Community Gardens

Written by Changing Habits

May 19, 2010

I love to see articles like this.  Oh to have a community vege garden on the huge round about in my street.  Not only would it be a place to meet the neighbours but to have a bountiful healthy vege patch.

It is a community garden in Marrickville modestly nicknamed the Vegie Patch, but it produces a range of produce to rival the local greengrocer.Working with her neighbours, Michele Margolis coaxes pawpaw, bananas, coffee, plums, figs, chillis, rocket, potatoes, rhubarb, garlic and more out of the plot behind the Addison Road Community Centre.

“It’s more than just fiddling around in the garden, it’s about re-learning those skills our grandparents had,” she said.
Concern about the environmental impacts of industrial farming and food miles led Ms Margolis to get involved. Her neighbourhood garden even built a seed bank so gardeners do not have to buy commercial seeds.

The garden is unfenced, meaning theft can and sometimes does occur. ”Nothing would stop someone from clearing the garden out for their dinner party but they would need to know some good recipes involving mostly basil, coriander and silverbeet at this particular time in the season,” Ms Margolis joked.But she said of the people who pass by ”99 per cent have respect for what we are doing and one hopes the rest would be guided by personal ethics”.

In the past, councils may have turned a blind eye to a handful of residents digging up a patch of nature strip or corners of parks to grow food. But research showing the health and social benefits of such activities is motivating more councils to promote organised community gardens.

Resurgent interest in the gardens is being driven by awareness of climate change and health concerns, says Russ Grayson, from the Community Garden Network.

While an accurate city-wide count of gardens is hard, shared plots are increasingly popular in inner-city areas low on backyards. There are two new gardens in the North Sydney council area; six in Marrickville; 10 in Leichhardt and 13 in the City of Sydney, with a new one in Redfern set to break ground during winter.

The figures include school gardens, public housing plots and pocket parks where residents organise collectively to grow food.

“Community gardens give city residents, particularly children, a chance to dig and plant and watch things grow,” the lord mayor, Clover Moore, said.

“It’s very therapeutic for city people to be able to get dirt under their fingernails.”

The City of Sydney Council is among those that have recently created a community gardening policy to formalise rules for council land use and to offer guidance and grants to motivated groups.

People get involved in community gardens for a range of reasons, Mr Grayson said, including teaching children where food comes from, a desire for pesticide-free food and for the camaraderie of working with neighbours.

Clare Blakemore has been working to start a community garden on a vacant lot in Dulwich Hill with the support of the council. To apply for grants to help pay for water tanks and start-up costs, her group is considering incorporating, and they will charge a small membership fee to cover costs including insurance.

“There’s just so much more involved than we thought at the outset,” she said. “But I’ve got to know so many people in the neighbourhood.”

Source: Kelsey Munro Urban Affairs, May 15, 2010

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