An article about our garden from the Manawatu Standard, 16/09/11:
They’re growing community in Hokowhitu as well as plants in a community garden. Feature writer Lee Matthews goes gardening.
Broccoli will bring people together in Hokowhitu tomorrow. A community garden – the Crewe Community Garden – will be officially opened and plants and trees put in. However, what organisers really hope to grow is a strong, friendly community, just as much as fruit and vegetables.
Residents Helen and Graham Black and Mel and Piet Bourke have talked about having a community garden for years, to strengthen community relationships and reduce suburban isolation.
They had a site in mind; 2.2 hectares of unused land, bounded by Albert St, Ashford Ave, Stirling Cres and Buxton Pl. Fairly flat, lying to the sun, the soil is beautiful freedraining river silt that had been grazed by ponies for decades.
‘‘Good fertiliser. I think it’s [Maori] landbank land . . . we got in touch with the people who administer it, and we have got it leased on a peppercorn rental for $1 a year,’’ Mrs Black says. ‘‘On Saturday, we’ll be planting citrus trees. The mayor [Jono Naylor] will be planting a tree for us.’’
With land in hand, the work could really get started. A letterbox pamphlet drop had assured the group of community interest. Palmerston North City Council gave compost for garden beds; Mitre 10 provided a garden shed and plants, and Downer Construction gave railway sleepers for bed edgings and gravel for paths. Families also gave money and time to help.
Working bees this winter got the first garden beds set up, ready to plant. At present, there are two long raised beds, 2m by 12m, to be gardened communally, and with gardeners sharing the produce across the season. They have also set up four individual beds; about 2m by 5m, for individual households to use. More communal and individual gardens will be prepared as people want them.
It is planned that on Saturdays people will get together to tend their gardens.
Not knowing how to garden will be no barrier for anyone interested. They group has got expertise and help from Super Grans, whose membership knows how to do just about everything.
The neighbourhood around the community garden site is culturally and economically mixed.
There are sole-parent households, struggling to make ends meet. People from those homes would benefit from home-grown vegetables, to lower the grocery bill, and a community garden is an ideal way to learn gardening skills.
The area is also home for refugees and migrants who have been settled in the city. Bhutanese, Cantonese, Congolese, Nepalese and Burmese people are there, with a strong Tongan community, and Maori and Pakeha.
‘‘Getting together to garden will help create a stronger community,’’ says Mrs Bourke.
Palmerston North Internal Affairs funding and community development adviser Heather Tanguay wholeheartedly agrees.
‘‘What a fantastic, courageous project. Community gardens in other areas have shown they work well as projects to foster good, strong neighbourhoods,’’ she says.
Mixed communities could have difficulties integrating, especially when a lack of knowledge and understanding of other cultures feeds suspicion. Mrs Tanguay recently led a community project in nearby Crewe Cres, to improve neighbourhood relations. Internal Affairs worked with Plunket and the Manawatu Multicultural Centre to get neighbours to mix more, through social events and school holiday programmes.
‘‘And a community garden, growing food, that is such a strong cultural link, especially if later on they decide to have some community meals,’’ Mrs Tanguay says.
The Crewe Community Garden plans to do exactly that in future. Mrs Black says the possibilities are huge – budget cooking, preserving, home-grown school lunches.
‘‘Our vision is to create a vibrant community hub where neighbours are collectively involved in various sustainable living initiatives that provide healthy food, encourage social connections, and reduce family food budgets.’’ The official opening of the Crewe Community Garden in Hokowhitu will be at 10am tomorrow. More information is available at facebook.com/pages/CreweCommunity-Garden/