Revisiting Christchurch in the first weeks of 2017 was, as always, a bittersweet experience.

It’s the first proper city I lived in, home to friends, family and the memories of my university days, and a place I no longer recognise as it rises, phoenix-like, out of the rubble and aftershocks of the February  2011 earthquake.

The highlight of going back is always the people who call Christchurch home.

This time, I also had the pleasure of being introduced to the Ōtākaro Orchard edible park project, which aims to weave food resilience into the fabric of the evolving Garden City. I took the chance to chat with Chloe Waretini, coordinator for the Food Resilience Network-led project.

Can you tell us what you have in mind with the Ōtākaro Orchard Project?

 A few days ago a new collaborator described the Orchard as ‘a hub for living well’ which really resonated with me. On the surface the project is an inner-city park that grows lots of food, plus a building with a cafe, office and event space, but the reason it’s being created is that in order for the world to be a place where both humans and the natural environment can thrive, we need to start living differently, and building our cities differently too.

We need to be more closely connected with our communities and to our impact on the earth. Food is something with such rich culture and sociality to it, and how we eat has a huge impact on the world we’re creating. So creating urban projects like Ōtākaro Orchard, where people can experience a regenerative food culture, is both important and exciting.

It’s aiming to be NZ’s first urban food hub — what is this and why is it needed?

Food hubs have been popping up in cities all around the world as local food movements grow. They exist as facilities to connect the efforts of different actors in the system to increase collective impact and lower the barriers to initiatives getting going. What they look like differs from location to location — some are focussed as distribution hubs, others for food processing.

The core function ours will have is on public engagement so we’ve designed the garden and building to be hugely inviting! We’ll have a social enterprise cafe, a new HQ for the Canterbury Horticultural Society, who have been growing in Christchurch for over 150 years, a local food information centre and event spaces. The garden will be a peaceful urban oasis, as well as a significant educational resource.

What needs to happen to make an orchard arise from its current foundations of rubble?

 We’re almost through with our detailed designs for both the garden and the building so the key thing now is resourcing. This is approached in a holistic way that continues to develop a community around the project. So rather than trying to resource the whole project through philanthropic money, we’re engaging our community through a crowdfunding campaign, forming deals with suppliers and contractors as in-kind sponsors to reduce the cash cost of the project, and meeting with local groups and businesses each week who want to be involved.

An artist's impression of the Ōtākaro Orchard edible park

An artist’s impression of the Ōtākaro Orchard edible park

 Where did the idea and impetus needed to launch this project come from and who now stands behind the orchard?

 In 2010 and 2011 Christchurch was hit with a series of huge earthquakes which devastated our city. Lives were lost, severely interrupted and most of the city centre is having to be rebuilt. This has been a huge tragedy for the city, but also an enormous opportunity to upgrade our built infrastructure in response to the question ‘how do we want and need to live better in the 21st Century?’. Creating a ‘food resilient’ city has emerged as a key theme – being a place where each person has access to the fresh, healthy food they need to live well.

The Food Resilience Network, with strong links to government, business, education and grassroots groups, is the organisational vehicle for this. Our membership recognised the need for a high-profile hub in the city centre to give this movement prominence in the ‘new Christchurch’ and the government granted us an amazing site to create it on.

How does this fit into the vision of a so-called “Edible Garden City”?

Christchurch was designed as a Garden City – an urban planning model conceived in the early 20th Century to provide a healthier place for people to live – combatting the ills of industrial pollution through the provision of lots of green and recreational space. Now when you think about the urban crises we face 100 years later, so much is related to how we eat. So Christchurch now has the vision to be the ‘best Edible Garden City in the world’. A city that can feed itself, with our parks being significant assets for that.

In order to see this, and potentially, further urban orchards thrive in Christchurch, what are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome?

If we’re to have a whole lot more food growing in public space in the city, then there are some significant barriers to overcome. Right now our parks system is set up to need low maintenance and human input, so that the municipal parks department doesn’t need a lot of resources to manage them. An edible landscape is different — it requires much more human input to cultivate the crops, harvest and, of course, eat them!

The way it can work is through passing the management of that space over to communities. This is happening around the edges, but there’s still a long way to go in upskilling and engaging both our local communities and parks department in this way of thinking. We hope that the Ōtākaro Orchard will be a strong precedent and testing ground for this kind of a model.

If the Ōtākaro Orchard Project could connect with any org. or person then who/why?

Well, it would be lovely if we connected with someone who could help a lot with the resourcing of the project of course! There is a lot of momentum around it, but still a number of things which create uncertainty. The Rockefeller Foundation have their Resilient Cities programme and we’d love our project connected with that. But really it’s not about connecting with one person or org, but continuing to connect with a huge number and diversity of those who see value in what we’re creating and want to get involved.

You can learn more about the Ōtākaro Orchard Project and get involved here.


Chloe Waretini, of the Otakaro Orchard Project