My aunt has been growing food and feeding the family for decades and my grandmother's garden was entirely given over to food crops. As a child we had token ‘hobby gardens' and as adults, we do not own our home, so we do not have a vegetable garden, as is the case for so many 21st century families. However, over the last two or three years, edible gardens have been enjoying a quiet renaissance, and not so much on an individual level, as with the community. The individual allotment is embracing the group garden approach, where the garden community takes joint responsibility for joint crops. Where cities were once infilling every scrap of urban land with housing, now it is being reclaimed by the community for food gardens. Havana in Cuba is a successful example of this.
The UK's National Trust is now giving over land for use as community gardens. New Zealand has a slightly different food growing culture, in that most NZ homes still retain vegetable and fruit gardens. However, with rising food prices, and a lack of ‘growing knowledge', these are often insufficient to feed the household. Although several cities have community gardens, many smaller towns do not; but as the recession bites, this phenomenon is gaining pace all over the globe.
Queenstown is one of them. There were two of us, new to Queenstown, both in rental homes and both passionate about community gardens. In a transient town of rental homes and shared houses, where sections are small, steep and south facing, growing food crops is difficult. Thus we decided that there would be a demand for a community garden, if not now, certainly in the future, as high food prices and concerns over food safety continue to gain pace.
We started with a public meeting, advertised in local papers and on the radio, inviting interested people to attend. Around twenty people turned up, some local residents, some commercial growers and some with skills to donate to the group. The meeting revealed that there was a demand for a garden in Queenstown, Arrowtown, and Frankton, but the only forthcoming offer of land was from a landowner with land a 15 minute drive from town.
For some this was an unacceptable distance, but being our only offer, and a free, large and organic paddock, with a derelict polytunnel, a small steering group decided it would be an ideal place to start the project. Being equidistant between the three settlements, it could eventually form a ‘hub garden', once a smaller network of gardens was established.
In order to form a contract with the landowner, as well as apply for funding and land, we needed to be a legally recognised entity, so over the course of three months, ‘Harvest Community Gardens Network Inc' was formed; an incorporated society and not-for-profit organisation.
We formed a website and discussion forum and set to work deciding what to plant and when. The landowner, himself committed to permaculture principles, ploughed the land in strips, with small grass paths between, tracing around a small hill, to ensure that water is caught and retained in each ‘bed'.
Next, a working bee was arranged with an agenda to rake over a ‘test bed', set up a watering system, plant summer produce, and get to know each other over a beer. With the group donating and planting seedlings, fruit bushes and herbs, over the course of a month, the bed was full. The landowner agreed to water it over summer, but with a plan to reclaim a length of perforated pipe from a local vineyard, and to fit a timer. Over the next few months, members simply dropped in when passing, to tidy up, plant more produce, weed and harvest, but always with the philosophy of leaving enough for the next person. January saw a ‘weeding bee' and the group reformed after Christmas to weed and harvest lettuce, onions, herbs and potatoes, to cook a group lunch.
Now, with the growing season over, the steering group have some plans for the coming months. Our aims are to boost our funds by applying for local grants and arranging and participating in local fundraising events such as farmers markets and festivals. Some funds will be used to refurbish the polytunnel and raise seedlings to sell at the spring markets, and to improve fencing and install the irrigation system. We are also applying to the local Council to establish our first ‘networked' garden, which will require more infrastructure to get it up and running for spring.
We started with nothing, but by being a genuine and dedicated group of people, we have received many in-kind donations from the local community, from offers of land to free marketing. As we integrate ourselves further into the community, we can build relationships with local businesses and Council, which will assist us in making this project a successful community facility, where anyone can have a piece of land and some support to grow their own food, and feed themselves for nothing.
Other great articles on Celsias:
Chicks in the City: Why You Need Chickens in Your Backyard
The Wicked Cool World of Organics - Edition 7
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