Eating local can be easier said than done if you live in an urban environment, but with the cost of food going through the roof, many of us are looking to our own back yards to ease the burden.
But what if you don't have a back garden or you just don't know where to start? Gardening can be a bit like a new fitness regime, very hard to do at home alone but much easier in a group. Community gardens are springing up all over the country with locals banding together in schools, reserves, and even in private back yards. Many of the gardens are started out of a desire to grow good healthy food, but the desire to meet other members of our community is also motivating community gardeners.
Anna Subritzky started the Waterview Community garden two years ago to bring the community closer together and to meet other local food enthusiasts in the area. Over and above the food production, which can sometimes be patchy, the greatest benefit to Anna and her family is the regular contact with other families from the neighbourhood: "Even if you get absolutely no vegetables out whatsoever people still show up because of the social aspect. You get to know your community, your kids meet other kids and you talk and pretty soon you're catching up with old friends," she says. "It feels very much like a village garden club."
The Waterview Community garden is in the grounds of the Waterview Primary School, but finding usable space to start a community garden can be a challenge. Darren Millington, a community garden co-ordinator from Eco Matters Trust says usable space and getting a long term commitment from gardeners can be one of the biggest challenges, along with funding. Luckily, gardening doesn't require a lot of outlay to get started and comes down to what you can find at hand, however some funding is available from council. With many gardens established already finding and joining one could be easy.
The Sustainable Living Centre in New Lynn is a well-established community garden with excellent facilities.
The centre charges a small fee of $20 per six months which includes access to tools, compost and compost facilities, seedlings and seed raising mix and of course, the plot. It also boasts a food forest, an assortment of orchard trees from which the gardeners are also welcome to harvest. Centre manager Meg Liptrot says the gardeners tend to come in and out at different times, unlike the Waterview garden which meets at a designated time.
Meg says the gardeners are a little bit competitive and the plots take on the persona of the individuals. With all community gardens, the big plus seems to be the sense of community that gardeners experience while tending their plots, and for Meg this also means a growing awareness of the Sustainable Living Centre and its goals.
Scott Thiemann from CCS Disability Action Community Gardens co- ordinates gardeners of all abilities and backgrounds to help with his project; it is no longer a segregated service for disabled people. Scott offers popular Master Gardening courses and runs a shop that sells surplus produce and seedlings.
Ironically, perhaps the biggest challenge for community gardens (aside from finding a suitable piece of land) is maintaining a regular commitment from its members. With our busy work and personal lives, eking out an hour for the local community garden project once a week can be a challenge. However it seems the community ties it helps to establish and build are a soothing balm to our modern lives. It may be a commitment well worth making.
Shared back yards:
CCS Disability Action Community Gardens, 14 Erson Ave, Royal Oak. Ph. 09 625 9811
Sustainable Living Centre, 4 Olympic Place, New Lynn Ph: 09 826 0555, email@example.com
Waterview Community Garden meets Saturday mornings at Waterview Primary School, Oakley Ave entrance.
* Community gardens are now in Ranui and Millbrook Edible Gardens, Sunnyvale, Waitakere, Te Atatu Peninsula, Grey Lynn and Wilton Street, Grey Lynn, Mangere Community Gardens and Growing for Health Manukau, Devonport Community Garden and Waterview Community Garden.