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Urban Farm Network

An urban farm and local living compost hub every 1km of in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland City.

Photo of Charlotte Billing
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

For the Love of Bees Charitable Trust

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Urban Farmers Alliance ( a collective of urban farms across New Zealand who are supporting growers and producers to establish and transition to regenerative growing practices on small urban plots of land. They are writing a manual that will be freely available, seasonal mentoring with industry consultants and experts, and an online discussion platform for farmers to ask questions and learn in real-time. OMG (Organic Market Garden) a social enterprise and climate-change-ready model of urban farming in the city centre of Auckland, and founding member of the UFA. Kai Cycle, a social enterprise in Wellington which collects residential food waste by bike to build living compost used on their inner-city farm, and founding member of the UFA.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

New Zealand

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Tāmaki Makaurau, otherwise known as Auckland City.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Aotearoa New Zealand

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Tāmaki Makaurau is the largest city in Aotearoa New Zealand, one of the most urbanised countries in the developed world, with a ‘clean green’ reputation. However, our farming industry is in crisis. Many young people around the country are beginning to recognise that they can create a paradigm shift in the way we see and produce food by starting small, biology-first, regenerative urban farms that provide nutrient-dense food to their communities, create 21st century jobs, and mitigate climate change. 

I lived on Symonds Street, a highly urbanised, gritty arterial into the CBD. It was a food desert, and there was no organic waste collection. In 2015 an empty lot of land one block up was bought by the CRL, a major rail project that would radically change the city. They bought all the property in my area for a new station, then realised it was surplus to requirements. The council asked us locals how to use the space while they decided what to do with it, so at first the former dumping ground became the site for a shared compost bin.

We immediately used the bin until the worms were smothered and poisoned. Some gardeners took over and planted the site. I moved overseas and watched their progress online. In 2018, social sculpture For the Love of Bees was granted a lease on the site, and transformed it into the Organic Market Garden.

Local residents and chefs were desperate to get all their produce from OMG. It became a hub of community activity in an area whose neighbours never had anything to connect over before. It is a marker of community resilience, a founding member of the Urban Farmers Alliance, and a model for climate-change-ready practices in urban areas, enabling the city to see itself as a leader and a food bowl for the people.

Tāmaki Makaurau is a sprawling city built on highly fertile volcanic soils. By closing the loop of food production, and by putting regenerative knowledge back into our soil system, every patch of land can contribute to its neighbourhood.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Tāmaki Makaurau is the most diverse city in the Southern Hemisphere- it's 'Superdiverse'. While our population is majority Pākeha (non-indigenous, usually used to refer to white colonisers) we have a strong Māori (indigenous people of Aotearoa) heritage, as well as Pasifika, Asian, Indian, African and South African, and other European cultures living in the city. These cultures are reflected in neighbourhoods full of diverse food options and frequent festivities.

The city is on an isthmus and surrounded by water. It is built into the crater of a volcano and so we're used to walking up hills, and being always within reach of a beach. The Waitematā harbour chronically suffers from storm and waste water overflow during rainy periods, of which in our humid climate there are many.

‘Urban farming’ in the city is predominantly white people in NGOs (as it is seen as a leisure or niche skill to learn, access to urban land is expensive, low wages and high cost of living is chronic in the city as a whole. Access to land is also a long-term result of colonisation, where land theft is ongoing and has affected many generations of indigenous people, while structural racism locks out all people of marginalised cultures from home ownership) increasingly coming to embrace the wealth of indigenous growing practices and community support philosophies. 

Māori iwi/hapū (extended family groups) live on or around marae, (community land with shared buildings for eating and sleeping, as well as family houses) which grow their own food to ensure their entire community is fed. While this skill and time is not always available in every community, urban marae are increasingly responding to high costs of living by taking up organic farming. 

There are also projects like MUMG, which is a social enterprise where migrant women grow and sell produce from communal plots of land. There is a huge desire from communities to up-skill cross-culturally and integrate growing methods. Collectively, communities that are often ghettoised in urban areas have a greater opportunity to access land communally to provide incomes, while benefitting local people and their environment.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been living in Tāmaki Makaurau for the last decade, and is a Member of Parliament for one of its suburbs, Mount Albert. She said climate change is our generation's biggest challenge, and represents city-dwellers urgently starting to turn all of our systems on their heads. 

Young people in the city like Ardern, and MPs Chloe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman are leading the exploration of new, innovative ways of sustaining our communities. At the same time, the city is undergoing massive infrastructural changes, such as the City Rail Link, and a huge push towards low-carbon transport options as the population grows significantly every year.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Aotearoa's economy is based on agriculture, the largest contributor to carbon emissions of any industry. The majority of our food products are produced for export, and there is a monopoly of ownership of the dairy industry leading to often unaffordable food costs for people who live in New Zealand. 

The farming/horticulture industry has relied for the last few generations on using pesticides, leading to degraded soil systems and runoff poisoning our many rivers, lakes, and seas. In Auckland, which is a city built on fertile volcanic soil, if it rains our harbour turns brown due to rapid soil loss. The Government recently passed a 'Zero Carbon' bill, and a Healthy Waters regulation banning nitrate use on farms in a bid to clean up our waterways. This has farmers terrified. Extreme weather events are often viewed in the industry as a method of washing out the competition, but slowly they are seeing that there is not much longer this practice can be used to grow food. 

New Zealand will become even more viable as a place to live with the increase in extreme weather events for people in countries vulnerable to the many effects of climate change. Pressure will be put on the country to produce more food. But farmers are already under stress about having to radically improve and change their methods, often without any certainty about how to change, or what to do next. 

The cost of living in New Zealand's cities, especially Auckland, has skyrocketed in the last decade (houses can average $900,000 even in the poorest suburbs) people regularly can't afford to feed themselves and their family, where the most vulnerable often have a parent going without at least one meal a day. What is available in supermarkets is usually grown with pesticides and chemicals, lacking nutrients and freshness due to long storage times. It is also much cheaper to buy highly processed and packaged food, with fresh local produce often out of reach for poorer people.

As housing density and population growth intensifies, Aucklanders lack access to land for starting their own vegetable patches. Our soil systems are so degraded the country faces desertification unless we transition to methods of regenerative growing. Permaculture courses are prohibitively expensive for the average earner, and take up valuable time that people working more than one job don't have. Regenerative growing is not standardised or taught in tertiary institutions due to cuts in government funding to courses.

Along with climate change there is also rapid biodiversity loss of insects around the world, especially in cities where light pollution is rampant and there is lack of access to multi-species plants as a food source. This loss will naturally have a devastating effect on the food chain, and the ecosystem at large. Global monitoring of this is still largely academic, while scientists are urging anybody with innovations which might slow the decimation of insects to start right now. There are 28 species of native bees (ngaro huruhuru) in Aotearoa, which are the right size for pollinating many of our native plants. Our unique landscape is threatened the more we remove their foraging habitats.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The Urban Farmers Alliance will identify plots of land across Tāmaki Makaurau, both publicly and privately held, to establish no-till urban farms and local living compost hubs within walking distance of all urban communities. People in neighbourhoods and housing developments will be up-skilled and trained by the UFA in biology-first growing practices, and compost management. They will be guided and supported through grants from local Council, philanthropy, and Government to acquire resources to set up local urban farms following the OMG model. 

Already, local living compost hubs are being trailed in the city centre, established as a collaboration between business, council, and community group For the Love of Bees. They generate positive stories for businesses like restaurants who are learning how to manage their organic waste, and model for others in commercial precincts contributing to a holistic, interconnected system.

OMG makes its own compost, and uses diverse planting of multi crops (8 species in each bay) to grow food not only for humans, but for pollinators. This creates a foraging habitat for pollinators and attracts insects to green havens and corridors in the city. Locals will be offered vegetable box and organic waste collection subscription services, or in exchange for volunteer hours and time-banking where people are most vulnerable. Urban farmers learning the OMG model (for free) will be enabled to train other people and communities, spreading knowledge and resources for support throughout the city. 

In six months OMG sequestered 10 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, through photosynthesis (growing plants) and the carbon cycle (compost.) By adding 1% more carbon top soil to every farm in New Zealand, the country would be able to meet its carbon-neutral goals in one year. By increasing the amount of multi-species growing space to Auckland's urban landscape, we hope to show industry growers/farmers what they could be capable of: by rapidly transitioning their farms to regenerative, climate-change-ready growing, they will not only increase yields, but turn themselves into world leaders in solutions to a global environmental crisis. 

As interest in OMG rapidly increases, and the UFA responds to more and more frequent enquiries from farmers wanting to join or set up an urban farm in their neighbourhood, there is no better time to start rebuilding our soil systems and ecosystems than now. It takes only three years to transition even the most degraded soil system to regenerative practices, and connecting city-dwellers to small patches of land is the perfect way to begin showcasing what can be achieved on any scale.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By creating a network of growing and composting space, Tāmaki Makaurau will be rewilded as a biodiversity haven, and have activated urban spaces for people and insects to thrive. This network will look from above as a canopy, and at ground level, green walls, planted berms, small-scale plots of bays around abandoned infrastructure, and even the rooftops of our office buildings will welcome us to take a moment to reconnect with nature.

High-density housing will be built with arable land and a compost hub integrated into the design. A compost manager will be teaching residents how to manage their compost, and overseeing their progress. Each of these communities will be connected with UFA specialists, and residents up-skilled to deliver UFA training to other communities.

Families have a green space within walking distance to collect fresh produce from, where they can either pay a subscription fee every season for produce and to have their organic waste collected, or they will be able to trade skills for these services. People in marginalised and poor communities will have access to produce where, due to their proximity to the farm, they are the prioritised customer. Selling to locals keeps carbon miles low, and food security in the neighbourhood.

20 tonnes of carbon will be sequestered from the atmosphere every kilometre of the city each year. The regenerative practices of the farm network will set a positive example for rural growers to be able to follow, and provide a social network for them to lean on each other for advice and support about the transition.

Insects and pollinators will be thriving indicators of ecosystem wellbeing. The web of green spaces and corridors across the city provides diverse foraging habitats for them, and in turn, they enliven our food system. People in the city see the connection between themselves, the ecosystem, and their food, and take up a kaitiaki (guardianship) role in ensuring that it stays this way for every generation to come.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Urban farming delivers 11 climate-change-ready values: carbon draw-down, food & nutrition, security, biodiversity, nutrient recovery, local skills & jobs, community building, water conservation, cooling microclimates, land rehabilitation, air quality, optimism.

To establish an urban farm successfully, equal energy must be spent on developing a culture around it. For the Love of Bees has engaged systems-thinking to get OMG running, by integrating internationally recognised models like the CSA as part of the model. Vision holders do the storytelling across the network in order to make a snowball of enthusiasm a sustainable practice. By socialising urban farming we naturalise it as long-term infrastructure. Up-skilling a person to be a farmer takes just one year, harnessing enthusiasm and turning it into a social action.

Urban farms can exist on a variety of land types, including rooftops, on-street berms, and empty lots. The model scales up their size and production, but begins with simply revealing the potential of existing passive space, and transforming it into a piece of the network. 

The social enterprise element of urban farming means a site needs to produce food to sell, but the most important factor is that urban farming connects local people to their food, establishing a connection to the land it is grown on, and revealing a holistic system behind how we eat and what we put in the ground. Urban farms provide a space to witness this connection being made, and that moment of recognition becoming the spark for rapid behaviour change and environmental transformation.

Building productive communal green space into the standard design of developments indicates a shift of the paradigm from grey to green infrastructure. While these spaces rebuild soil systems, sequester carbon, and develop resilience and food security in communities, small plots of urban land are highly visible markers of a city working with nature, instead of over the top of nature. Every urban farm has multiple benefits which interconnect and reveal many opportunities for diverse people to get on board. They act as portals for a shift in cultural attitudes towards the environment and their food, when it becomes a new normal to buy produce hyper-locally, and to see the space and know the faces from where it is grown. 

The wellbeing benefits of green space in urban areas are significant, and often quantifiable. At OMG, volunteers regularly tell head farmer Levi that being on the land is the best part of their weeks- some have even said it’s saved their life. Every Tuesday morning OMG has 5 volunteers for the 7am vegetable harvest. Aside from produce, urban farms grow incredible communities of love, inclusiveness and diversity. The site is one where regeneration of belief, love, curiosity, and the connection to self, other, and planet is observed and felt every day. In Te Ao Māori, this is the ‘mauri’ of a place; it’s essence; and its wairua (spirit). To feel these two things strongly on a site- especially somewhere that is typically very disconnected from natural processes- is a sign of something special.

OMG has facilitated 2800 volunteer hours, and many new people stop by every day. It is a highly visible opportunity that businesses, university groups, kindergarteners, primary schools, high schools, and community groups have all spent time to come in and learn about, as well as lend a hand in the garden. This model of urban farm is they are open classrooms developing resources for the commons.

The beauty of farms in the city is a draw for tourism. Brooklyn Grange in New York is an example of the multiple uses an urban farm can have- with tours and eating experiences as well as being teaching sites. While the main function of urban farms is to provide a community with fresh, nutrient-rich food, they can also represent a progressive image of a city taking strong, meaningful action against climate change and insect biodiversity loss. Tourists also stay in places longer when they connect with a community and have an opportunity to learn from it. When Tāmaki Makaurau has an urban farm every 1km, the network will provide a wealth of touring experiences. It will be a learning adventure to bike around a suburb or region’s farm sites, and connect tourists to the diverse areas of the city. Greener cities generally increase people's wellbeing and lessen violence. 

Social enterprises that ensure local food security in urban areas (often food deserts,) close the loop of food production- coffee roasteries can offload their chaff to compost as a carbon source as well as purchasing the fresh produce grown in their compost. The OMG model has delivered many outcomes to the Symonds Street/Eden Terrace neighbourhood that can be replicated across the city, such as:
- Collaborating with 20 different chefs from some of Auckland’s finest and most well known restaurants including, Gemmayzee St, Lillius, Sid at the French Cafe, Ozone, Orphans Kitchen and Kazuya.
- Sold 943 kilos of produce of 56 different vegetable types to the value of $21,096.00
- Gave away another 500kg of produce to volunteers
- The farthest travelled to deliver food was 3.4 kilometres, as most customers are walking distance from the farm.
- Never packaging food in a single-use item. It is all harvested and delivered fresh, and customers bring their own containers.

And people are catching on at a rapid pace- the CSA launched at OMG at the end of 2019 was fully subscribed to within a month, with a couple of first-time subscribers buying a subscription to give away to a community member in need. By putting this out to the 3000+ strong instagram following to enter for the prize, the online community got involved and donated the subscription to a group of Māori artists. Auckland Council is encouraged by the significant wins of the model and are proposing for a second site further in the CBD to be established on Council-owned land. The Urban Farmers Alliance was created out of a collective of farms across the country wanting to share knowledge, data collection resources, support, and joy to be found in taking action. It receives enquiries every day from people all around the country asking how they can get started.

A city challenged with the climate crisis, insect species decimation and biodiversity loss, food insecurity, and poverty, can also be the quickest place to turn the paradigm on its head. By using its closeness and small patches of empty and green space, the city is the perfect place to establish small-scale farming, and become a leader for the entire country to see solutions rather than just problems. Every person living in Tāmaki Makaurau has the capacity to be a part of this new system, and they are beginning to see it happen right now.

Urban Farming succeeds when it is socialised. The Urban Farmers Alliance was created around people working together and sharing knowledge, standardising regenerative, biology-first growing practices through a network of support. It is self-funded and mentors 36+ growers and 34+ composters, making access to collective knowledge right at their fingertips. This network is quickly allowing practitioners to gain confidence and learn complex biological systems in the field. For the Love of Bees has been celebrating communities who come together to learn, by employing the bee as a lens that wakes up hearts and reminds us how to collaborate.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (1)


OMG's video announcing its CSA, reflecting the popularity and joy of the site in its community. We want this to be happening every 1km in Tāmaki Makaurau.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Charlotte Billing  Great to see you joining the Prize!

We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.

You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit:

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.