Kelmarna Organic City Farm is a community garden mainstay in central Auckland - a small farming, food-growing and healing idyll. The Herne Bay garden adjoins Cox's Bay Reserve and for the past 22 years has been managed and cared for by staff and clients of mental health provider Framework Trust.
The lease is held by Kelmarna Community Garden Trust and the land belongs to the Auckland Council. But the management of the gardens is up in the air at present, as Framework is not renewing its sublease.
Framework chief executive Dr Colin Hayes says the shift in thinking is related to developments in mental health practice and policy.
Since the announcement in November, Hayes says that staff at Framework have focused on assisting those involved in the gardens to "explore options" and "transition to other community opportunities" run by Framework or other organisations.
Michael Graham-Stewart, trustee of Kelmarna Community Garden Trust, says that to a small group of people the gardens are like a second home and people had strong connections with it.
But he also sees this as an opportunity for new groups to get involved and for some fresh ideas. A staff member will manage the gardens in the transition.
Gardens on a mission
The 1.7ha site was originally grazing land that belonged to the Catholic church nearby. Now owned by the Auckland Council, the vege and fruit gardens occupy half a hectare. The rest is still in paddocks, leased by the farmer at Mt Albert Grammar School. The building now used as a lunchroom was once a milking shed run by the nuns.
The organic vege gardens were established in 1981 by Paul Lagerstedt and were a forerunner for other urban community gardens, providing the public with an excellent working model of organic gardening principles.
Kelmarna Organic City Farm is certified through Organic Farm NZ and is a biodiverse food-growing model. Organic fruit, veges and herbs are grown, and the surplus is sold from a small shop. It also has a chook house and beehives. It appeared on the TV show Topp Country last year, when the healing, family atmosphere of the gardens was clear to see.
Hayes says Framework supported its clients at the gardens through what was essentially a "drop-in centre" type of service, which "combined consumer care, organic and gardening skills". Framework is now focusing on tailored programmes for individuals and smaller groups to meet a "wider variety of needs".
A book on the history of the gardens is almost complete, researched and written by trustee Dr Mary Paul and gardener Adrian Roche.
Looking to the future
Michael Graham-Stewart says this is the beginning of a new era. They would like to consult with the community about the future of the gardens and are open to new ideas.
But the trustees are realistic and mindful of the medium to long term. They don't want to "entertain pipe-dreams", as the realities of running a site like this involves stable funding and a lot of hard work. Whoever takes on the garden will need at least a couple of paid staff plus reliable volunteers.
He would love to see more families making use of the gardens, and sees it as a beautiful place to take time out from city life.
I lived in a flat on Kelmarna Ave where, from our deck, we had glimpses of grassy fields with cows. Their paddock adjoins the main gardens and Coxs Bay Reserve. A favourite walk with our dogs over the years is still to head through Coxs Bay and up to Kelmarna to get a country fix. Green spaces like these are needed in urban areas. School children get a taste of the country and get to see how food is grown, and perhaps become inspired to pick up a trowel and get digging.
The gardens have been an inspiration for me and many other organic gardeners in Auckland and beyond. They provide a therapeutic healing space where clients grow and share food. They are a stable place in a fast-moving world and I hope whoever takes the garden on next will continue on in that vein.
• Public meeting: Kelmarna Community Garden Trust is keen to gather ideas and support from those interested in the future of the gardens. A public meeting will be held at the Grey Lynn Community Centre on January 29 from 5.30 to 7pm.
• For more info: email firstname.lastname@example.org
The gardens are open from 10am to 3pm and will be part of the Heroic Garden Festival on February 14 and 15.
• Visit: 12 Hukanui Cres, Herne Bay.