By Ruby Roberts
I’ve been a member of Yoorala St Community Garden for about 6 months now and I am in love. Hear me out – it’s worth leaving the backyard and growing veggies in a communal area, even (or especially!) if you suck at gardening. I promise you, it’s a whole beautiful world that you will love.
I’ve always had a bit of a ‘thing’ for blogs that list ‘6 great reasons,’ ’10 handy hints’ and so on. They always make life sound so darned manageable, don’t you think?
I thought I’d have a crack at writing one myself about my latest groundbreaking discovery: community gardening. Really, if I wanted to keep it simple, I’d say there are two great things about community gardening: community and gardening. Pretty simple, really. Both these things are equally important. I thought it might be worth elaborating though, because I was truly surprised at how beneficial it has been for me to join, and its benefits were far more broad-ranging than I anticipated.
So, without further ado, here are my big six:
1. You pick up so much great stuff!
I had only a basic knowledge of gardening and very little confidence when I first joined Yoorala Street Community Garden. I was always pretty scared of organic principles; managing the PH testing, figuring out which plants like lime or manure and so forth. I liked the idea of organic gardening, but it just all sounded a bit too complicated and scary. Well, textbook gardening is for boffins, and the best way to learn is to copy others who know what they’re doing. That’s what I’m finding and it’s yielded a surprisingly good response for us.
People love to show how clever and knowledgeable they are – particularly gardeners. They are always only too happy to help with all my batty little questions about preparing soil for leafy greens or what I should do about the brown spots on my basil. No more poring over books for me! I just grab one of the cheerful passing veterans and ask away. I have learned so much. And people just do the coolest things with vertical gardening, composting and so on. Community gardens are Pinterest squared, I swear. Fans of Pinterest will know what I mean. And unlike Pinterest, you are in an environment that is conducive to actually *enacting* all those wonderful tips. My confidence is growing every day along with my carefully tended lettuces, and it’s wonderful!
This knowledge is important, too. Many scientists are predicting a global peak oil and food crisis, which will call upon all of us who are lucky enough to live in climates where we can grow our own vegetables. Growing our own may well become a neccessity for many of us, as food prices skyrocket and global trade becomes increasingly unstable. This is not crazy conspiracy theory stuff – the World Bank has discussed its possibility, as has Oxfam.
Suffice to say, I am among the many who believe that we should be skilling up on saving seeds and growing produce. I predict that community gardens will become a huge part of our future. Ok, on that rather sombre note, I’ll move on to number 2 on my list…
2. You have a community.
I don’t know about you, but I found the early years of childrearing very isolating. Mother’s groups didn’t do it for me – I never felt very comfortable talking about poo and teething and routines. And when I moved to a city from a country town, I couldn’t believe how alone and stripped of community I felt. Joining the garden has given me back what I have always craved: a lovely, diverse, friendly community.
People from all walks of life talk over the hoses and swelling tomatoes. Away from the garden, many of them would not be people I’d normally talk to – business people, religious folk, older conservative folk and so on. But something about the garden is a great equaliser: people are so friendly, calling out encouraging things about one another’s crops and exchanging weather predictions. It really is so lovely and relaxing and breaks down the barriers we are so accustomed to putting up in the ‘big, bad world’. And kids love it! Which brings me to my next point.
3. Kids love it!
Most of the time when we have working bees, there are kids running around getting muddy and having a whale of a time. I know my views about parenting are not for the faint-hearted, but I believe most children sorely need time when they are covered in mud and out of the immediate gaze of a supervising adult. Opportunities for these kinds of childhood experiences are becoming rarer, particularly in urban areas. Of course we need to keep our kids safe, but a heavily supervised and monitored childhood is a very stifling thing. This I believe.
Our community garden gives kids a real chance to run about and do their thing. But some like to help with weeding, and digging; a few more like to help with harvesting. Others just like to tear around or play in the communal sand pit. There are always adults around, keeping a low-key eye on things or answering questions. But really, kids are in a safe place where they are free to enjoy one another, a bit like the roaming neighbourhood kids of old. It’s a great social scene, too. Best of all, kids have a tendency to stuff strawberries and peas and cherry tomatoes in their mouths as they play, so it’s a nice sneaky way to get them to eat some of those pesky vegetables.
4. It keeps you motivated.
In the past, I’ve set up gardens, but become a bit dispirited when things have been attacked by bugs or possums, or I’ve gotten bored when the hours of weeding set in. Having experienced gardeners to offer up advice and people to chat to over the weeding keeps it fun – so much more so than weeding the garden at home, I am finding.
5. Bartering and sharing!
What a great thing to teach kids – toil for tangible gain, the direct exchange of goods. Money is such a symbolic thing – it’s hard to teach kids about fair trading using money. But swap a pumpkin for a basket of tomatoes and it makes sense. Generally, people grow too much of one thing and too little of another. That’s where bartering comes in handy. Or, if you’re organised, you can arrange amongst yourselves to grow certain crops to barter.
6. It’s cheap!
We outlaid a bit of money at the start; buying a good composter and several punnets of mushroom compost. We were also lazy and bought seedlings instead of seeds. Even so, we are getting more than our money’s worth from what we have planted. Yes, it’s a bit more work, but it’s really very pleasant to water the garden as the sun sets (although some would say that’s a no-no), and if you make a point of going out regularly to tend the garden, pulling a few weeds only takes a few minutes. It’s pretty easy, really. We also participate in working bees on communal patches, and when we do that, we get free (that’s right, you heard me!) veggies. Free! You can’t do much better than that.
About Ruby Roberts:
Ruby is a long-time fan of Mamabake, a mother of one, and a part time personal carer. She is a compulsive reader, writer and Facebooker who is prepared to weather the occasional online squabble if it means she gets to enjoy genuine discussions with deep thinkers. She thinks all folk are uniquely gifted – some are just more open-minded about what intelligence constitutes than others.
Ruby is in the process of renovating her cooking, craft and philosophy blog and it looks like a dog’s breakfast at the moment – one day it will be presentable enough to share. WATCH THIS SPACE.
She has about a zillion projects on the go, each in varying stages of completion. Some might sit there for decades. She likes long distance hiking and camping, conversation and correspondence, cooking, eating and creating very amateur-looking craft. Her latest hobby is fermenting stuff and making alcoholic beverages, which is really rather funny because she’s practically a wowser. Ruby is finding it very difficult to encapsulate herself in 100 words or less while writing in the third person.
However, she is always looking for new pals, so go ahead and talk to her! She won’t bite. Much.