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Food for thought – joining a community garden
For those of us with a little more time on our hands as we enter retirement, especially living in spaces without a big backyard or front garden space, a community garden is the chance to grow your own food and flowers – and enjoy the fresh air!
The grass roots
As the name would suggest, a community garden is, of course, a great way to connect with those in your community. Becoming involved with a community garden, rather than only gardening in your own yard, also gives you the opportunity to pick up tips from others and relax as you do an activity that you (hopefully!) enjoy.
When it comes to the environment, contributing to a community garden is also a chance to help the move towards eating locally so that we can reduce the need for transportation of food over long distances and, in turn, the consumption of fuels and the production of pollution.
In pretty basic terms, there are two types of community gardens: the first are shared gardens, where gardeners work in the whole garden doing whatever is needed and then take a share of what they grow. Then there are allotment gardens, which is where individuals (or families) have their own allotted garden bed to grow and take what they like.
As well as taking part in a form of sustainable urban agriculture, there are other benefits that will make community gardening even more appealing. The physical exertion of gardening will help relieve stress and encourage creativity – unlike your standard treadmill session at the gym! And psychologically you’ll probably find satisfaction and joy in producing a successful harvest, especially when you get to share it with others.
Interestingly, community gardens have been found to benefit those in financially disadvantaged areas or immigrant families who want to grow traditional foods in culturally familiar and appropriate ways.
Become a green thumb
If you’re looking to get involved, the best way to start is to check out existing community gardens in your area and see if they have a site on offer that you’d like. This will very much depend on your preference – do you want a sheltered or exposed site? Is there lots of storage space?
There are laws surrounding community gardens that vary from state to state, including the kinds of things you can plant (in NSW and the NT, buying and planting bananas is regulated), the kinds of weeds that need to be controlled, as well as drought and water restrictions. Speak to the person running the garden to make sure you’re keeping in check.
Prefer to start your own garden? You’ll need to go through the process with your local city council to find a site that is deemed suitable, as well as consult the wider community. Rather than going at it totally alone, get a group together to help establish local support. That way tackling jobs like soil, water and drainage testing will all seem that little bit less daunting before you work out how the garden will be used and how the harvest will be shared.
Join the network
As well as creating ties to your community, you can also join a national network of fellow gardeners – the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network.
The network, with ambassador Costa Georgiadis at the helm, just celebrated 20 years of supporting, advising, educating and advocating for community gardeners and city farmers. Check out the Community Garden website for an online directory that provides current listings of every community garden, school garden, urban co-op farm and community-supported agriculture effort in the country. What better way to find like-minded gardeners in your area?
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