June 25, 2010

Enough community gardens? Not quite

There are three community gardens in the Eastern Suburbs, one in each of the council areas participating in the 3-Council Ecological Footprint Program.

Randwick Community Organic Garden is the oldest of these. It made its start back in 1994 as the result of a Permaculture Design Course run at the old Randwick Community Centre by the Pacific-Edge team of educators. The Centre manager, now a social entrepreneur in Brunswick Heads, wanted a community garden to ‘green’ the centre, which she envisioned as a leading Eastern Suburbs venue for sustainability.

That Community Centre has now moved further along Bundock Street to premises presently being retrofitted through a state government grant to demonstrate energy and water efficiency, to provide an educational venue around those topics and to house the soon-to-be PIG — the Permaculture Interpretive Garden. The community garden has moved too, about three and a half years ago, to Payne Reserve at the end of Botany Street where it provides not only fresh food for many of its 80+ members but food garden education as well. Even the City of Sydney attests to the garden’s educational value by routing its periodic bus tours of community gardens out to it, even though it is distant from its local government area.

Making their start in more recent times has been the Waverley Community Garden at Bondi Junction and, most recently, the Paddington Community garden in the Woollahra local government area.


Enough community gardens? Not quite

Surely, you ask, these are enough community gardens to satisfy demand in the urban east? Well, no. Randwick and Waverley might have a community garden each but now there’s demand for more. Community gardening, it seems, is taking off. That’s the experience of the City of Sydney and Marrickville Council, too. Demand is increasing as people seek new approaches to creative recreation, to source locally grown fresh food and the opportunity to meet and cooperate with others.

For councils, providing community gardening space should be like providing space for other recreational pursuits such as sports. Councils approach this demand for community gardening space in different ways and one of these that is becoming more common is developing enabling policy for community gardening. The advantage of policy over the old ad-hoc approach to starting community gardens is that it enables councils to put staff time and budget to community garden development. Policy is a means of making community gardening happen in a structured way.

Woollahra Council was the first of the Eastern Suburbs local governments to adopt a policy, and the Paddington Community Garden is the outcome of that. Now, Randwick City Council is developing its own policy. A public consultation enabling input to the policy, which included some of those interested in new community gardens as well as others already engaged in the practice, was held at Barrett House a couple months ago. That was followed by a council staff consultation. The draft policy will go on public exhibition and then be voted upon at a Council meeting.


Overcoming gardener frustration

All of this takes time and can frustrate those who want to get out with a spade and start digging their new community garden bed.

It might be useful, however, to temper impatience with the knowledge that demand has grown such that councils now need a structured approach through which the public makes application for assistance and councils come to a decision on new community gardens. Councils have to have confidence in a community garden group’s capacity to responsibly manage an area of public open space and to view the group’s needs in relation to possibly competing demand for access to open space. Considering all of this adds to time taken and to gardener frustration.

I’m reminded what Bill Mollison, one of the creators of the Permaculture design system, said in cautioning people against hurried action without adequate thinking. He suggested they instead engage in: “ ...protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action” (Mollison B, 1988; Permaculture — A Designers’ Manual; Tagari Publishers, Tasmania). The ‘observation’ in this case being the development of a simple management plan for the community garden.

There is an upside to the time taken to get a community garden going and it is this: if the community garden group cannot have the patience to go through the process, then its capacity to persist and survive the challenges that come with community gardening are questionable.

Soon, hopefully, more patches of public land in the urban east will bloom with the green of lettuce leaf, the red of tomato, the purple of eggplant and the golden yellow of pawpaw. The east is becoming edible.

Written by Russ Grayson


If you have an everyday sustainable story to tell, email 400 words and a photo to [email protected] - receive a solar battery charger for every story published.

Comment on this