So Thursday morning, I woke early and headed off to a Gardens for Health Meeting. All of the people who had contacted me and told me to speak to certain people had led to this moment. I was nervous, excited and hoped the influential and wise minds at the network meeting for Gardens for Health would not laugh my idea of a urban farm concept all the way out of the community garden in Tuakau where said meeting was to be held.
A beautiful, sunny morning, I nervously walked in the front gardens of the Tuakau Community Garden and was instantly greeted by a swarm of kindergarten children excitedly munching on their morning tea in the morning sun. A gazebo had been set up and a gathering of adults were sitting and talking next to a repurposed table made from a wooden wire wheel laden with fruit and ice cold drinks...as much as I wanted to join the kids the adults felt like the right people to head towards.
There was the council represented by several community developers, each representing their respective wards, Richard & Homer from the Diabetes Project Trust http://www.dpt.org.nz/our-programmes/garden-4-health and some contractors, the two ladies from Tuakau community gardens (and you will be amazed at just how much these two ladies have achieved). Another lovely lady who was just about to launch a community garden in Pukekohe. A man representing a Tongan community group who had just secured 5 acres in the Pukekohe District, a group from the large and successful Mangere Teaching Community Gardens, two fantastic people from a asian based community garden who had just launched, and a dear old lady who's motto consisted of shit, spade and seeds. At least I think thats what it was I was too busy laughing at an 80yr old woman who's walking stick was a spade handle swearing like a trooper.
Bang on 10'oClock the meeting began, and the amount of knowledge that sprung forth I felt like I had hit the community garden knowledge jackpot. (The different community gardens represented can all be found here and I highly suggesting visiting them http://batchgeo.com/map/ee808bb7343375529db07e9a0543aa1a ) I listened all the way through, taking mental notes, challenges, ideas, what was working within the gardens, plants, seeds, (and realising hey I might have the resources to help some of these gardens out with the big jobs...) and then I had to speak. Dammit.. so I mentioned the urban farming concept idea. Ellen from the council gently nudged me through as I explained the concept, rather than being laughed at they gave suggestions, advice, asked about resources, management, areas. Still feeling like a noob at least I didn't feel like an idiot, and then the stories continued. Now it was time to look around the Tuakau Community Garden.
The kids from the Kindergarten were running around the gardens by this stage, smiling chasing each other, smelling the different flowers and herbs, picking the tomatoes and other foods growing naturally from the organic garden and eating away. It was in that moment that I realised that this is what I wanted my work to experience. The true community aspect of a Community Garden and something that we could possibly provide in a urban farm available to the community.
So after talking to people one on one, I found Mangere teaching Garden to have given me the biggest thing to think about. Mangere Teaching gardens is huge and about to get a lot bigger. The community for Mangere Teaching Garden is no different to the Urban Farm community target in terms of population, ethnicity, income in East Tamaki. Mangere had mentioned that the community was conditioned to buy cheap veges, cheap food at the flea market. "Why grow when you can buy food for cheap prices at the market?" They said. The Diabetes Trust had come out with stats that while community and garden involvement had grown for asian and european populations, pacific and maori involvement had dropped considerably by around 75%. A statistic (I researched later) that was completely opposite in terms of health were Maori and Pacific Island were contributing alot to, with diabetes and heart problems. This urban farm was going to be more than just starting a urban farm...this was going to be a real need on educating the community on how to eat yourself a longer better quality of life. Composting, a simple basic and essential skill is such a foreign concept to an xbox generation I had no doubt most of the community especially youth would be turned off at the thought...
Milling these thoughts over in my head I went to meet Emily from www.urbanpantry.co.nz. Not only was I late, I also went to the wrong suburb. But once I finally got there, the ever patient Emily was there at EastWest Organics cafe http://eastwestorganics.co.nz/ . There I shared what I had learnt at the meeting, my thoughts on the urban farm and my concerns on where to from here. I had originally intended to absorb all her knowledge but instead spent most of the time talking about the urban farm concept, the poor lass hardly got a chance to speak. I was just so consumed by problems and excitement and what I had learnt I think I was just rambling my thoughts :)
My thoughts were these: The urban farming concept I had decided had to be self sustainable, including water (based on my discussions with the council around the charges of waste water), I need to inspire the East Tamaki Community to become involved (even if it just meant most just visiting the site) so it needed design, and I want the Urban Farm to be a draw card for the area and implement different styles of gardening and techniques and everything needed to come from repurposing (inspired by a quick trip to the Massey Uni Community Garden). I needed to account for composting, and while most composts are hidden due to sight and smell I really wanted this to be a feature. The site we have is in an industrial area, coming up with materials to repurpose would not be hard, and as I had seen what Emily had done with other projects I was keen to implement an industrial feel into the aesthetics and then there was the stock bees, chooks. What I really needed was where to from here?
Emily from Urban Pantry stopped me there midst my verbal unload and took me down the road to the Eco Matters Community Gardens http://www.ecomatters.org.nz/environment-centre/sustainable-living/. An allotment community garden structure complete with a eco friendly bee garden and composting workshops specifically for communities. With projects in place, and moving forward at a rapid pace it was an inspiration to see, with different styles and techniques, water saving management and eco friendly ideas and repurposing I realised this was the perfect day ever. Discussions with Emily (this time her talking), she explained what I probably needed to look for next which she could assist with...landscape designers. Once a design plan was nutted out, all that would need doing would be the actual...doing.
So with possible projects for our students in East Tamaki to sink their green fingers into while the urban farming concept would be designed. Some more meetings booked and a direction, I rang my bosses....Urban Farm for East Tamaki is a go.....(unless of course we hit some hurdle which completely restricts our abilities to move forward apart from that)...its a go. :)