Growing community spirit

Written by Kerrie Alexander

It was clear from the get-go that Alison Chappell was a veteran gardener with her version of a cup of tea being fresh lemon grass and basil picked then and there and piled into a tea pot of boiling water.
It was delicious!

With a degree in horticulture and a passion for growing her own food, the volunteer has been a brilliant asset to the Halcro Street Community Garden since it opened 10 years ago.

Alison was inspired to garden at an early age by the ABC documentary Global Gardner hosted by the founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison.

“I have always loved to garden, and I just love growing my food,” Alison said.

“It’s also interesting to learn what you can grow in the different seasons.”

Knowing just what to grown and when to grow it is a major piece of the puzzle that beginner gardeners struggle with and Alison is more than happy to share her mountain of knowledge with anyone willing to give growing a go.

“You have to start small and only grow what you really want to eat,” she said.

“There are so many things that can go wrong at the start and you have to give lots of tender loving care loving care. It’s not a five-minute job!

“That’s what’s great about this community. You can ask other people questions.”

The site that is now home to several different ‘garden plots’ was once an old Telstra depo gifted to council and converted into a thriving community hub for Seniors in Focus Project activities and gatherings.

The Community Garden was first established in 2012 with the help of a Healthy Lifestyles Grant to build all the infrastructure and countless hours of planting by volunteers.

It is now a thriving space that five volunteers use to promote healthy food behaviours and reduce social isolation among a number of at-risk target groups in the Hervey Bay area.

This includes seniors, people with a disability, low-income earners and those who are new to Hervey Bay, or residents who simply don’t have enough space to grow a garden of their own.

There are several plots that are available for people to hire with any money made going back into running the centre’s programs.

There are five volunteers that visit regularly to do general maintenance on the gardens and those with a hired plot just come and go as they please.

A local disability group have also just put their name down to transform and maintain two of the raised garden beds.

Or like Julie, another valued volunteer, you can simply give your time to help plant fruit and vegetables and tend to the garden with water and weeding of a Thursday morning.

“It’s very relaxing and you get to switch off from what’s going on in the world,” Julie said.

“I just love getting away from everything and I think it’s better than being in your garden because you’re focused on what you’re doing.

“It’s just like a time out.

“It’s also inspired me in my own garden. The ideas and the inspiration I get here, I can put back into my garden.

“I also love meeting people that like the same thing.”

Alison said another great aspect of the garden is that produce grown is often donated to garden members and Community Centre patrons.

“The bits and pieces we grow in the main areas, we share it with the seniors groups and anyone who comes and asks nicely.

“When everything is in season we tend to get a lot of fruit that we hand that out.

“The dragon fruit are coming along; last year we had two buckets full.

“We also have three mulberry bushes and they get loaded so rather than go to waste anyone can come and help themselves.”

Alison has her fingers crossed that the centre will be a recipient of a State Government Community Grant this year with up to $50,000 per garden up for grabs.

“What we want to do is raise the garden beds because one of the real issues we have here is grass; it just invades and smothers everything.

“If we get those beds up and running we can advertise to people who have always wanted to grow their own vegetables to come along and learn how to do it.”

Now that it’s coming to the end of the season Alison said the volunteers will start the process of clearing out a lot of the vegetables including eggplants, corn, cucumbers, Asian greens and snake beans, just to name a few.

So, there’s plenty of garden therapy on offer if anyone is willing to volunteer and give it a go.

“If there’s anyone who wants to come and take over and area, feel proud about it and look after it, they are welcome.”

Give the Halcro Street Community Centre a call on 41942441.