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A Step Inside Ngataringa Organic Community Garden

Collage of Ngataringa Organic Community Garden

There are a few things more wholesome than spending some quality time in your local community garden. And with the growing awareness and clear need for more sustainable food production methods, community gardens are vital now more than ever.

Not only do community gardens offer a chance to grow fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs (which we at the Nutrition Foundation whole-heartedly support), they provide us city-folks much needed green space, a chance to reconnect with nature and an opportunity to share gardening and food knowledge both with peers and the younger generations.

But how do you ensure a thriving community garden year on year? And what are some practical challenges to consider? To answer all these questions we enlisted the expertise of Kathy- a facilitator for our JUST COOK programmes and much to our convenience, a devoted member of Devonport’s Ngataringa Organic Garden.

In the essence of all things green and making the best out of waste, Kathy mentioned that the beloved Ngataringa Organic Garden actually started as a rubbish tip. The transformation process was a delicate one- to prevent landfill toxins from leeching into future garden soil plastic sheets had to be laid down. The beds were then raised with soil and voilà, you’ve got yourself a piece of land ready to be seeded.

Walking around you definitely get the impression of ‘abundance’. Kathy describes the garden as her happy place and cooking with the kai she has grown is a daily pleasure for Kathy (check out her broccoli salad recipe below). She often shares her produce with neighbours and friends and there is also a spot by the gate where extra produce is shared with the community.

So how do you keep a community garden thriving? In the case of Ngataringa, there is good communication between all members. They also have a dedicated member who will check up on you if your plot looks like it hasn’t been visited in some time. And a seasonal working bee with all the members gets any bigger jobs done and acts as a rather nice bonding experience. 

The biggest challenges the garden are actually rather small and furry- rats to be specific, however, they are kept under control. Rodents aside, there have been a few break-ins (by humans) but according to Kathy, nothing too major.

In the early stages (around 2007) the garden was supported to serve as a space for people with mental health challenges. They would come to the garden with their support person and spend their morning or afternoon working on the garden. Unfortunately,  due to a change in government, funding towards the initiative was cut in 2010. This does, however, illustrate the far-reaching benefits of a community garden when the correct support is provided.

The model Ngataringa follows, differs from your usual community garden. Those interested request a spot (for free) and if granted they are given access as this is a locked garden. Other gardens around Auckland follow different models.

Take, for example, Kelmarna gardens. This popular community garden in Ponsonby is open to the public. Plots are maintained by both paid staff and volunteers with the ongoing support of community partners. The harvest is shared amongst volunteers and groups who have plots and there. Produce is also sold at their on-site shop for sale to both the general public and restaurants which strengthens their financial sustainability. 

Further south, you’ll find The Auckland Teaching Garden Trust. They boast community gardens in seven different South Auckland locations which are open to everyone. The personalised educational programmes they deliver for schools is one example of their dedication towards collaboration with community groups and passing down of knowledge.

Another group, Whenua Warrior are undertaking Project Southside 600, their aim: to build and distribute 600 edible garden boxes to South Auckland households. In addition, they share knowledge on how to nurture and care for your māra kai.

An increase in access to fresh nutritious produce is something we are in desperate need of and community gardens are an essential part of the answer. And it’s clear that the impact of a community garden can be further enhanced; be it, through providing support for those with mental health challenges or through delivering programmes for community groups.

The handful of examples provided here, illustrate that there are many ways to run a community garden. Adapting to the wants and needs of the people it serves is what makes a community garden truly fruitful. Regardless of the type of the model, for a garden to be sustainable, a team who are passionate about learning and sharing their food-growing knowledge is vital.

So, while community gardens aren’t the only answer, they are an important piece to the climate change and food security puzzle. And if you were thinking of ways to lighten your footprint and connect with your community garden, we hope this article has sown a seed.

Click on the links to learn more.

Information on Project Southside 600—taken from TVNZ Seven Sharp https://www.tvnz.co.nz/shows/seven-sharp/episodes/s2021-e20

Raw Broccoli Salad Recipe

1 or 2 heads of broccoli depending on size

1/2 red onion

100g feta

A handful of dried cranberries or craisins 

1/4 -1/2 cup of toasted sunflower seeds

 

Wash and finely chop the broccoli, use the stem too once peeled.

Dice the red onion and cut the feta into cubes.

Add all ingredients and mix through a dressing made of equal parts of mayonnaise and plain yogurt, with a teaspoon of grainy mustard.