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The joy of gardening

Alexander Peters wants Sydney students to get green thumbs

When the artificiality and disconnection of the modern world is getting you down, there nothing like a spot of gardening to reinvigorate the soul. Now I’m not a spiritual person but there’s definitely something uplifting and wholesome about tending the earth and the results are delicious. When you bite into that home-grown veggie you feel and taste a real difference from the store bought alternative that’s spent months in cold storage or been artificially ripened. The flavours are stronger and the texture better – the food is as fresh as fresh can be. You gain a real sense of satisfaction from eating the direct products of your labour, and if your cabbage has a slug on it that’s just proof you haven’t saturated it with pesticides!

Growing your own is also cheaper than buying in many cases. A pack of seeds might only cost a couple of dollars, yet yield hundreds of plants. In times of need the humble home garden has made an important contribution to food supply. At the end of WWII up to 40 per cent of American produce was grown in “victory gardens” promoted by Eleanor Roosevelt, who put one in at the White House.

Plus the actual practice of gardening is good for you – it gets you out in the sunlight, you meet the neighbours and develop friendships with other gardeners. It’s commonly described by practitioners as therapeutic. And I haven’t even mentioned the obvious environmental benefits. Food miles become food metres cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, there’s no agricultural run-off and you’re also helping prolong the onset of peak phosphorus if you’re careful with your fertilisers.

Yet it’s easy to miss out on the opportunity to garden in an urban, time-poor environment. Space is hard to come by for many, from apartment dwellers to tenants whose landlords won’t allow alterations to the yard. If you have to balance work, commuting and study then it’s really hard to maintain a good garden. Weeding and watering need to happen regularly, and if you go away then it can be an imposition to ask someone to look after it for you. A garden is a significant investment, so you need to have confidence that you’ll be there to reap what you sow, so to speak, which just isn’t present for many in the rental market.

A solution to all of these problems can be found in a community garden. Community gardens were first established in Britain during the early 19th century to help feed the industrial urban poor, a group analogous in some ways to today’s students! While there are a number of small community gardens around Sydney, our university with a population of 50,000 and plenty of open space is an ideal setting for a substantial garden.

There is significant interest from many sections of the student body, with a Facebook group spontaneously appearing and USU Board Directors endorsing the idea. Such a garden could easily start small and grow with increased interest. There is a wealth of knowledge amongst green thumbs on campus, and old hands to turn to in established gardens for advice.

Additionally the creation of a community garden has the sustainability benefit of teaching people skills that they can carry away with them from the campus to future gardens of their own.
If you consider yourself to be one of the aforementioned green thumbs, or even just have a passing interest in the idea of a community garden, come to a public meeting hosted by the Environment Collective, which will look at the options for creating a community garden and the practicalities of doing so.

There is no real organisation currently behind creating a garden, and so there is much to be decided, or at least sketched out, about how such a garden should function, including whether to go guerrilla, whether to have individual plots, a completely communal space or a mixture of both, raised or ground-level beds, composting on site, tool storage, how to gain funding and much else beside.
If passionate students and staff come together now to take this idea forwards, it’s just possible that by the start of next semester you might be eating the products of the Usyd community garden with some of the new friends you made there!

The Environment Collective meeting will be take place Thursday October 18 at 12pm at the Sunken Lawns.