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Let's dig it!!

Think Local

Here I am at the entrance to Barrenioey High School in Avalon. lt‘s Sunday morning and the tennis courts are filled, surfers are making their way towards the water and kids are out and about on their bikes and skateboards.

There's another group too. Further into the school grounds, tucked away on a hill. I spot a flurry of Wide brimmed hats shovels and pitch forks. A group of ten are quietly going about their business, working soil, planting seedlings, removing weeds and feeding the Chocks. This is why Peninsula Living is here - to meet the volunteers behind the Pittwater Community Gardens (PCG).

We are following the path already paved by Year 1 1 student Dana Lanceman - unofficial president of the yet-to-be-established Curly Community Garden (CCG). Dana and a dedicated committee, are planning on having the CCG up and running in the next couple of months. To be fully prepared Dana has been talking to numerous community garden groups about the challenge and reward that awaits them.

Community gardens have been popping up all over the Northern Beaches in recent times and PCG is widely regarded as the first, so like Dana, we thought it best to ask them what is so special about this movement. We also visit Baringa Bush Community Garden (BBCG), at the other end of the peninsula, which has made impressive progress since the grand opening two years ago.

The PCG started five years ago, over a cup at tea. “A couple of us were just sitting around having a chat and someone said ’You know what would be good…,‘ immediately we had about 12 really committed people applying for grants and talking to council,” explains founder Lisa Lintner.

“We were looking for land all over Avalon and not getting permission to use the land so eventually the principal here at the high school said 'I've got this mess at the end of the school would you like It?'.

“lt's a ridge, It's well placed facing north-east and it was covered in lantana and rubbish, it was basically a bit of bush regeneration that had gone off, been left alone. So we set about getting rid of all the lantana and weeds and all the really scrappy small shrubs, kept the good trees, brought in truckloads of soil and started making our own compost.”

Approximately 10-20 members now meet every week to maintain the garden, which includes vegetable patches, fruit trees, a chicken coop and plants, and their hard work has certainly paid off.

“We never thought it would be this successful when he began, it has just been amazing, but it's an ongoing project and we want to pass it down generations,” she continues.

"It's also about teaching people how to garden and providing a place for people to come and socialise."

Current president, Brita Benjamin, elaborates on the social benefits that come with this initiative.

“We have a lot of social events, like we recently had a trivia night, and when we had a glut of pumpkins we had a pumpkin feast where people came and we had live music," she explains.

"We have also had an open day spring festival - being community and social is the major part of all this. Sometimes we even come up on a nice Friday evening and sit around and have a drink and a chat."

She says jobs like collecting scraps from the organic shop every day, can be hard work but is all worth it when they look at what they've achieved from a "desolate hill full of weeds".

The idea for a community garden in Seaforth was devised in 2011, but it wasn't formally opened until October 2013. Having just celebrated the garden's second birthday, founders Peter White and Craig Baxter cannot believe the progress they've made in such a short amount of time.

“The idea came about when I was thinking about my fathers backyard, because in those days everyone's parents had a backyard and were growing vegetables. So I was literally walking here along a path at the back and I saw this area of land and thought This would be good for a community garden'," explains Peter.

"Once we got the green light, it all happened really quickly and it's been a huge success" Like the women we talked to from PCG, the two men agree that the social aspect of the garden is the central focus.

"It's quite amazing that since putting the garden here we‘ve actually got to meet a lot more people in the neighborhood - and people going for a walk quite often stop and just chat,” says treasurer Craig Baxter.

"It becomes a focal point and the big thing with any community garden is that it's more about the community than the garden — and people new to the area that don‘t know their neighbours can sit down and get to know each other," adds Peter. It's also about getting local kids in touch with nature.

"The kids love it," enthuses Peter. "On the gala open day one of those bays was full of potatoes and I've never seen kids so excited. All we decided to do was dig the potatoes up, look for them and count them, and you'd think they were tunnelling for gold they were just having so much fun."

This group only formed in August, but has been full steam ahead under the strong leadership of Dana Lanceman.

Dana chose 'Ethical and Sustainable Food' for an Independent learning project at school and it has become a passion that has led the high school student to spearhead the CCG.

The impressive youngster isn't doing it alone though, a knowledgeable and community-minded committee, including members of the Curl Curl Lagoon Friends, convene to discuss the important decisions - like the site of the garden.

"We're still deciding between a few sites because the location is the most important thing about a community garden because you can change your plots, you can change your people, you can change whatever but once you've got a location that's very hard to change," the unofficial president tells Peninsula Living.

The team have been told by groups such as PCG and BBCG that there is plenty of hard work ahead of them - specifically by Peter White that "it's a long, slow process, it's patience, it's like growing crops, you've got to cultivate the ground, and you gotta keep tending to it - you just push along and push along". But Dana believes the ultimate reward is well worth the toil.

"We just want to make a change in the community and hopefully introduce a program into some primary schools and high schools nearby, where students can visit and learn about food sustainability."

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