Great conference, good people… but this is Tasmania after all
BY THE DAY BEFORE, THE TASMANIAN COMMUNITY GARDENS NETWORK conference in Devonport – The Good Food Future — had received a total of 90 registrations. A total of around 140 turned up on the first day. Consequently, there was something of a deficit of lunches on opening day, but lunch in the community garden the next day was convivial and all-too-pleasant in the mild Tasmanian autumn weather.
The conference was in Reece High School, just across the road from Devonport Community Garden of which we had a guided tour. The mayor of Devonport opened the conference and said good things. Devonport Council was a conference supporter.
It was good to go back to Devonport after decades of absence. A small city on the Bass Strait coast of northern Tasmania, it is not exactly a bustling metropolis and it retains that lonely air that you find in this part of the island. That comes from a perception of isolation thought it’s only 45 minutes flying time from Melbourne. The perception also stems from the presence of Bass Strait which, for Tasmanians, forms a psychological barrier with the mainland and helps them define themselves as somehow different to those to the north over the grey seas. This forlorn feeling is especially noticeable as you stand on the small beach at the mouth of the Mersey and gaze out into the Strait… grey sea, grey clouds, grey sky and a feeling of distance from the big landmass to the north.
That the city has a community garden speaks volumes of how the practice of community gardening has grown tremendously and spread far and wide across the continent. It’s quite a nice garden, there are allotments and a range of fruit trees and berry fruit vines — Tasmania produced superb berry fruit of many varieties. There’s a path that connects both ends of the community garden and the public can walk through during opening hours.
For the conference, the theme given to me was food security and I was one of four on a ‘mentors panel’ that started the event by making presentations and engaging in Q&A around the theme.
Others on the mentor’s panel were:
– David Adams, professor of Management in Innovation at the Australian Innovation Research Centre at the University of Tasmania and chair of the Tasmanian Food Security Council (part of the Social Inclusion unit of the Department of Premier and Cabinet)
– dietician and UTas lecturer, Sandra Murray, who looked at how Tasmania could produce the food types that would supply a balanced diet
– Jennifer Alden, CEO of Cultivating Community in Melbourne.
A Sydney-based telegardener called Costa Geogiadis opened the event and stayed for the two days. Turns out he lives close by us here in Sydney city east and I had a bit if a talk with him although, not having a TV, I have never seen his program. We agreed to catch up in Sydney.
A local politician, Christine Milne (Greens), did a talk and stayed for the whole first day.
Of great interest were the displays at the conference — the local, organic fruit and vegetables and the displays of different organisations.
Community gardening and social inclusion
It was good to met the Social Inclusion commissioner, David Adams, who heads the new Tasmanian Food Security Council. The council will develop a food policy which looks like it will promise support to community gardens as well as social enterprise. Professor Adams seems to understand the problems associated with the grants system and talks of investment instead. Net Smit, who works with Eat Well Tasmania and who is an Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network Tasmania contact, has been elected to the Tasmanian Food Security Council.
The good news is there is now a CSA (community supported agriculture) looking to start in the north west of the state. It’s amazing how the CSA idea has cought the public imagination these past couple years.
Making fresh even fresher
In Hobart, we were warmly welcomes to a new citizen initiative called The Source.
This is a demonstration/training centre on UTas land in Sandy Bay. It’s on the side of a hill and in the distance you glimpse the wide Derwent estuary and the low hills of the Eastern Shore beyond. When I lived in this city some decades ago, urbanisation was only then starting its spread along that shore. Now, it’s progressed and, with the expansion towards New Norfolk along the highway beside the river on the northern edge of the city, Hobart is starting to sprawl. It remains a linear city, however, that follows the path of the Derwent and whose westward expansion is blocked by the bulk of Mt Wellington that stands high above the city.
The Source wholefoods setup features a strawbale and recycled timber food co-op building with gardens of vegetables surrounding it. People pick the vegetables they buy, making fresh even fresher.
Over at one end of the site is a new brick oven in which pizzas were in preparation for lunch that mild, mid-Autumn day. Notable in the garden crew working that day was David Stevens, veteran Tasmanian organic gardener. He was working on the compost system and explained that compost was something he likes being associated with. Wherever you find urban food growing in Hobart, you are likely to find David.
While in Launceston at the other end of the state we revisited the extensive allotments of the Punchbowl Community Garden in Punchbowl Reserve, where it marches over dip and hollow colonising the slope for edibles. This is a garden of large allotments, far larger than what passes for allotments in Sydney. These are family-size. If you don’t know where the garden is, you might have to explore a little until you uncover it on the slope above the forested area where families picnic in the lower part of the reserve.
Once, Deloraine was a typical Tasmanian country town, a stopover for visitors on the way to the mountain walks of its hinterland. Now, demographic change has brought the opening of small cafes and art galleries… not as densely packed as those of some arty-oriented country towns on the mainland… they do not dominate here and Deloraine retains those service business, little shops that provide the day-to-day necessities.
Down by the weir, we were attracted by a woman collecting something from the ground below the bright yellow foliage of a deciduous street tree. Curious, we went over to see what she was doing. Collecting chestnuts, she said, holding out handfuls of the big brown things. So we joined in and collected them too, some fallen ripe to the ground, others still hanging from the branches.
Walking up the hill to check out what appeared to be Deloraine’s only Art Deco commercial building (two level Streamline Moderne, for aficionados of the style) we wandered into a fruit shop to check out what was being sold, a strange habit we have acquired over the years. Lady of the Snow apples… never heard of them, so we bought a couple to try… a smallish but crispy, sweet fruit.
That wasn’t the only thing that caught our eye.
Strange looking apple, Fiona said, holding up a firm-skinned, red fruit, oval shaped and pointed towards the bottom. But, no, it’s not an apple, the shopkeeper said. It’s a Spreyton pear. We explained to the shopkeeper that we had not seen a pear like this before, and she explained that it was a local variety, Spreyton being a small town on the Bass Highway not all that far from Deloraine.
Our visit to the island state to attend the conference, we realised, had turned into a tour of edible gardens and species.
Tasmania is this sometimes strange place given to throwing up truly innovative people. Bill Mollison comes to mind — yes, on the way back from the icy summit of Mt Wellington with its gale force blasts we drove down Hobart’s Strickland Avenue where all that permaculture stuff began over 30 years ago in Bill’s house. Going down that winding road, I recalled reading in Bills autobiography, Travels In Dreams, how the powerful bushfires of 1967 burned down from the incinerated forests of Mt Wellington into the Avenue. I recalled, too, other notables from this island — the actor of the 1930s, Errol Flynn, and writer Christopher Koch.
Tasmanians, of course, are a creative bunch and it is to Nel Smit and her fellow organisers that thanks go for organising a superb community gardeners’ conference, one that took community gardening further into the realm of food security.
Then there’s the graceful Hannah Maloney from Hobart, dressed in her stylish but earthy clothing, who gave perhaps one of the best introduction to permaculture talk I have heard. And Nick, a doctor active with TransitionTasmania, too… it was good to sit in on the transition team’s meeting.
And then there’s all the others, too — far too many to name even if I could remember all of their names.
The Good Food Future was a good conference truly done good. Thanks Tasmanian community gardening crew!