Beautiful things are quietly blooming over in Ashhurst. The public library there is a charming, very old building. Slip through the gate in the picket fence and you find the ramp up to the library surrounded by gardens. Brownies planted out the flower garden while the 6- and 7-year-olds in the local Keas club chose and planted the fruit trees. Theres also an array of herbs, all meticulously labelled.
All this and more happens under the banner of RECAP, the Society for the Resilience and Engagement of the Community of Ashhurst and Pohangina. It was founded in 2010 and is now a registered charity.
Any local over 15 can join; there are no membership fees.
Ashhurst also has LEAP, a local economy project that runs a community market, has its own currency and publishes a business directory.
Sharon Stevens is a thoughtfully spoken American who came to New Zealand with her family in 2005. She took up a senior lecturer position at Massey and they chose to settle in Ashhurst. She and her husband Phil were instrumental in establishing both RECAP and LEAP.
RECAP attracts funding not just because it provides education but because of its cooperative nature, says Mrs Stevens. Increasing peoples sense of connection is a key goal. RECAP has created a space for people with an interest in living more sustainably to meet and befriend like-minded people.
The Olssons Community Orchard in McCraes Bush was one of RECAPs early projects. The first plantings happened in the winter of 2012 and the trees are well established now. The orchard is reached along a meandering path through the regenerating bush; we stop while Sharon ducks off to check on a rata she planted as part of Project Crimson.
The gardens that wrap around the library followed, although it took a long while to reach agreement with the council: RECAP wanted no chemical sprays to be used. The Palmerston North Council was supportive, says Mrs Stevens, but it took time. It illustrates her patience, her capacity to cheerfully persist.
As well as the herb and flower beds, there are a number of small fruit trees and raised beds growing vegetables, including perennials. Chilean guavas are growing up to eventually replace a high fence, so that schoolkids can graze on their little fruits as they walk home from school. A line of feijoas already offers some shelter from wind.
It doesnt produce a huge amount of food, says Mrs Stevens, but they are primarily teaching gardens and a lot of different techniques are on display. Many of the fruit trees are beautifully, painstakingly espaliered, a useful way to grow highly productive trees in small backyards.
Ian Stark is the main volunteer at the library gardens and the tools coordinator, sourcing the tools needed for RECAPs projects. Other volunteers also lend a hand, but Mr Stark brings a vital continuity to the care of the gardens. There are times the gardens would have foundered without him.
Mr Stark, whos retired, didnt have an email address when he got involved - so Mrs Stevens would bike to his house to deliver fliers about upcoming activities. Now he has developed his computer skills such that he uses email and has a cellphone, and is on the RECAP board.
Its not about heroes. Phil and I couldnt make this happen on our own, says Mrs Stevens.
She committed to being its chair for no more than three years. There has been a deliberate succession plan, the heart of which is offering education, from one-off workshops to a permaculture design certificate run over two years. Thats still led by by the Stevenses and they are on the planning team, but Sharon Stevens is no longer on the board. Its exciting - sometimes I dont know about a new project until I read about it in the paper.
The events, workshops and volunteer opportunities offered by RECAP have increased skills and confidence in the community. For instance, there are more vegetable gardens and a burgeoning growers co-op is delivering fresh fruit and vegetables from backyards to market each month.
It was a long 26 days between the general election and a decision on the next Government. A day in Ashhurst did much to cheer me up: its a vibrant example of the good that can happen when people commit to working together.
The next community market is on November 11, 10am-1pm.
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