Community gardens have been springing up across western Sydney, bringing joy to people’s lives, boosting health and well-being and providing access to fresh, cheap produce. ALISON MILLS reports on this growing concern.
Marginalised communities including migrant and refugee groups have benefited from the social networks that grow with community gardens.
At Toongabbie, Parramatta Council teamed with Boronia Multicultural Centre and established a garden with more than 40 varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs. It’s used by the centre’s south Asian seniors group, members of which grow food to use in traditional dishes.
Mamre House, at Orchard Hills near Penrith, a Sisters of Mercy Parramatta project, sees refugee families from Liberia and Burma learn about Australian growing conditions to produce organic food on farm plots; TAFE horticulture students also grow food in a community garden, which supplies the restaurant on the site.
At the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury campus the Secret Garden provides a place where people with mental illness or disabilities can experience the joy of gardening.
The green oasis that is Bidwill Community Garden has become a second home for volunteer Marjorie Mead.
Mrs Mead dedicates much of her spare time to being a volunteer at the garden, established in 2001 as a partnership between Blacktown City Council, Housing NSW, Juvenile Justice and the Botanic Gardens Trust.
"[Being involved with the garden] has given me a lot of joy"
The Bidwill community garden is one of six in the local government area and Mrs Mead, now the garden's co-ordinator, says the space has given her much to be thankful for.
"[Being involved with the garden] has given me a lot of joy," Mrs Mead said.
"I've come a long way in the last few years.
"When I first got involved I would hardly say anything to anybody.
"It's been terrific. You get to meet lots of different people and it helps to get you out of your shell."
Research confirms what Mrs Mead and anyone with a hint of a green thumb already knows.
Community gardens offer "significant physical and psychological health benefits" including "reducing depressive conditions" the authors of a 2007 study by the faculty of the built environment at the University of NSW concluded.
"It is essential urban planners and policy makers respond to changing trends in residential living and open up the public sphere for community gardening."
❏ Permaculture Sydney West: http://www.permaculturesydneywest.org.au
❏ The Secret Garden: http://uws.edu.au
❏ Sydney Food Fairness Alliance: http://sydneyfoodfairness.org.au
❏ Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network: http://communitygarden.org.au
❏ Wentworthville Community Garden: http://wentworthvillecommunitygarden.com.au
❏ Parramatta Council: http://parracity.nsw.gov.au
❏ Blacktown Council: http://www.blacktown.nsw.gov.au
❏ The Hills Council: http://thehills.nsw.gov.au
❏ Penrith Council: http://penrithcity.nsw.gov.au