Growing community – a community gardener’s story
Author | Tina Jackson
My community garden journey began a few years ago motivated by a passion for environmental sustainability and wanting to learn more about growing vegetables, but I also wanted to connect with like-minded people in my local area.
Several years on, I’ve learnt a lot. The most important lesson has been that while the activity is gardening, community gardens are primarily a place for people to come together as a community to share and learn – a starting place for all kinds of community based initiatives.
When my interest was first sparked, there was no community garden in my suburb, so a group of us formed Mosman Community Gardeners and began the lengthy process of finding and securing suitable land. We lobbied, planned and visited community gardens in other suburbs for ideas and encouragement. On holidays in the US, it was inspiring to see just some of the 700 or so community gardens in New York alone.
There were many time consuming and disappointing false starts…
Mosman Council, supportive in principle, put forward a couple of proposed sites, but in the face of resident opposition fell back to suggesting we garden on verges instead. Our approaches to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which controls large tracts of land in the area, similarly ended in disappointment.
Luckily an approach to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service was successful, resulting in a very fruitful ongoing partnership. Several years later our community gardening on NPWS land at Middle Head continues to flourish and expand. This experience taught us how to run a garden and helped formulate our guiding principles, including the decision to garden communally rather than have individual allotments.
We had long watched a large unused industrial site on Military Road, so were thrilled when last year it’s owner, Ausgrid, agreed to allow us to garden on part of the land. An old petrol station leased to Mosman Council, it sits between Mackie Lane and Military Road, which is used by 78,000 cars a day. Our agreement with Ausgrid and Mosman Council allows us to use the land on a temporary basis (10-15 years).
In just four months a group of dedicated volunteers turned a deserted weed infested industrial site into an oasis…
Growing mostly edible plants using the principles of sustainable gardening, we built raised beds on the concrete slabs left behind from the old workshops and used recycled materials sourced from Kimbriki recycling centre and curbside collections. Large pots and ponds were donated by local garden centre and hardware businesses.
The soil on site might be contaminated, so we don’t allow edible plants direct contact with the original soil. Higher beds have been built for the elderly and people with mobility issues. No chemicals are used and our imported garden bed soil is enriched with composted kitchen scraps and recycled green waste compost. Seed stock is collected for future planting and will be shared with other community gardens.
The Mayor of Mosman officially opened the garden in February 2012.
As a temporary garden, all the structures can be moved to another site. In the meantime, it is a vibrant community garden and meeting place for local residents.
An unexpected outcome has been the constant stream of visitors and high level of community engagement…
Children come for educational visits from local schools; residents from the adjacent retirement home take an active interest in the garden’s progress and are encouraged to help themselves to the mixed herb pots along the fence. People who have lived in the neighbourhood for over a decade report that they have met their neighbours for the first time.
The garden brings together local people of all ages and backgrounds to learn about sustainable gardening in an urban environment, and so encourage the growing of fresh vegetables and herbs to supplement their weekly shopping. It is a welcoming place where people can learn how to cultivate edible food in small spaces, pots and on their own nature strip gardens and to share food and connect with neighbours.
A practical example of temporary urban farming, the Mackie Lane Community Garden shows how other disused city sites can be put to productive use for the benefit of the community. It overcomes the problem of contaminated soil, uses recycled materials to revitalize a disused industrial site and is a focal point for community gardening and socialising. It is also a highly successful partnership between a community group, a council and the landowner.
In recognition of its achievements, Mosman Community Gardeners was honoured to receive the 2012 Keep Australia Beautiful inaugural Award for Sustainable Gardens. Ausgrid and Mosman Council also recently agreed to double the amount of land we can use.
With two successful gardens and an expanding outreach and education program, Mosman Community Gardeners is well on the way to fulfilling its vision of fostering community and home food gardening throughout the suburb. Growing vegetables, once seen as part of an alternative lifestyle, is becoming mainstream once again.
To read more about Mosman Community Gardeners, visit the website.
For ideas on how to start a community garden head to the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network.
Tina Jackson is Co-founder and Chair of DoSomething! The former Executive Director of the National Trust of Australia, Tina has over 25 years experience managing membership and volunteer organisations. As well as her national role as Chair, Tina promotes the ethos and mission of DoSomething! through community activism and her own local volunteering, including as President of Mosman Community Gardeners.