Networking Community Gardens by Robina McCurdy
At this time when food security and mental sanity are paramount, around the country there is a grassroots movement that has been slowly and steadily ‘building up its fertility’, and if it were given a good dollop of financial compost, would likely bear prolifically and put down copious roots all across the country.
The key question is: What is the information that would be needed to get community gardens and urban agriculture consistently funded by the central government. Isn't it time that community gardens were regarded as part of our essential infrastructure?
The Canterbury Community Gardens Association is undertaking a process of identifying strengths and gathering data pertaining to community gardens in Canterbury. This is partly to strengthen the funding case for community gardens as a sector. There is a motivated small group of people engaged in community gardens around the country, who have just begun embarking doing a similar exercise at the national level. We are currently building a national database of community garden contacts. We'd be grateful if you could forward contacts on to us by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org The first bit is to develop the contact list and then survey gardens.
This is the strategy that is emerging:
1) create a contact list of community gardens around the country.
2) contact everyone on the list asking for suggestions of questions to ask
3) send out a questionnaire/survey
4) analyse the results
5) call a national community gardens hui (potentially)
6) develop a list of needs based on this process
7) present this to the government (if this is agreed on).
Brendan Hoare/Organic Systems has the contract to write this year's Organic Sector Market Report. In this, there is always a section on community gardening or the non-commercial part of what could be called the organic market. However, frustratingly the data on community gardening is poor across the country. There is no central register of gardens and no aggregated data sets.
In contrast, for a long time, Australia has a Community Gardens Association, which is a co-ordinated body that has successfully lobbied for government funding as well as getting community gardens lodged within local authority policy as an important avenue for promoting human wellbeing and creating community cohesion.
On a home ground note, our Te Wharerangi Trust (of which I am a Trustee of), which manages the Golden Bay Community Gardens, did some deep digging at the beginning of Lockdown to address the question: “Is community gardening an essential activity”? - obeying all the ‘play it safe’ govt rules. Of course, we think it is.
We have kept our gardens open to allotment holders, who (pre-arranged or by happenstance) take a break to sit on the lawn and have a cuppa together (own thermos and social distancing of course). However, our community garden is not open to the general public. We have a small delightful team of Wwoofers living on-site, who operate within their own bubble/pod, harvesting abundant amounts of veggies and fruit for the local Food Bank, which we would normally be selling on our stall on the property.
To be responsible and respectful of government policy and systems, at the onset of the lockdown, we filled in an application to MPI to get permission to operate as an essential business. So far, no response – maybe they are too snowed under with applications to bother with ‘small players’ or maybe we come into the ‘grey/multicoloured’ area they put into the ‘too hard basket’. If we had a national Community Gardens organisation already, it would have been able to positively lobby on behalf of around 500+ community gardens across the country (each major city has more than 50 community gardens), and all would have been able to keep gardening, experiencing the health-giving and joy and we have here.
Meanwhile, gauging by the swift sellout of seeds and seedlings across the country a few days before Lockdown, the surge of activity in home gardening is evident - assuming citizens took food security into their own hands after waking up to the vulnerability of globalised food dependency. Let's hope that this panic action settles down to be the ‘new normal’, and as people want to learn more, share more and connect more around gardening, that there is a flourishing and consolidation of community gardens around the country. Several years ago I already mapped this trajectory in the ’12 Steps to Local Food Resilience’ chapter of my yet-to-be-published ‘Food Sovereignty Facilitators Handbook’. The final step after ‘popularisation’ following the well-known sociological ‘S curve of Social Change’, is the national level widespread adoption supported by legislation. Community Gardens across the country had better be prepared for this momentum. So roll on a national association. Now!!
Robina McCurdy of Earthcare Education Aotearoa
& Trustee of Te Wharerangi Trust - Golden Bay Community Gardens