Justine Maunsell – The Coffs Harbour Regional Community Garden

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“The Coffs Harbour Regional Community Garden is truly one of the hidden gems of the Coffs Coast.”

Tucked away in the Combine Street Reserve, the Community Garden is fast becoming a place where locals meet on a Sunday to grow fresh food, learn, relax and make new friends. Even during the cooler winter months, the garden is flourishing with a mouth-watering array of fresh vegetables. Broad beans, snow peas, celery, silver beet and broccoli will soon be ready for the community gardeners to harvest!

The Coffs Community Garden is a not-for-profit organisation managed by a dedicated group of community gardeners. It is driven by a simple ethic: care of the earth, care of our people and sharing our surplus. It is one of the key projects of the Coffs Coast Local Food Alliance, which aims to promote a strong local food economy so that all residents of the Coffs Coast have equitable access to affordable, fresh, healthy food into the future.

Back in 2009, a small group of motivated locals got together and planted the idea of a community garden. The idea grew and, after many long hours of work and planning, a proposal to establish the Coffs Community Garden was submitted to Coffs Harbour City Council. The proposal was approved with overwhelming support from the community in 2010. The NSW State Government, through its Environmental Trust, also came on board providing a much needed grant to develop the Community Garden as part of the Local Food Futures Project.

Fast forward to 2012, and the Coffs Community Garden is now full steam ahead. Communal gardening areas are shared by the community gardeners, all of whom enjoy the fruits (or vegies!) of their labour. Individual plots are also available for a small annual rental fee for those members wanting space to grow their own vegies, herbs or flowers. Being a community-based project, members are encouraged to assist in building their own plots before filling them to the brim with whatever they so desire! With plans for up to 40 plots, the Community Garden will be feeding plenty of individuals and families into the future.

The Community Garden is a hub for developing community knowledge and practical skills around local food. It is also a place for raising awareness of the benefits of home gardening, organic food and self-sufficiency. Future plans include construction of a community space to be used for social events and workshops. The Community Garden has a reputation for delivering educational, practical and inspiring workshops such as composting, worm farms and, more recently, edible food forests. Even celebrity gardener Costa Georgiadis has presented a workshop at the Community Garden. Future topics in the pipeline include raising seedlings and pizza oven building, so keep an eye out for these workshops!

A nursery for raising seedlings and propagating plants has recently been built on site. This is particularly exciting, as it will provide a constant supply of seedlings for members to use in the garden. It also has the benefit of encouraging seed saving, plant propagation and showcasing water-harvesting devices. A fruit and nut tree forest is being planted to provide an abundant supply of delicious seasonal foods such as mango, apple and jackfruit. Organic recycling is also undertaken on site by composting and busy resident worms.

A significant amount of work has been done  on restoring the riparian vegetation as part of a project funded by the Coffs Harbour City Council Environmental Levy and, more recently, the Be Natural Landcare Grants Program. The community gardeners also have plans for a native bush food area, which will encourage better knowledge of bush food and traditional medicinal plants.

The Coffs community gardeners are from all walks of life. But the one thing they share in common is a desire to work together to grow healthy food and create positive change in the local community. Community gardens are not just an important source of fresh produce; they provide spaces for community interaction, decision making, problem solving, creativity and celebration. They are places for creating new friends, strengthening community connections and fostering a sense of community wellbeing.

The Community Garden is a perfect option for those who don’t have the time or space for their own garden. It’s ideal for those living in apartments or rental properties. On the other hand, if you do happen to have your own garden, the Community Garden is a great place to meet other like-minded people, contribute your skills and knowledge and share in the learning. If you’re running out of space in your own garden at home, the Community Garden might be just the ticket for planting crops that need a bit more space.

For those with families, children are considered an important part of the gardening community. The Community Garden provides children with a great opportunity to get out in the fresh air, have a dig in the garden and learn about the importance of growing and eating healthy food. In fact, there is even a special ‘children’s plot’ filled with tasty strawberries and any other plants that the children fancy!

Membership to the Community Garden is open to all, and fees are very reasonable at $15 for individual memberships and $25 for families. Concession rates are also available. By joining as a member, you will be able to use the communal gardening areas, apply for a plot, attend free or discounted workshops, receive member newsletters, contribute ideas to the running of the garden, and of course have fun, meet new people and celebrate locally grown food!

The Coffs Community Garden is also keen to hear from hear from enthusiastic, community-minded people or local businesses with experience in bricklaying, carpentry, landscape design, administration, media, promotion and web design/maintenance. Artists and creative people are also invited to bring their inspiration to the garden!

The Coffs Community Garden is open every Sunday from 9am to 1pm. Members and newcomers are invited to visit the Community Garden to have a look around, do some gardening, or simply have a cuppa and a chat! If you’ve been thinking about heading down to the Coffs Community Garden, then grab the opportunity now during the beautiful months of winter. Beginner gardeners are always welcome, and one of the friendly community gardeners will be on hand to show you around.

Check out the website www.coffscommunitygardens.org.au – email contact@coffscommunitygardens.org.au or phone 0424 989 979 to find out more. See you down at the garden!

Justine Maunsell.

This story was published in issue 22 of the Coffs Coast Focus

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