The Judges: Michael Gourlay

Food Share Shed - Nash Street Community Garden

Food Share Shed – Nash Street Community Garden

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.

Nash Street Community Garden

Nash Street Community Garden

+ 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.

Food Share Shed - Nash Street Community Garden

Food Share Shed – Nash Street Community Garden

Nash Street Community Garden

Nash Street Community Garden

+ Why do you think growing on public spaces is important?

So many people in Australia are craving the opportunity to reconnect with the land and the basics of getting involved with food growing in one way or another. So many more people know they are unsatisfied with aspects of their current approach to food, but they haven’t yet had their eyes opened to alternative possibilities and opportunities. Growing food in public places is not only important for the food that’s made available there, but also as a conversation starter to new ways of thinking and acting as individuals, households and communities. I can tell you, for example, that standing around the Nash Street Community Food Precinct, there’s been lots of conversations about how much we all hate the big two supermarkets and how great it is that we are seeing a growth in opportunities to buy direct from farmers. Lots of locals have felt inspired to sign up for food box schemes and/or make the effort to get to farmers markets. We’ve also been inspired to rediscover how fruit is supposed to taste by visiting the Mt. Alexander Fruit Gardens in Harcourt (near Castlemaine), possibly the best tasting fruit in Australia!
+ What are your hopes and dreams for the food movement in Australia?
At Cultivating Community, our mission and vision is focused on achieving access to healthy, culturally appropriate food for people and families living on a low income. We aim to do this within what we call a ‘whole of community’ approach to food security. What this means is that the answer isn’t just targeted welfare style programs to ‘help the poor’. What we need is a total community commitment to improve our food systems, people from all walks of life getting involved together and working out ways in which healthy, culturally appropriate food can be available to all in society, including people and families living on low incomes. My hopes and dreams for the food movement are that everybody who believes in a better food future – rich, poor and in-between – will work out ways to work together, including support for the small and medium scale farmers we need to be there into the future.
Thankfully, young people today are getting lots of exposure to these ideas through garden related programs being run at schools. Support for these programs is growing at the school and government level which is great. For example, when you meet the kids involved in our School Food Garden service and see their enthusiasm for getting their hands dirty in the garden, and the joy when they pick food from the garden and cook up a storm (last week at Thornbury Primary it was Kohlrabi Soup) it gives you faith that the next generation might do a pretty decent job creating a better food system than the one we have now.
Nash Street Community Garden

Nash Street Community Garden

+ 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.

Nash Street Community Garden Detail

Nash Street Community Garden Detail

+ 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.

Nash Street Community Garden

Nash Street Community Garden

+ Most inspiring food project?

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.

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About Juliette

When Juliette was little, she came home from school and asked her mum in her little teary voice why the other kids at school didn’t like her. Her mum reassured her and said 'Don't worry Juliette, you're just different. That's all.' Since then, aware of her obvious difference to everyone else, Juliette is spending her time doing exactly what people wish to be doing – exactly what she wants. This blog is a celebration of taking a deep breath and just doing it. Currently Juliette can be found sipping tea and gardening somewhere in Central Victoria, Australia with her beloved and their excitable boys. She is also completing her PhD in Civic Agriculture and teaches at RMIT in Sustainable Consumption and Design Activism.

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