Blacktown Council assists new community garden start-up

THE AUSTRALIAN CITY FARMS & Community Gardens Network is collaborating with landscape architect Steve Batley's small business, Sydney Organic Gardens, and local people to create community garden in Grantham Reserve, a disused poultry research station in Sydney's west. The project is being carried out for Blacktown Council.

A number of workshops have taken place over recent months to identify just what the garden team wants to do on site and to establish a governance structure for the group as well as the site. Steve Batley recently led the group through a participatory site and sector analysis to assess the features of the site, such as soils, aspect and drainage, and to plot sector information such as wind characteristics that would affect the growing of vegetables and fruit.

The group is making use of the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network's Management Plan  format to create their decision making, conflict resolution and communications processes, among other considerations. The format has been trialed and tweaked by applying it in real-world situations with the Coogee Community Garden crew and, in its initial version, with the Coffs Harbour community garden under a Network consultancy for Coffs Harbour Council.

Effort has been made to make the Blacktown sessions participatory and to keep decision making with the community garden group. To make effective decisions, ideas have to be explored and adapted and participatory processes such as World Cafe have been adopted as the most effective way to do this in the circumstances.

The late May session was one of the last to establish group governance and make decisions on site development. At the previous meeting the group was considering setting up initially as a council volunteer group and later changing into a self-managed team. This would make it possible to get started sooner.

As well as Steve Batley, the Network's Fiona Campbell and Russ Grayson are working with Blacktown Council's food systems officer, Clarissa Davies and her crew.

More information on the Grantham Reserve community garden:

Clarissa Davis, Food Sustainability Officer, Blacktown City Council
Telephone: (02) 9839 6514
Clarissa.Davis[at]blacktown.nsw.gov.au

New community garden to green Blacktown

What a difference. Gone was the heatwave that accompanied the first session of Blacktown Council's project to start a community garden. Instead, there on the western outskirts of the city the evening was pleasantly cool as around 30 people gathered for the second session that would move them closer to starting their garden.

Blacktown Council plans to start the community garden in the grounds of what was a NSW agriculture department poultry research station and is now the Grantham Heritage Reserve. Sydney Organic Gardens, led by landscape designer and Permaculture Design Certificate holder, Steve Batley, is leading the process assisted by Fiona Campbell from the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network and the author.

Council's sustainability staff are behind the garden development, including its food sustainability officer, Clarissa Davis, who is also known in local permaculture circles and is involved with an ecovillage project nearby.

The first session was an introduction to community gardens and looked at what the participants would like from their gardening experience. This second session focused on developing a realistic picture of what could be accomplished, and timelining those things.

A variety of participatory processes have been used to involve participants and council staff... World Cafe, the Workshop Method, small group and whole group work and individual visualisation, among others. Backcasting over the year from February 2012 was used in this latest session to help participants discern what could realistically be accomplished in that period. This was narrowed down to the first three months to assess what would be the first steps in creating the community garden, then the group produced the full year timeline to gain some idea of priorities and of what would be done first, then what next.

People worked with discussion, flip chart paper and, for the timeline, large Post-It notes with priorities written on them and laid out across the floor. Each session ends by going around the circle and evaluating it, and comments were made that the card-based process made timelining clear because it offered a visual representation. This supports the practice of using discussion accompanied

by some graphic element.

A discovery at the second session was an early permaculturist who, with Fiona Campbell and the author, did the first ever permaculture design course offered by Robyn Francis. That was in 1985. He's been doing good work over all the years since and is involved in starting another community garden nearby in Blacktown.

A permaculture workshop is planned for a few weeks time, and the group will next tackle their governance via a plan of management based on the template being developed by the Australian city Farms & Community Gardens Network. All of this is to be accompanied by practical work in basic gardening skills.

The wide age and experience range make it likely that this will be a successful community community garden.

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