate the degradation of our soils and the microbial soil-based life that plants depend on.

Fifth, our gardens will not be tilled so organic materials in the soil will not be oxidised and returned to the atmosphere as climate-warming gases.

Sixth, if we do this right, we can actually remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil where it may remain for many years.

Seventh, the planned introduction of an integrated composting system for our kitchen and garden wastes, means a reduction in the volume of refuse going to landfill sites. This waste sustainability action will itself significantly reduce methane emissions as well as maintaining the fertility levels of our gardens.

So many benefits to a communal food garden!

Why would everyone not want to start one this spring? Why not contact me, John Allen, right now and find out how easy it is to start your own food garden. Just use the contact form below.

Communal Food Gardens – a sustainability and social justice initiative

Of the four broad aspects of sustainability that we individually and collectively need to face up to: energy, food, water and waste, this post focuses on food sustainability and introduces an Anglican Diocese of Auckland sustainability project – Communal Food Gardens.

My last post introduced food sustainability as an issue of importance to each of us.

Our industrialised food production and distribution systems have served us well for many decades but some now see that industrial approach to be unsustainable.

What is needed, is a food system that is equitable and meets the food needs of our local communities without degrading natural or human resources.

The Anglican community can take a step towards natural farming systems by getting involved in the new Anglican Diocese of Auckland project to establish communal food gardens.

community garden
Community Garden in San Diego (image courtesy Wikipedia)

The project matches Anglican beliefs around care of creation – safeguarding the integrity of creation, and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth. It also advances the Diocese’s response to the House of Bishops Statement on Climate Change and their media release in November of last year – We choose to fight climate change rather than drown.

Communal food gardens are a tool in that fight.

Communal gardens is a term heard less often than community gardens. How do the two differ?

Community is a noun and defines a garden that members of a like-minded group of people might access. A community garden could be a food, decorative, or flower garden and is a place for people to enjoy. This is the what of our project.

Communal is an adjective, related to community, and describes how the community garden is owned/worked/harvested – together. This is the how of our community project.

We name this project as Communal Food Gardens and distinguish them from other community gardens as in the Table below.

Type of gardening Description and/or example(s)
Allotments A garden in a public place where individuals or groups each garden their own plots
Communal gardening A garden in a public place where the gardening is carried out communally (that is, by members of the community)
Shared gardening Where a resident offers spare land for neighbours to garden or neighbours assist each other with their home gardens (often on a roster or working bee arrangement)
Revegetation projects (a variation on communal gardening) These projects usually focus on planting indigenous vegetation on public reserves. These sites sometimes also include community orchards and/or community gardens.
Guerrilla gardening Planting without permission on public or private land such as road reserves, traffic islands, parks and empty sections.

This definition embeds some reasons that Communal Gardens are beneficial – they are: a place for social activity; for bringing communities together; a means for city dwellers to connect with nature; and a healthy place for individuals to just be.

We see our communal food gardens providing all these benefits alongside their primary purpose – being a community learning and demonstration resource that expresses the Diocesan Climate Change Action initiative and extends the role of the Diocesan social justice initiative.  That extension is from researching and communicating justice issues, to providing equitable access to good, nutritious food as a means to better health.

The project is rolling out this month so for further information on the establishment of a communal food garden in your parish, either email me, visit our resource page at Communal Gardens Project or leave a comment below.

An introduction to food sustainability

There are four broad aspects of sustainability that we individually and collectively need to face up to: energy, food, water and waste. This post focuses on food sustainability.

Sir Dove-Myer Robiinson
A statue of Sir Dove-Myer Robiinson, former Mayor of Auckland, in Aotea Square, Auckland City

Back in 1984, ex Auckland mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robbie Robinson said “If mankind is to achieve optimum health he must consume healthy food grown in a healthy environment.”

Was Robbie commenting on the direction that the first two decades of an industrialised agricultural system was taking us? Things like the degradation of our soils, water and ecosystems? Or agriculture’s contribution to excessive GHG emissions that would lead to climate change?

We do not know what his motivation for those comments was but today, over 30 years later, and in the face of these and many other societal changes, Sir Dove-Meyer’s musings are now even more relevant.

The sustainability issues of our food production and supply networks are multi-faceted.

Some of these facets are the subject of a new report published by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable food systems (IPES-Food). The IPES-Food is a Europe-based expert panel exploring new ways of thinking around food research, sustainability, and food systems.

TFrom Uniformity to Diversityheir June 2016 report From Uniformity to Diversity concluded, “Neither industrial nor subsistence farming work to the benefit of people and planet. Instead, diversified agroecological systems represent an improvement on both.”

Amongst the key messages from the report is an acknowledgement that today’s food and farming systems have been successful in getting required volumes of foods from producers to global markets.

But the industrial system we have come to rely on has negative consequences. These range from wide spread soil loss and water pollution, to the persistent hunger and nutrient deficiencies suffered by many in the developing world.

The developed world do not escape consequences but they are of a different kind. The rapid rise in obesity and diet-related diseases is in part a consequence of the sales and marketing imperative of an industrial society.

A fundamentally different model of agriculture is required to restore food sustainability – that model is variously named natural farming, organics, permaculture, biological farming and agro-ecological farming.

This implies that farmers must diversify their production, ensure and increase biodiversity and replace chemical inputs with natural ones.

Data shows that these agro-ecological systems can at least match industrial agricultural systems in terms of total outputs and, in times of environmental stress, even show an increase in productivity.

The report also found growing evidence that these agro-ecological systems retain carbon in the soil, support bio- diversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for more secure farm livelihoods.

Change is already happening. Industrial food systems are being challenged on multiple fronts, from new forms of cooperation and knowledge-creation, to the development of new market relationships that bypass conventional retail networks.

In particular, small plot intensive and urban farming systems are gaining in popularity.

So what can we, individually and collectively, do about these issues of food sustainability? There is plenty we can do and the first project that the Anglican Diocese of Auckland will seek your involvement in, is the subject of the next post – Communal Food Gardens – a sustainability and social justice initiative.

An opposing view on this issue, one presenting the sustainability case for industrial agriculture, argues that small-scale food system enlarge the human footprint.  The author of the article is Ted Nordhaus, an author, researcher, and political strategist.   He is a founder and chairman of The Breakthrough Institute which advocates a pro-GMO, pro-Nuclear and an ecomodernist solution to the world’s food issues.