Eco-friendly designer gets best from nature

By Rebecca Malcolm

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INNOVATOR: Envirohub Bay of Plenty sustainable backyards connector Melanie Cameron's connection with the environment started when she was young, and included winning an Auckland science fair award for inventing a stormwater drain filter which removed rubbish and contaminants from road drains before they could enter streams and waterways.PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
INNOVATOR: Envirohub Bay of Plenty sustainable backyards connector Melanie Cameron's connection with the environment started when she was young, and included winning an Auckland science fair award for inventing a stormwater drain filter which removed rubbish and contaminants from road drains before they could enter streams and waterways.PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

Tell us about yourself?

I am a landscape architect and have two children, Ruby, 6 and Leroy, 4. My husband and I moved to Rotorua two years ago. I love trail running, organic gardening, wholefood cooking and Playcentre.

What made you interested in sustainability and why do you think others should be interested, too?

I think my connection with the environment started when I was young. My family lived near the beach and we would play and swim there most days.

We also did a lot of family bush walks, which I loved. I have always been passionate about conserving and protecting the environment.

At a young age I won an award at the Auckland science fair for inventing a stormwater drain filter which removed any rubbish and contaminants from the road drains before they could enter streams and waterways.

We need to protect and enhance our environment, otherwise there will be nothing left for future generations to enjoy.

How have your views on gardening and landscaping changed over the years?

Originally I wanted to be an architect, however after completing my first year of a bachelor of architecture I felt somewhat disillusioned as, back then, the focus was on the object [building] and didn't consider the site.

I then discovered landscape architecture which is a fusion between open space, the built environment and ecology.

Over the years my focus has changed from designing minimalist landscapes with straight lines and clean edges and using a limited plant palette to holistic inclusive design, designing with nature rather than trying to control it.

If families could do one thing at home to be more sustainable, what would it be and why?

Recycle. I find it disheartening driving around the streets on rubbish collection day and seeing three or four bags of rubbish sitting on the kerb outside a small house. We have an amazing recycling centre, I just wish more people would use it.

What would be the three things you think everyone should try growing in their backyard and what are your best tips?

Silverbeet, kale and spinach would be the top three easy-to-grow vegetables if you have limited space. They are hardy in all seasons and can be eaten raw in salads and smoothies, and also cooked.

I would also definitely grow potatoes and pumpkin if you have a little more room, they are generally easy to grow, have a large crop and store well.

Have you always been interested in gardening or is it a new-found interest?

I have always had a small vegetable garden wherever I have lived. I find it satisfying popping out to pick something to add to my cooking.

Last year I completed a certificate in organic horticulture, which inspired me to become more self-sufficient and grow my own chemical-free and nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables.

Why is it important people pass the interest on to younger generations?

In this digital age, some young people are becoming removed from nature. This is a concern as there is a lot of research that draws a connection between the natural environment and our mental well-being.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, believes children spending time in nature are also more creative and emotionally stable. Our children are our future environmental advocates, they need to be surrounded by nature from a young age to develop that strong connection. Vegetable growing not only teaches children where our food comes from, it is rewarding and, importantly, helps create that bond with nature.

Do you think there's been an increase in people wanting to plant vegetable gardens and know where their food is coming from?

I definitely believe people are becoming more aware about what is in their packaged food but they don't necessarily understand where their "fresh" produce is coming from, how it is grown, harvested and stored.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables, or consuming certified organic food, guarantees you are eating chemical-free food that is from a sustainable source and is typically fair trade and animal friendly.

Tell us three things others might not know about you?

I am left-handed, I have let my pumpkin plants overtake my garden, my house and my back lawn. I have size 11 feet.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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