Climate change is a global issue and 2015 was the hottest year on record. For many, confronted with facts such as these, acting ‘to save the environment’ may seem like a difficult and futile project; yet there are ways of addressing the environment at a local level that are engaging and personally rewarding. The ANU Organic Garden hopes to reinforce the importance of environmental issues locally, and empower the community to connect with our role in tackling climate change.
Throughout the twentieth century, community gardens have taken several different shapes depending on the respective issues facing Australian society at different times. During the World Wars, for instance, ‘victory gardens’ were planted in private residences and public parks to help increase production and deal with food rationing. Through the propagation of ‘Dig for Victory’ campaigns, these gardens reduced pressure on the public food supply and constituted a civil morale booster; amateur gardeners felt empowered by their contribution and were rewarded by the produce they grew.
While the popularity of community gardens decreased in the post-war era, the growing urbanisation of the Australian population over the last few decades has resulted in a renewed movement to institute community gardens within urban spaces. Meanwhile, a growing public interest in healthy and sustainable foods demonstrates a genuine amenability to learning about, and helping produce, food that is grown locally, and which brings about positive changes to individual and community health. Local councils, schools, community groups, and universities like ANU are among the organisations at the forefront of this movement, and have succeeded in turning under-utilised spaces into thriving veggie patches.
While there are many scientifically documented health benefits of gardening, the social aspects of community gardens in particular are uniquely beneficial. These initiatives have targeted and created an inclusive space for disadvantaged youths, the elderly, refugees and others, and have been shown to provide an important sense of belonging and investment in the community. It has also been shown that those who garden have a better understanding of nutrition, and consume more serves of fruit and vegetables per day than those who do not. Horticultural therapy is a popular new method of treating patients with dementia, depression, and anxiety.
In response to the links established between community gardens, increasing self-esteem and reducing stress, and their critical role in connecting the community to the environment, universities around the world have begun to introduce gardens on their campus grounds. An especially successful example is the Gatton Community Garden at the University of Queensland. The Gatton garden is almost one hectare in size, and is used as a ‘living laboratory’ by agricultural and veterinary students. It also provides plots to staff and students to grow their own produce.
Compared to the University of Queensland Gatton Campus, ANU has less of a focus on agricultural or veterinary science. It is perhaps reasonable, therefore, that the ANU Organic Garden is not at present an integral part of ANU’s continued efforts in maintaining a sustainable campus. Even taking this into account, the ANU Community Garden does not seem to be achieving the goals of community engagement and education that its student-founders hoped for in 2006, and is threatened by a lack of engagement with university students and staff.
The ANU Organic Garden, located near the Crawford School at Lennox Crossing, has expanded since 2006 to now included a small orchard, several veggie plots, herb gardens, an Australian natives bed, a greenhouse and a wood-fired pizza oven. The garden was founded by students and staff who hoped to bring the benefits of community gardening to ANU. The garden, however, faces an uphill battle.
Lack of committed volunteers is the Garden’s primary obstacle. Volunteers are integral to the ongoing maintenance and survival of the Garden, and there have even been calls to reduce to size of the garden due to the lack of student participation. In discussions with ANUgreen, it is clear to ANU Organic Garden coordinators that there are those in the university administration who do not see this space as an important part of the Acton campus. The Garden is located at what is now one of the main entrances to campus. It is our understanding that some have considered it to be unsightly, detracting from the sense of aestheticism and prestige that would befit a highly ranked university like ANU.
In the past there was also more interest in undertaking research at the garden, with a long-term terra preta soil project being conducted, and others investigating composting. Recently, however, lacking a strong connection with the Fenner School of Environment and Society and with other relevant researchers within ANU, engagement in the garden has declined. Given the high quality environmental and agricultural research which ANU participates in, and the various social and health benefits of community gardening, there is greater scope for research with of the ANU Garden.
Ultimately, integration with environmental groups at ANU and volunteers is necessary to ensure the on-going viability of the garden. So come along, whenever you can, and reap the rewards of gardening.