The second of our judges is Michael Gourlay, CEO for Cultivating Community. Michael is also the proud initiator of the Nash Street Community Garden which was the first plot that Reclaim the Curb helped turn into a productive space. Its been super exciting to see Michael take on the challenges that are involved in getting all of his neighbours to agree and support his vision, and the guts to keep dreaming big for this small plot of land. Michael is big hearted, welcoming and has an easy laugh on him, and so needless to say, getting his neighbours on board and inspiring the local kids does come somewhat easier for him!
I hope you enjoy this short interview with Michael. There are some great insights into the developments of his public garden (which of course we will be revisiting with progress updates regularly) and the amazing work Cultivating Community is doing.
+ What is growing on your curb?
A community herb garden accessed by lots of people in our local neighbourhood. All the traditional herbs are there, thai basil, parsley, sage, thyme, marjoram, winter savoury etc., along with chives and spinach. We’ve recently added some kale. We are growing kale for the first time so we hope it goes well! We’ve also got a foodshare shed near the garden where people leave excess local produce (mainly lemons and limes, but also feijoas and chillies and a few other things depending on the season, eg. some lovely macademia nuts appeared recently). This impressive structure was built by Lucas from Libertas Gardens. The foodshare shed used to be on the nature-strip right next to the garden, but our local Council (Darebin) suggested that while the community herb garden could stay on the nature-strip, the foodshare shed wasn’t legal and had to go. We have moved the shed to a private driveway that is easily accessible to all from the footpath and it is working quite fine from this new location.
+ Why do you think growing on public spaces is important?
+ Most inspiring food activist?
I’ve met so many inspiring food activists in my time at Cultivating Community, too many to name here! Never a day goes by at Cultivating Community without me feeling inspired by what food activists are doing here in Australia and overseas. There is so much positive energy in the food movement, so many great people. One who deserves credit for inspiring me to get active and start up the Nash Street community food precinct is Hannah Moloney. Hannah lives in Tassie these days and is involved in all sorts of things, including local composting projects, permaculture teaching and the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network. It was Hannah’s passionate articulation of her vision for urban agriculture in the future that saw me come home one day and look at my next-door neighbour’s long, grassed, sunny nature-strip with completely different eyes. Within a week of hearing Hannah’s enthusiasm and passion for what is possible, I had been inspired to consult with neighbours, discover Juliette and the Reclaim the Curb movement and get started! Thanks Hannah! Thanks Juliette and Reclaim the Curb! Thanks also to one of the first volunteers I met at Cultivating Community, Libby Gleeson who comes from a farming background and wants to be a farmer of the future. Libby really opened my eyes about how much hard work farming is and how governments and communities should be doing more to ensure that people like Libby can make a go of it as a farmer of the future.
+ Most inspiring public garden?
Gee, that’s another tough question! Depending on your definition of public, can I be biased and choose one of the public housing community gardens we work with at Cultivating Community? My favourite is the Lennox Street garden in Richmond near the Richmond public housing estate and right next door to the busy Victoria Street shopping precinct. That garden has good old fashioned character and charm as well as some of the most productive food growing in small spaces you’ll ever see. In coming years we are hoping to extend the garden and take on some extra land currently sitting vacant on the garden’s east side. We’d also like to build a new compost hub there as part of our new Food Know How food waste reduction project. If we can pull that off we could make a huge difference in reducing food waste from the nearby Victoria Street restaurants and fruit shops as well as create loads of new compost to help the Lennox Street gardens and other local community garden projects.
People like Cultivating Community‘s Peta Christensen who have travelled overseas would probably name the Boston Food Project and a few others. Personally I am a big fan of the gutsy advocacy that 596Acres in New York does re land availability. I’d love to see what could be done if all landowners, including government landowners like VicTrack and all their railway land here in Victoria, gave access to unused land for people to grow food. A good example of that here in Victoria is the Rushall Street Community Garden in North Fitzroy. It’s a little known fact that that the Rushall Street garden is built on railways owned land. More recently, a church in Northcote generously handed us a block of land to use for a few years as a ‘pop-up’ community garden and the result is the new Sunnyfields Community Garden, a great partnership project. Another recent project that has inspired me is the Putting Down Roots project we have participated in with Australian Red Cross and CERES. Putting Down Roots works with Asylum Seekers living in the community to build gardens they can use to grow food. The importance of being able to grow food, especially when you are living on a low income (or in the case of Asylum Seekers, an extremely low income) can be summed up in the smiles on the faces of the children and adults involved in Putting Down Roots. Their smiles and thank-yous when we built the gardens and then helped with the planting says so much about where we are today as a society and where we should be in years to come.