5.GARDEN ACCESS AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY: GROWING GARDEN TRENDS; FOOD GARDENERS ALLIANCE; OPEN DAYS & COMMUNAL GARDENS
5.1 GROWING GARDEN TRENDS
School “kitchen gardens” and “public access community gardens” were found; along with permaculture and therapeutic gardens; to be in a healthy state of growth. Equally strong was an availability of educational opportunities for the home and communal gardener; innovative new projects which are turning home produce gardens into communally shared spaces; a variety of organisationand community partnerships, broader sustainable living campaigns including food growing, as well as increased local and bioregional garden networks.
5.2 FOOD GARDENERS ALLIANCE
The Food Gardeners Alliance (FGA) held a large public meeting at Brunswick Town Hall early on in the data collection phase of this project. The forum provided an overview of my research topic not to be missed, with garden experts David Holmgren (Permaculture), Clive Blazey (Digger’s Heritage Seeds), Jane Edmunson (Gardening Australia), and Helen Tuton (Sustainable Gardening Australia).
The issues raised in these key speeches were echoed through interview and email questionnaire responses. FGA is “an alliance of horticulturists, educators, home and community gardeners, (to) support the rights of all Victorians to grow their own food locally. For the environment, our health and the community.” (Food Gardeners Alliance, 2008). Many people active in FGA member organisations were consulted for this research.
5.3 OPEN DAYS
Being the season of spring, there were many garden open days which provided an opportunity to witness the community’s connection to the gardens in action, and enabled particular access to school kitchen gardens.
Open days ranged from the Gardening Australia expo at Caulfield Racecourse, to the Fringe Festival “Fringe Garden Event, occurring on the same day at the Richmond Lennox Street ‘Happy New Life’ Community Garden. Tellingly, large problems brought up by Peter Cundall at the Gardening Australia expo were mirrored by discussions at the community garden’s “Future of Melbourne Food Forum”, and suggested that the fringe concern over community food security has already moved into more mainstream home gardener dialogues.
The Gardening Australia expo also offered a summary of waterwise products on the market, from water tanks to hydroponic and aquaculture solutions. There were plenty of food and herb plant and seed stalls offering a chance for the broader community to gain more plant diversity for their gardens
The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Foundation was also having open days across its 20 participating schools in Melbourne and some rural areas. Founding school Collingwood College was visited on its open day to see a vibrant school garden with an equally vibrant school community. The Kevin Heinze Garden Centre Open Day offered the chance for the public to purchase plants at little cost, and see the community gardens and raised access garden beds in a festival atmosphere. The Stonington Council’s Spring into Gardening festival was also attended, as was a meeting of Ivanhoe Garden Club, with several members participating in the research.
5.4 COMMUNAL GARDENS
Community gardens were a big focus in this research due to an inclusive consideration of community. School kitchen gardens and local public access community gardens were able to be visited significantly, and this in itself suggests a strong existence on the landscape. Numerous respondents cited community and school gardens as a driver of sustainable self sufficient gardening in the broader community.
Cultivating Community was the most commonly cited reference by research participants. Toni Phillips explains that “Either for school or community gardens, a lot of people come here because they haven’t heard of others like Cultivating Community. I refer them to Cultivating Community, as is their whole reason for being.” They are known for the community gardens at inner-city public housing estates, but they also have involvement in an array of self sufficient garden activities.
Mike Bicker offered this overview of the organisation: “Our roles at Cultivating Community include: a developer of new gardens by conducting community consultations, facilitating garden design, coordinating garden construction; a supporter and advisor to plot-holders in community gardens; a supporter to schools which are implementing, or planning to implement, a school garden; an advisor to local government on food security issues such as food networks and an implementer of activities, such as community markets, which aim to reduce food insecurity.”
Natasha Van Velzen explained that “Cultivating Community has always been about the grassroots…Our motto is more gardening, more often”
Olympic Park Primary School Community Garden offers a multiple use model, incorporating the primary school, the local community, refugees, Adult Education Centre horticulture courses and kids from different schools with special needs. Rose also explained that “highly disabled people are able to work under supervision in the garden, and they work so well with the kids.” Mural artwork was also provided by street kids.
Rose Cellestin explained that the “garden was built from nothing.” As well as its inclusive community approach, the garden offers a place for the local maintenance of food plant diversity, as does the Dig-In Seed Savers network connected to the Dig-In Community Garden in Port Melbourne. Pines Patch Community Garden has garden beds for varied purposes too, with a resident setting up a permaculture demonstration garden.
Funding is an issue for the continued success of community and school based gardens. A few respondents commented on the ease sporting associations received funding from government grants in comparison to their efforts developing community and school gardens for local food security.