Johnson Strip

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As the buzz for this years competition starts to heat up, I thought it would be nice way to begin by looking back. Today’s post is actually written by Paul who is one of last years winners…

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It all started with a very ordinary nature strip in a very ordinary street with what should be, in truth, a very ordinary idea. The idea that our nature strip, the ‘edge’ where passers-by, neighbours, councils and home owners intersect should not be a barren strip of dying grass but a place where people, food and education combined.

So with all guns blazing we made a plan. A plan to engage with neighbours through reclaiming our curbs. Sure there were a couple of initial problems to work out, like how do you actually build a wicking box on the nature strip, where will we get the wood, will anything actually survive in it and will the council actually allow it to happen. But we were confident these things could be overcome.

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The wood problem was partly solved by a quick opportunistic chat with the local bulk pet food store and the appearance of a pile of pallets;  and partly solved by the acquisition of a packing box for some medical equipment. So one challenge down and after a couple of practices and a test box we were ready to roll. The council still wasn’t quite sure if we were allowed to do what we were planning so we figured we’d help them along a bit by doing it anyway and then showing them how considerate we had been with the guidelines that they had put in place.

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We had the first of our street meetings to discuss what we were going to do and then set to with our ‘demo’ nature strip. The first step was clearing the nature-strip of the kikuyu grass. We tried some light touch approaches even camping our chickens out for a day to tear it up, but this grass had been hardened by years of drought and neglect and wasn’t going down without a fight. So the digging began. Neighbours joined in though and it wasn’t too long before we had a production line happening and shortly after that our first box took its place front and centre stage.

Once the first box was in, another quickly followed along with a lemon tree, courtesy of The Lemon Tree Project, some passive irrigation, some thyme ground covers and some native plants to surround it all. The Johnson Strip had truly begun.

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Then things started moving. The boxes were good but production isn’t enough. We needed ownership and education so that people could really start to engage with the growing. Education came first via some blackboard paint and a pot plant full of chalk. Sure; people suggested that they might get stolen and, to be honest they did, but the very next day more chalk appeared with a little note explaining that someone had noticed the loss and had refilled it. We also started to put up some notices on the boxes. Some were about the coming of strawberries or the synergy of the fresh spinach and ricotta in the presence of pasta and then some were there to highlight coming events or our very own box based oddities.

In the midst of all this we had a win. Our efforts had been noticed and what was a deck became a pile of wood at a knock down price. Box building was on!

We perfected our construction and even managed to recruit some quality assurance specialists to make sure that our boxes were both tested for strength and size!

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Four boxes were made in quick succession with more gravel and soil ordered to fill them and another day of digging filling and planting. Sadly between the construction and filling four boxes became three with a very sneaky theft of a very heavy box! Whilst a little unimpressed at first, we consoled ourselves that really the only thing that one can do with a planter box was, well plant stuff. Since this was the point we figured all wasn’t lost.

With these boxes in place the competition was on and things began to take a life of their own. Some people chose not to go with vegies on their own patch, instead choosing to dig up and plant natives. Some chose to make their boxes not just about vegies but about art taking this…

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To this!

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But whilst the plan for the Johnson Strip was about wicking beds and nature strip vegies the most powerful thing that occurred happened around these beds. Sometimes it was just conversation about what’s growing, how or when to pick. Sometimes it was collaboration around digging, shifting or building or sometimes it was the realisation that the nature strips and in fact our street in general is just that, OUR street.

These days it’s rare to go down the street without at least a subtle nod or a hello and more often than not it’s a chat, a laugh or sometimes even a sneaky beer on the way home from work. If an alarm goes off, people check. Need help locating some candles in a blackout, no problem; your neighbours have got the time and interest to help. Need some lemons, basil or have a an olive tree full of olives that you don’t really like, no worries with the connections in the street you are bound to find somebody (in this case a couple of small kids) who are more than interested in coming to pick them for you. Out-of-towners have taken photos to send to their own Councils, plans have been hatched, street barbecues held and even our street poles developed some lovely warm woollen socks to keep them snug in the winter.

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Do we have the most edible street in the state? Probably not, but do we have one of the most friendly streets. And has this prize started something that will just continue to grow? Absolutely.

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