July: Community Gardens

July: Community Gardens

It all started with a search for a tomato with taste.

A trip to Italy prompted the quest.

Tomatoes there were sun-kissed and flavoursome.

Here they were flavourless as wet cement.

A grower at a Sydney farmer’s market gave the woman a tomato to sample. Bingo! One bite whisked her straight back to Italy.

“What is this?” she wanted to know. “Why does it taste so much better than the ones I buy in the supermarket?”

“It’s an heirloom tomato,” the grower told her. “They taste good because they’re grown for flavour, not storage. They need to be eaten on the day they’re picked.”*

The grower encouraged the woman to buy some tomatoes, keep the seeds then grow them on her 13th floor balcony.

A love affair with gardening began.

Her new obsession dovetailed with two other deep concerns: climate change and community.

Food, she soon realised, was the perfect icebreaker. Talk about food and even those with opposing views on most other subjects would find a way to connect.

Get people to think about the food they eat, the plants, the soil, the seasons and the weather, and they might also start thinking about their impact as humans on the planet.

Showing people what to do (and not just telling them) would also make a difference.

She started getting her hands dirty and hasn’t stopped since.

You can read more about this food journey in journalist Indira Naidoo’s book The Edible Balcony (Penguin Australia/Lantern Imprint, 2011, $29.951). You’ll drool over what Indira made with those first tomatoes she grew and may be inspired to plant your own seedlings.

You can also catch her helping out with Wayside Chapel’s new rooftop garden.

As an ambassador for Wayside, Indira will be involved in garden and cooking activities as part of its Day to Day Living program for people with long-term mental health issues. Through this she hopes to share her belief in the restorative benefits of gardening, sustainability and eating fresh, nutritious food.

She’ll also be drawing together a network of volunteers to help tend the garden, which she hopes will be a space where all community members — not just disadvantaged people — can relax and be together.

Wayside’s garden is just one of many Uniting Church affiliated community gardens now flourishing (their numbers have doubled since 2010). And food production is just one of the reasons these gardens have been established.

Others include: fostering community, teaching life skills, engaging with neighbours, sharing resources, enabling self-sufficiency and sustainability and learning hope and courage as seedlings grow or plants wither.

Conversations spring up in these gardens and barriers between people dissolve.

The arms of the gardens are wide and the opportunities seem endless.

“Always smile, always be welcoming, always be inclusive,” is the advice given by Adrian Single from Young Uniting Church’s community garden, “then stand back and watch it grow.”

I think he means the garden and God’s mission.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

*Not Indira’s and the grower’s exact words: I kept the essence but pruned, staked and tied for emphasis.

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