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PacificEdge | October 23, 2017

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One year later… and a community garden blooms

Russ Grayson

Story and photos: Russ Grayson

IT HAS BEEN JUST OVER A YEAR in the making, from community consultation to construction, but Carrs Park Community Garden is now reality.

Untieing the ribbon around the plaque to officially open the community garden are (from left) Cr Annie Tang (Deputy Mayor); Rod Logan, Director Planning & Environmental Services and Mayor, Cr Nickolas Varvaris.

Untying the ribbon around the plaque to officially open the community garden are (from left) Cr Annie Tang (Deputy Mayor); Rod Logan, Director Planning & Environmental Services and Mayor of Kogarah, Cr Nickolas Varvaris.

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Food, a jazz band, Kogarah City Council’s mayor and general manager, councillors, directors of departments, various staff, community gardeners and representatives of the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network — they all came together in the warm Spring sunshine for the official opening on 19 November this year.

The strawbale classroom.

The strawbale classroom.

Design for participation

The project began when Faith Thomas (Living Schools) and I were hired by Council to start a community garden and to develop policy directions for Council to enable community gardening in the region.

During a community consultation in the different parts of what is a large local government area, Faith and I gathered together people who were to form the initial, core group of gardeners. This was followed by two on-site, participatory design days during which the core group were guided through social and site design. Included in social design was planning how the gardeners would make decisions, deal with disagreement and ensure the smooth functioning of the community garden.

Louiza, with her first harvest. Louiza is a younger member of Carr Park Community Garden.

Louiza, with her first harvest. Louiza is a younger member of Carrs Park Community Garden.

The site design day brought a participatory site and needs analysis and the development of a number of concept plans. These went to Council landscape architect, Anthony Parker, who produced a final design for the community garden from them and negotiated it with the gardener group.

Including the core group in the process all the way through was designed to encourage a sense of participation and ownership of the project, something Faith and I have found of value in previous community garden and other projects.

The site is an old bowling green that demographic change has left in disuse. The soil is loamy, the site flat with good solar aspect and drainage. Participants cover a broad age range, from the twenties to retired.

Construction starts

First to be built was a set of shared gardening beds edged, like the Randwick Community Organic Garden, with roofing tile seconds. A local source for these was located. A row of citrus was established along one border of the garden. These were brim full of vegetables on the day of the official opening, and lettuce, carrot and zucchini were harvested.

As the shared beds were being established, work on the council-funded strawbale classroom started. This is to be a facility open to general community use so as to maximise its usage. Designed by strawbale building specialists Huff n/ Puff and constructed by Living Spaces, community gardeners participated in the building of it and Council offered places in an on-site, strawbale building course offered by Huff n’ Puff.

Kogarah Mayor, Councillor Nickolas Varvaris, makes a speech at the opening ceremony.

Kogarah Mayor, Councillor Nickolas Varvaris, makes a speech at the opening ceremony.

The building features:

  • rendered strawbale construction
  • two separate enclosed spaces, one the classroom/meeting room, the other a small kitchen and toilet with disabled access; the rooms are separated by a covered breezeway
  • a timber deck on the northern side has been edged for sitting
  • timber used in construction was certified as the product of sustainable forestry with the exception of a repurposed telephone pole that was put to use as a structural element
  • recycled doors and windows were installed
  • the iron roof harvests water from where it flows into two rainwater tanks and is used for garden irrigation
  • the building was designed by Envirotecture’s Tracey Grahame and crew.

The classroom now complete, the gardeners are to start construction of allotments, enabling the community garden to offer both shared and allotment growing opportunities. Like the shared gardens, the allotments will be of the mulched, no-dig type.

The process

The approach to the community consultation and participatory design process originated with Faith and my  experience in community garden planning, design and training, and from our experience as community gardeners.

Community gardeners with the opening day harvest of lettuce.

Community gardeners Gill Whan and Gisela Fleischmann with the opening day harvest of lettuce.

The processes we employed borrowed from landscape design, community engagement, facilitated processes (such as the World Cafe that we employed in part of the site design process), permaculture design and action learning. The task was to use these to create an overall process that was inclusive of the gardeners. We wanted to create, with the gardeners, a social design that would encourage gardener self-management in cooperation with Council,  as gardeners developed their organisational skills over time. As in any consultation of this type, our aim was to select tools appropriate to meeting the needs of the gardeners, who are the main users of the site, rather than apply some pre-existing process in a template-like manner.

As well as Anthony Parker, credit must also go to Council’s Sustainability and Waste Education officer, Fiona Stock, who smoothed the way through Council for Faith and I and the gardeners. General manager, Paul Woods, also deserves credit for his support for the garden idea.

The Carrs Park Community Garden stands as  an example of what can be done when a local government wants to enhance the recreational and community facility options available to local people an acts decisively to make it happen.

The process that took the community garden from good idea to reality shows that the mantra CREATE > SHARE > COLLABORATE > DESIGN > MAKE can lead to community initiatives that improve social options and opportunities in an area and enable a new, participatory approach to citizen engagement with public open space.

With plaque recording the opening of the garden are Mayor Nickolas Varvaris (on right) next to community gardener; Evan Hutchings, Director Governance & Corporate Services and Paul Woods, Gemeral manager centre back; Sustainability and Waste Servcies staff in front (Fiona Stock in white shirt).

With plaque recording the opening of the garden are (on right) Cr Annie Tang (Deputy Mayor), Mayor Nickolas Varvaris (to left) next to community gardener; Evan Hutchings, Director Governance & Corporate Services and Paul Woods, General Manager (at centre back) with Director Planning & Environmental Services, Rod Logan (left back); Sustainability and Waste Servcies staff in front (Fiona Stock in white shirt).

Opening day crown at outdoor classroom.

The outdoor classroom provided welcome shelter from the hot sun on the opening day of Carrs Park Community Garden.

Outdoor classroom, showing the breezeway.

Outdoor classroom, showing the breezeway. The room on the left houses a small kitchen and a toilet with disabled access.

The strawbale classroom features recycled windows and doors.

The strawbale classroom features recycled windows and doors.

A community garden representative addresses visitors while th Mayor and General Manager look on.

Community garden representative, Tony Lavorato, addresses visitors while the General Manager and Mayor look on.

The strawale classroom in its setting, with the old bowling club building (now used by Council's childcare centre and a community services agency) in the background left, the community garden's water tanks on the right and some of the shared garden beds in the foreground.

The strawbale classroom in its setting, with the old bowling club building (now used by Council’s childcare centre and a community services agency) in the background left, the community garden’s water tanks on the right and some of the shared garden beds in the foreground.

The community garden's tanks store rainwater harvested from the roof of the strawbale classroom. The tanks are gravity filled and the water irrigates the garden.

The community garden’s tanks store rainwater harvested from the roof of the strawbale classroom. The tanks are gravity filled and the water irrigates the garden.

Mary is new to community gardening but plans an enthusiastic involvement.

Mary Cassimatis is new to community gardening but plans an enthusiastic involvement.

A local band entertained those attending the opening day with jazz and popular tunes.

A local band entertained those attending the opening day with jazz and popular tunes.

Comments

  1. Rosiebud

    Great to see councils behind community gardens – a worthwhile activity which fosters postive community outcomes that include healthy activities, social interaction, education, and sustainability!

    You should all be very proud of your achievements!

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