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Keeping it sustainable

Environmental campaigner and lifetime green-thumb gardener Helen Dew knows a thing or two about living a sustainable lifestyle.

The 85-year-old has been a vegetarian for over 40 years and said that all her food comes from her garden, where she’ll sometimes buy produce from the Carterton Farmers’ Market, only if it’s not in her garden already.

Dew told the Times-Age, “It’s not about getting the recipe book out and seeing what I have to buy to make this lovely meal, I just see what’s ready and what needs to be used, and that’s how the meals are planned.

“A lot of people wouldn’t understand what eating in seasons means because you can get anything, anytime, at the supermarket. We’re thoroughly spoilt and disconnected from where food comes from.”

The Carterton resident runs workshops on edible gardening from her 400 square metre garden, focusing on vegetable production, compost making, pruning and seed saving.

Dew moved to her home in William Wong Place at the beginning of 2018, after leaving her Costley St home of 60 years.

By August of that year, Dew had already got her hot house up and was supplying produce to the local farmers market.


“When I start my workshops, I always start with the reason why I do this, which is front and centre, climate change.

“The way we feed ourselves, primarily, relying on a supermarket, it’s a huge carbon footprint.

“You start with the seed, which is often produced overseas in Europe or California, a little bit in New Zealand, but not much,” Dew said.

“Those seeds are produced using farm implements, which use fossil fuels, which first create your implements, then the fossil fuels for running them, transporting them, and then the distribution system.”

Although the demand is there, Dew hasn’t done any workshops for a while but is planning to get them back up and running once she has found some dates.

Helen Drew’s worm farm. PHOTO/FILE

Her passion for the potential of complementary currencies for environmental, social, and economic wellbeing started in 1991 when she joined the Wairarapa Green Dollar Exchange.

Meanwhile, in 2002 Dew became a founding member of the Living Economies board and the New Zealand distributor of Margrit Kennedy’s Interest and Inflation Free Money.

Dew has urged Kiwis to check the ‘Mindful Money’ website to see what their Kiwisaver is invested in; she said most people are shocked after looking at and discovering what their funds are invested in.

“It’s about building local resilience.

“Localising your money is just as important as localising your food supplies; money is the lifeblood of how we swap things,” Dew said.

Dew represents not needing a lot of room to build a garden that produces copious amounts of food.

“There’s more than enough for me and to take some to the farmers’ market as well.

Dew hopes people can get an enthusiasm to grow at least some of their own food, basics like silverbeet, herbs, spring onions, and lettuce.

Dew’s passion for gardening has been passed down to her children and grandchildren.

“They’ve all got their fingers in the soil, to some degree.”

Dew is also the subject of a children’s book called ‘Good For You, Helen Dew!’, written by Catherine Cooper and Ali Foster.

“Two of my friends, on their morning walk, often discussed issues such as community resilience, and planetary challenges, and began talking about my lifestyle.

“Both being published authors led to the idea of writing a book for children, using me to deliver a message about caring for the Planet and for one another.”

The icing on the cake was the illustrations in the book Dew said; the only thing she would’ve changed was the front cover illustration; instead of Dew’s arms wrapped around mother earth, mother earth should have wrapped her arms around Dew.

“Mother Earth has been very good to me,” Dew said.

The topics covered in the book help create discussion between children and others around intergenerational play; creativity; responsible use of Nature’s resources; expectations and behaviour; changing attitudes, resisting consumerism; repurposing, refusing, reusing, recycling, buying ‘local’ and much more.

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