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Inverell Community Gardens

Opportunities for growing chemical-free produce are abundant for enthusiastic volunteers

The calmness of sunrise and crisp morning air greets Jane O’Brien, Inverell Community Gardens’ coordinator, and a small team of volunteers as they begin to harvest an abundance of leafy green vegetables for the day’s events. The bulk of the produce is going to The Nourish Bar to be prepared for the 100 Mile Dinner that evening, with the remainder staying onsite to be used for the Fresh Produce Lunch and cooking demonstration, or to be sold at the Farmers’ Market.

Five years earlier, the Inverell Community Gardens was simply an idea, generated by a small book Jenny Cracknell, chairperson, discovered while researching a completely different project. The book, entitled Between Tablelands and Plains, was written and published two years after Inverell won the District Exhibit at the Sydney Royal Easter Show in 1914. The book stated how the produce for the exhibit had been sourced within a 25-mile radius of Inverell and indicated the climate was suited to producing oranges and cherries. Not only was the ability to produce food apparent, the town was also rich in processing the fruits of the producers’ labour with flour mills, breweries, tanneries, butter and cheese factories, and wine makers being some of a long list of manufacturers located in the district.

With this information, Jenny decided that if Inverell could be self-sufficient in 1914, then it could be again and began many discussions regarding how to achieve this. “Establishing a community garden was an opportunity to begin the process with the focus on producing chemical-free, locally grown food and living by the seasons,” explains Jenny. After some initial setbacks with land, the current site on the corner of Swanbrook Road and Byron Street was secured with the Inverell Shire Council’s encouragement to use the space for horticultural purposes.

A rather fortuitous windfall soon followed when Sarah Pearce, treasurer, had an application for funding rejected, only to have it passed on to another party for consideration. Unbeknown to Sarah at the time, the other party was a charity group comprising the wives of committee members of the Sydney Royal Agricultural Society, who decided the Inverell Community Gardens would be the recipient of their $20,000 grant. The funding was received 99 years after the District Exhibition win, an amazing event of serendipitous occurrences to say the least.

Many challenges faced keen volunteers as they began the journey of repairing and rebuilding the site. Jenny laughs, “The shed was something out of ‘The Addams Family’, the road between Swanbrook and Bunnings was a solid carpet of khaki weed full of mature seed, no water could be found and white ants thrived in every post and tree.” One by one, each problem has been dealt with.

With generous donations from many local individuals and businesses, the vision of the gardens has grown exponentially over the last three years (currently 2016). There are three grants in operation and several other projects taking place, making this a diverse and fascinating community project.

Strategic grazing using sheep has been implemented with the help of a grant from Northern Tablelands Local Land Services. Working with a local grazier, who has been highly successful in this area, is proving beneficial with the aim of regenerating the land and looking after the stock, to be demonstrated at a future field day.

Recent additions to the gardens are chickens and worms, both of which work perfectly to build this self-sustaining community. Macintyre High School students have constructed a mobile chicken tractor to house the recently acquired chickens, who were also raised by students. Working with Brooklyn Worms from Gravesend has seen a new commercial worm farm delivered, a project sponsored by Inverell Shire Council and McDonald’s Restaurant. Brighter Access are also on board as they collect food scraps from local cafes and restaurants to feed the worms, which in turn creates compost for fertiliser and growing seedlings.

A nature playground, the brainchild of the Inverell Autism Support Group is in full swing, with funding from another grant. A nest swing and in-ground trampoline feature proudly, next to the vegetable garden set up for children to learn about plants, fresh food and gardening.

Learning opportunities for growing chemical-free produce are abundant for volunteers, who are welcome whenever the gates are open and often leave with fresh greens for their evening meal. Vegetable plots can also be leased or sponsored by individuals or businesses.

Produce sold from the Community Market Garden is the linchpin for the sustainability of the entire project, with funds raised going towards operating costs, infrastructure and supplies. “Recently welcoming a new Farmers’ Market coordinator will see a new platform for marketing our produce starting in spring and focusing on green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, kale, rocket and salad greens and, of course, fresh eggs,” says Jane.

Events are held throughout the year for the community to come sample and taste, as well as learn about and be involved with local food. The Inverell Community Gardens’ team share information and encourage local people to share wisdom and knowledge so everyone can benefit.

Inverell Community Gardens’ mission is to create a welcome environment for change and the building of a self-sustaining community; nurturing plants, people and community; showcasing sustainable practices; providing opportunities for sharing knowledge, wisdom and culture; and creating a space where people can belong and feel connected to both nature and each other.

Apart from Jane’s love of the outdoors and fresh green produce, she enjoys the variety her role provides. “There is always something new happening. That’s the business of nature.”

STORY & PHOTOS Mel Arnott

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