At Brisbane’s Acacia Ridge Community Garden, Peter Gabogna has found a new zest in life after being made redundant from his old job. He comes here several times a week to help with whatever needs taking care of in the garden.
“I’ve always worked in the country side or in other people’s gardens, and this was an opportunity to work for a whole community instead of just an individual at a time, and this gives an opportunity to see how other people would like to garden because this is a community garden and it reflects the community, and it very much shows you the influence of people from the Middle East and from Africa - they've got totally different concepts about gardening.”
Studies have shown that being involved in a community garden is beneficial in many ways. Being surrounded by nature not only improves your mental health, reduces stress, but it can also keep you active as well as prevent osteoporosis.
The garden is a melting pot of cultures in spite of language barriers.
“There are special gardens here. This particular one is Saheb’s garden, and Saheb is from a country that has real problems with the language. English wouldn't even be their 10th language. So, there’s no language. We can’t communicate. She speaks Farsi only. But when we garden, it's a universal language. We understand each other. She and I can work in tandem in this garden without saying a word. You just have to occasionally wink, a nod, and a smile, and that'll do. That’s the benefit of community garden - it brings people together.”
And there’s something for everyone according to Michelle Gadke from Acacia Ridge Community Centre, who manages the garden.
People who use the facilities on site are welcome to pick or plant something in the garden.
“The African women love okra and some of our weedier looking plants – that come up, they’re actually used in the salad greens and things like that. So, we’re all educating each other about what they like to eat and what they think is valuable to pick out of the garden.”
There’s a rich variety of fruits and vegetables scattered around the garden ranging from tamarinds, spinach, beans, herbs, tomatoes, mulberries, to melons.
“So, what we’ve got here is at least 3 continents worth of gardening all coming together in a wonderful symbiosis. Africa introduced us to okra. Okra is something edible - that's edible fruit, edible vegetable as it were. As a matter of fact, it's the leaves that they crop. The Middle Easterners are into the herbs.”
Community gardens are an ever-changing vista with different plants growing all year round. You never know what new recipes you may uncover as you turn over the soil with fellow gardeners.
“The way things turn over…some things, of course, go at their own space. So, within 6 weeks, they’re ready to pluck, and the people are encouraged to do exactly that. They know when the herbs are ready and so forth, and if the lemons fall off the tree - help yourself - it's a community garden. The one thing we do lean on them very hard for is ‘please explain how you’re using this?’ because, we, for example, would be happy to take the spinach, boil it into a sloppy mess, and then force ourselves to eat it; whereas the Orientals fry it in a wok and make it into something far more delicious.”
Michelle Gadke says having a space to exercise one’s green thumbs is especially beneficial for those without their own garden.
“For a lot of people around here, especially, who are in rental houses, who may or may not be allowed to establish their own gardens and their yards, I think it's a good opportunity for them to come down and have access to not only gardening but fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and herbs.”
Local pensioner Yvonne Dreyer appreciates being able to find herbs she doesn’t grow at home in the community garden.
“The community garden is beautiful in a sense that everybody can plant with permission from telling centre management what they want to do. So, the neighbourhood has input into what goes into the garden, and everybody helps themselves to what they need. Through coming to the community centre, I have met a lot of different people from different communities.”
Getting your hands dirty may not be something for everyone, but for Peter, being part of life’s cycle out in the fresh air has allowed him to slow down and find happiness. And he encourages others to give community gardening a go.
“Come out, meet new people, make friends, and while you’re there, turn the soil and watch what happens. It's a big surprise. For a small effort, you end up with a big reward, and everybody’s happy, and that's what life’s all about - we’re supposed to be happy. In this particular case, you don't need any special qualifications, you don't need to bring money, you don't need to have any particular skills, all you have to do is have some enthusiasm and get some dirt under you finger nails.”
Studies have shown that being involved in a community garden is beneficial in many ways. Being surrounded by nature not only improves your mental health, reduces stress, but it can also keep you active as well as prevent osteoporosis. You can get started by finding a community garden near you.
For more information, contact your local city council or visit the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network.