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Garden digs in for the future

The Oxford Street community garden in Masterton turns 10 years old this month and is ready to “step out” and offer a bit more, the garden’s new part-time coordinator Paula Sala said.

In the decade since a social worker on placement started the garden, it and the community around it have flourished.

In addition to welcoming Sala to the green-fingered team, the garden’s committee has grown the pool of volunteers that help plant, pick and weed the veggie beds and shade house all year round to about 20 people.

The garden’s produce now supports a regular veg box scheme for locals, where for $100, subscribers can get 10 weeks of fresh, seasonal, spray-free veg.

A local homeschool group frequently learns in the outdoor classroom at the heart of the garden.

A new tool shed funded by Masterton Trust Lands Trust [MTLT] is expected to be installed before the year’s end, enabling greater freedom of access to equipment for volunteers.

And more produce is expected in future growing seasons as the site’s owners, Amatiatia Trust, recently gifted land to expand the garden.

Ten years ago, the garden “sort of fell into the laps” of Anna Baird and her family, who moved into the two-storey house next to it just as the social worker who started the project was leaving.

“[The social worker] was living here, she made it happen here and then her placement was done and it was like, ok, now what? We moved in that week and we like gardening. So, we took it on,” Baird said.

Baird credits the community garden’s success to a “slow and steady” approach.

“We haven’t just gone crazy. We’ve been, ‘ok, what can we manage this year?’ We have to be able to keep up with it.”

Part of that approach now includes Sala, a trained teacher who is passionate about connecting young people with their environment.

She sees the Oxford Street community garden as part of an emerging network of initiatives throughout Wairarapa sharing and building environmental skills and knowledge.

“It’s a really exciting time for the gardens,” Sala said. “A lot of learning that we are sharing at schools we can share through here – like Enviroschools have an eco-building workshop at the earth school in Carterton.

“There are knowledgeable people in one space joining with knowledgeable people in another space and you’re seeing wonderful things happen and Anna is getting the garden on that journey.”

Sala’s position has been made possible by a grant from Masterton District Council’s [MDC] community climate fund, which helps community groups implement their own local-level climate actions.

“[Paula] is already making a huge difference,” said Janine Ogg, MDC’s climate change activator who supported the garden to make the application.

“It’s that excitement of getting some money when you haven’t had much and knowing that people support you and that people care and people are interested in and value what you are doing.”

Ogg counts the garden’s connection with its community and the approach to growing kai [food] among its strengths.

“When I’ve been down there on their volunteer days, you can really see the connection for people that come along is really important,” she said. “The mental health and wellbeing benefits of being out in the garden and connecting with people in that way, that’s really underestimated.”

“Getting to know the neighbours” has been a chief highlight for Baird over the past decade. “You feel very rooted and embedded in the street and that’s what I love.”

Sala intends to build on the garden’s role in creating a strong, connected and resilient community over the next 12 months.

“I’ve already had meetings with other organisations that look for opportunities for people to get back into community things because there has been so much isolation [with covid-19],” she said.

“I see that in the future we might have all sorts of support networks going on with the base of this beautiful, serene environment that will fill people’s cups in more ways.”

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