From growing bush tucker to sharing Indigenous knowledge, every work day is different for First Nations horticulturist Brenden Moore.
A proud Biripi man from the north coast of NSW, part of his job with the Botanic Gardens of Sydney is to grow and connect people through plants.
“Anybody can do it,” he says of urban agriculture.
“Horticulture is a connection to country and it’s nice to be able to share that and pass that knowledge on.”
Mr Moore is one of 65 speakers sharing their knowledge at the Urban Agriculture Forum being held in Sydney and the Illawarra this weekend.
His job has seen him plant everywhere from schools to prisons, while growing a vegetable and herb garden with children at Darlington in Sydney is one of the projects he’s most proud of.
Produce from the garden was used in the school canteen where students could then help to make and eat their work.
Mr Moore’s work connects people through plants while teaching them about First Nations culture.
“The knowledge that I share is the Indigenous use of Australian native plants that have been here for thousands of years,” he said.
“I see gardening as a piece of art, you could be part of it, or you could do it but you’re getting something from it.”
The event is trying to work out ways to grow Australia’s community garden network.
There are currently 800 registered gardens across Australia, up from 600 pre-COVID, while Community Gardens Australia says that number could be as high as 2400.
“We’ve got rooftops and fabulous different types of watering systems, there’s vertical gardens, we can be growing food everywhere in our cities,” the group’s Naomi Lacey said.
The permaculturalist, who is passionate about promoting healthy food systems, has been keen to tap into First Nations knowledge.
“We have got the world’s oldest living culture living amongst us that have been growing and managing their own food for over 60,000 years,” Ms Lacey said.
“We want as much knowledge as we can get to manage a changing climate. We need to be able to feed ourselves.”
The forum is also drawing on knowledge from other countries, with urban agriculture projects from the American cities of Dallas, Denver and Detroit also being showcased.
In Denver, a city of around 700,000, more than 200 community gardens and 20 community food forests have been planted.
By comparison Melbourne is more than five times the population and has around the same amount of gardens.
Denver has one of the largest independent community garden organisations in the US.
The program relies on around 20,000 volunteer gardeners to grow almost 300,000 kilograms of food a year, while its annual budget is more than $3 million.
“Gardeners rent plots for the season, and those 20,000 gardeners are growing food for themselves and their families,” Linda Appel Lipsuis, the head of Denver Urban Gardens, told AAP.
Ms Appel Lipsuis says part of the program’s success can be put down to an effective funding model, and paid administrative staff who track gardening activity.
“It takes the administrative management out of the hands of the garden leaders so they can focus on building community and growing food,” she said.
Nick Rose from the Sustain Food Network says Australia has a long way to go when it comes to developing urban agriculture.
“The benefits are less understood, it’s regarded as niche and hobby, and there’s not the frameworks in place to support it,” he said.
Mr Rose says a lack of support at a local, state and federal level is in part why Australia is behind the rest of the world.
“We’re very enthusiastic and there is huge participation and commitment, but in terms of actual co-ordination and realising the potential of this sector, we’ve got a fair way to go.”
The urban agriculture event will explore how the volume of food grown in cities and towns across Australia can be increased.
And with a recent report by Foodbank Australia showing food insecurity is on the rise with a third of all households struggling, Mr Rose believes all options to increase agricultural supply need to be firmly on the table.
“We’ve got no planning frameworks that specifically mention urban agriculture and prioritise it as a land use,” he said.
“We haven’t got the funding in place … they’re all volunteer-driven.”