This past week we’ve been visiting family and the sunshine in northern NSW, trying to take a break from work (and almost succeeding) and catching up on some slow time. As I grew up in Brisbane and lived around these traps for a couple of years there are a plethora of fine fine fine folk I know in this region – but this time round we laid low and skipped the socialising bit and went straight for the rest. Which also includes dropping into local community gardens and peering over farm fences to see what’s going on since I last pocked my head in… Which has been a while.
For example, when I last visited the Mullumbimby community garden it consisted of a large paddock and a big herb spiral, it was literally JUST starting and had big dreams. So I was completely disorientated when I popped in this week and found this… I couldn’t even find the original herb spiral which I think has since evolved into a different food scape.
Having been around community gardens for well over a decade I know what I like in one… and I REALLY love the Mullumbimby community garden for several reasons, including…
It has the traditional private community plots where people can come and do their thing independently, no surprises there – as this is what most community gardens consist of in Australia. There’s also a Food for All section, space for anyone to harvest from – an offering to the community if you like. Again this is a common addition to lots of gardens around Aus which I love seeing.
And of course, like any good community garden, there are multiple gathering spaces for people to gather in, hold workshops, celebrations and to simply hang out in.
But there are a few things which set apart this garden from others. For example they have a large seed saving shed dedicated to preserving seeds and selling them on to folk who are looking for endemic, resilient goodness.
They also have a bug hotel, which is pretty darn cute and an effective method to attract the good guys (insects) into the garden. Providing basic habitat systems like this is a fantastic way to increase diversity into your garden.
There’s also a patch of garden used by the Byron Bay College who use it to help teach their Permaculture courses, taking students through the practicalities of growing food, permaculture style. In the next patch over is a large section allocated to a very funky group called the Future Feeders. Their whole aim is to “establish a network of young farmers empowered by an ecological framework to build healthy soil, food security, ethical land management and resilient communities”. How awesome that they can do this directly from a community garden!
But you know what seriously tickles me pink?? The ultimate of the ultimate? They also make land available for private market gardeners to run their small businesses out of, growing food to sell at local markets. Now THIS is where it’s at. In so many ways this simple gesture is THE most powerful thing I can hope for our community gardens. That they move beyond a weekend hobby and towards fostering and supporting meaningful livelihoods and growing significant amounts of food.
I also loved visiting this garden as we ran into a very dear old friend of mine – Joey Venables, who I’ve know for almost half my life (yay for being in the right place at the right time). Joey’s one seriously great grower who just happens to have his own market garden within the community garden, he also works in bush regeneration and numerous other earth related projects – bascially, he’s a total legend.
Over the past 10 years or so, I have watched and participated in community gardens (and other types of urban/rural agriculture) and have been overjoyed at how they’ve embedded themselves into Australian communities everywhere. They’re no longer a ‘fringe’ activity, but are recognised as relevant, effective, fun and beautiful in addressing serious food issues. And I get extra excited when I see gardens taking it deeper into what it means to foster local food systems by allowing ethical private enterprise to develop on their land. This is where seriously good things can happen. So thanks Mullumbimby community gardens and all the fantastic folk who make it happen – you were the cherry on top of our holiday!