Latest garden project gets go ahead

Gardening clubs are reporting five-fold membership increases as locals choose to grow-their-own vegetables and combat soaring supermarket prices.

The news comes as the area's latest community garden project, at Mount Maunganui's May St Reserve, is given the green light by Tauranga City Council.

Jane Powell, a sustainable backyard gardening expert, said the trend towards self-sufficiency was gathering momentum. Mrs Powell is a member of OOOBY (Out of Our Own Backyard), a community-focused organisation started by Pete Russell in Auckland in 2008 and based on locally-grown produce. "OOOBY took Auckland by storm and has spread all over the country," she said.

Tauranga's group meets monthly in a different member's backyard and has seen a rapid rise in numbers.

"I've seen a huge increase in interest in sustainability. People want to know where their food comes from and to get it as locally as possible. A couple of years ago there were 10 members of OOOBY now there are nearly 50."

Mrs Powell, who lives in Papamoa, said cost was a key consideration.

"Costs are high anyway but with the rising cost of oil it all bumps up the food prices. So if people can grow it themselves all the better."

She said the most popular crops to start with were "basics" such as potatoes, pumpkins, peas, beans, courgettes, beetroot and salad greens.

"The soil is the most important thing. If you haven't got good nutrients in your soil then you will struggle."

The rewards were clear to see said Mrs Powell.

"Take a courgette. Out of season you can be paying up to $2 per courgette and about $3 per kilogram in season. But you can buy one plant and it will go for most of the summer and produce seven times that amount. One plant can produce up to 20 courgettes and possibly more."

Mrs Powell advised novice growers to get involved with a community garden. There are a number of community gardens operating in Tauranga, including sites in Merivale, Bayfair and Otumoetai.

Anne Gourley is the garden co-ordinator at Otumoetai Community Garden. The garden, which has 58 raised individual plots, was opened at the Otumoetai Railway Reserve in 2010.

"There has been a huge increase in the number of people growing their own vegetables," said Mrs Gourley.

"Our reason for doing it in the first place was to make achievable gardening for everyday people and we see that all the time.

"People come down and they go home inspired. People are always telling us how they're doing with their own gardens and what they're doing. That's one of the things I love most."

The garden is modelled on the English allotment style.

"People rent the plots for $20 a month. They are 1.5m wide by 4.5m long and have very good quality soil in them. For their money, they get access to seedlings and seeds, compost top-ups for their garden and fertilisers but we try to use as many organic alternatives as possible."

Mrs Gourley said the rise in popularity was partly due to the high cost of shop-bought food.

"People are trying to make ends meet more efficiently. But there's also a whole move towards sourcing produce locally, organic foods and knowing what's in your food. They're all combining to make vegetable gardening a jolly good idea.

"The cost savings are considerable. The kilograms of produce which have gone out of the garden since we started is absolutely massive."

Brian Dey is vice-president of Mount Maunganui Lions Club, the organisation behind the new community garden in Mount Maunganui.

"We have admired greatly what has been achieved at Otumoetai and we think we can do something similar on our side of the city," he said.

The gardens' organisers were handed a "Licence to Occupy" the May St Reserve site by the city council on Monday. They will hold a public meeting on September 30, at 3pm, in the May St Reserve Scout Hall "to establish the plan going forward".

The gardens will feature 40 raised plots and operate along similar lines to Otumoetai.

Mr Dey said it was hard to talk of deadlines for opening but "a goal would be to have it operational well before Christmas".

He called on the community to help make this happen.

"We are seeking resources which include timber for the construction of the raised beds, top-soil, tools, wheelbarrows and a lockable shed. Anyone who is able to help is asked to contact Brian Dey on 07 575 8661."

Mr Dey said the gardens would be "an asset to the community" and predicted they would be "very well used".

- Bay of Plenty Times

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