Thursday, 4 October 2012

How hard can it be?

I believe in the potential for growing food in the suburbs- its one of the reasons I started my blog. With the World's population and demand for food growing, it's something that will become more important over time.

Often when walking around my neighbourhood I see run down weatherboards on big old blocks being knocked down to be replaced with paving and crowded townhouses. In a place where there were grapevines and fruit trees there are now black bricks and white stones. While that's not necessarily a bad thing (if it saves precious farmland further out) it seems a waste. I also look at some of the neglected or barren gardens of remaining homes and think that only people with a 'gardening liceense' (the enthusiasm and the willingness) to make the most of their land should be able to own the land that they do.

Constrained by my own limited patch shaded by trees (wildlife habitat) I have been thinking how to start my own suburban garden revolution. Here is the start of my journey.

This is the council owned block on land at the end of my ROW. The land used to be a road that ran through between two streets (where the silver shed is now). For years it has languished as a dumping ground and car park. The land can't be developed (council has tried that) because there are issues with access the ROW and the main sewer line that runs down it.

Lets turn this........

A little over year ago I decided I couldn't keep sitting around while there was a patch of unused gravel with vegetable growing potential. So I created a flyer outlining my vision for our very own neighbourhood community garden.

into this
After letterboxing 100 or so houses in surrounding streets I had just over ten households get in touch and want to get involved. Armed with this information I contacted council. Lucky for me council had just hired a 'community garden coordinator'. I waited a few months for her to start work and to figure out what she was supposed to be doing. Finally I arranged a meeting. The community garden coordinator suggested that in the first instance I would need to form an incorporated association with the neighbours (meaning we would need officer bearers and an AGM) at the same time we would also need to organise public liability insurance, oh and by the way as it was council land we wouldn't be able to fence it, meaning  by the way despite the hard work and financial contributions from a few neighbours the garden would be a free for all for the whole street. I explained as much as people were keen and had expressed an interest in a bit of fundraising and a few working bees to get the garden together that didn't seem like a fair deal.

The coordinator told me that anyway before any further decisions could be made by the council, the first priority was creating a 'Community Garden Policy' and this would most likely go to council in February. February came and went. The council meeting minutes said policy deferred until April. I can't remember what happened in April, but finally I got an invitation to attend a community gardens meeting. Probably the most tedious two hours of my life (will spare you the details) but the outcome being that council has realised people are interested in growing food on their nature strips so they decided to fund a 'planter box trial' for vegies in two suburban streets.There was no info on how the locations would be decided but thanks to a bit of extra persistence from some of the other interested neighbours, council decided that given the block was technically a 'roadside' they considered that a planter trial might be the best option. (this would also avoid the need for the incorporated association)

One more tedious 'community planter box trial' meeting and a rather interesting site meeting with local residents and it looks like council is funding the installation of eight professionally built planter boxes and a water tank to be topped up by council as required. (Individual residents had to fill out a planter box application forms and liability waiver and agree to abide by the planter box regulations- in order to maintain the planter maximum height restrictions no plants over 50cm high!).

I should be excited..... but somehow I feel a little deflated about my grand visions...if we are serious about transforming suburbs back into the food producing areas they once were......should it really take one person one year....and council a few thousand dollars (??) just to get eight planter boxes placed on a vacant block?!

Only time will tell what happens... will the garden grow and flourish, will the rest of the neighbours get involved or complain to council that they can no longer park there cars on the block... will I have a space to expand my vegie garden challenge without people stealing the spoils.... I don't know but I will keep you updated.


  1. Great idea, funny that when council gets involved things seem to get a bit lost along the way.... As for people nicking stuff - I know it will be frustrating but as long as they are eating it you should be prod that you are making a contribution to community health.

    1. I do agree - that if people are eating it- its not necessarily a bad thing- I plan on testing different kinds of plants- to see what lasts the distance- I am thinking of starting with things like carrot and beetroot- which aren't necessarily obviously delicious. I think tomatoes and capsicums (based on my laneway experience are too much of a tasty temptation)

  2. What a pity it's been a downgrading of the original idea, but its still a lot better than the current status and a testament to your perseverance. I'd also be thinking about lettuces and such things that can be taken leaf by leaf and grow quickly, so you aren't loosing a whole plant if people sneak a bit. Good luck!