In 1970 there was a famous song by performer Joni Mitchell, with the hook ‘They paved paradise and put in a parking lot.” Fast forward almost 40 years later and even more of our planet has been paved over. We live in cities full of concrete with nature few and far between. Thankfully community gardens and small agricultural farms are injecting nature back into large urban areas. Perth City Farm in Perth, Australia is one of these amazing community leaders.
Built on land that had been degraded by industrialization it has been revitalized. Now that land consists of a farm, solar powered café, and an onsite farmers market featuring local farmers. It’s more than just growing healthy food; it’s about community gardening, cooking workshops, education programs for students of all ages, and community networking. Jane Davis the Nursery Coordinator and Patricia Kington the Key Volunteer and Farm Supervisor have shared their experiences as environmental stewards at this remarkable farm.
Jane Davis, Nursery Coordinator
It seems like fate that I came to work here but looking back, the steps that led me to where I am now are a result of me being firm about what I wanted to do with my newly found food growing passion. I believed (and still do) that growing your own food is the key to future health and for the next generation’s survival.
Two and a half years ago I didn’t even know what a community garden was. I was growing food in half wine barrels on the vineyard I lived and worked on in FranklandRiver. I had fallen in love with someone in Perth and the relationship called for me to move from the county to the city. Eek! I really wanted to get a farming/gardening job however didn’t see how this was possible without working for the council or traveling long distances to work each day.
I talked to a friend of mine who told me about community gardens and I was amazed (I must have been living under a country rock) that such places existed. After doing some research it seemed it was unlikely I would get a paid position at one of these gardens but was interested none the less. Then out of no where, a friend that knew I was moving to Perth said she was leaving a job and thought I should apply as it was perfect for me. She worked at the farmers markets at…. You guessed it: Perth City Farm.
So to cut a short story shorter I wrote to and bugged the managers at Perth City Farm for a job and landed one, moving to the city earlier than I planned to so as not to miss the opportunity. I have never looked back. I’ve changed position hats about 3 times in the last 20 months and have now found my niche in nursery work and teaching people with disabilities planting and workplace skills.
This place has given me the most fulfillment of any job I’ve held (and there has been a few) and I’m always there early and leave late as I am challenged like I’ve never been before. I am also inspired like never before to serve the community I live in and make a measured and meaningful contribution to the people who participate here. Watching people learn and improve their lives and grow with the plants is my greatest inspiration.
I hope I’m not painting to rosie a picture as it’s not all fluff and fuzzy feelings at Perth City Farm. There have been many changes that have affected us and challenging personalities to deal with but that’s definitely not the biggest challenge so far. My biggest obstacle has been my own acceptance that it’s ok to not get everything done that you want to. No matter how stressed or calm you are, if you work for community, your work is never finished or perfect, just like every person. If it was, there would be nothing more to learn and if you believe that, you have stagnated. Enjoying and understanding the importance of being with your community while striving for a common goal is challenging when you are always consumed with ‘how much you need to do’. I’m learning to let go, walk slower and really see what and who I’m looking at.
I guess the proudest personal moment for me was receiving positive feedback from experienced lecturers about a course I had run for people with disabilities. Although I knew that I was providing a meaningful program for my participants, it was a gift to be recognised by my new peers. It was not the most important accomplishment but my most selfishly proudest. As a result of being recognised, I am now running another 2 more accredited courses this year. What’s fantastic is that my personal accomplishment became the communities benefit. That’s what I want my work to mean.
I hope this short recount of events provides you with a seed of a thought about getting involved with your communities, especially with those who do not have the same opportunities as yourself. Until you do it, you will not realize the profound effect it can have on your soul to give your time to others. Money can’t do the work that people do and there is no better gift than your time and effort. There are so many meaningful causes in every community so make the decision to be involved, talk to people, get searching online, and your genuine desire to be involved will naturally be met with open arms. It helps to follow the things that you enjoy, feel strongly about or see the need in. This will help you feel more committed to the volunteer position and commitment is one of the things that is so rare and necessary in organizations that are set up to benefit the community.
Although what you set out to achieve and what you do achieve may not always match up, I assure you that you will receive as much as you give when you recognize the power you possess to improve others lives. You just need to decide how you want to do this.
Patrica Kington, Key Volunteer and Farm Superviso
When I was a young married woman with a family I lived in England. As a stay-at-home mum living in a town with a tiny backyard I decided to rent an allotment to grow food. At that stage I knew nothing about gardening, but I liked the idea of learning how to grow food organically, so I bought a book and studied it at night when the children had gone to bed.
I approached my first efforts as an experiment so that even if the yield was poor or my plants died I was not disappointed. I would try something else until I succeeded. IT was an exciting time for me and over time I became knowledgeable about developing a city farm. Nothing came of it, but the interest remained.
Years later after returning to Australia I discovered Perth City Farm whilst looking out of the train window on my way to the city. When I found myself unemployed I asked to be placed at Perth City Farm as a work-for-the-dole participant. The thought of gardening with others was very appealing and it has turned out to be so. I just love to be with an enthusiastic group working in the gardens growing food. Now that I am retired and again working again at Perth City Farm I am grateful to have the opportunity to do what I love to do.
Looking back over the last two years I remember thinking that the hardest obstacle I would have, would be to convince others that I could plan and plant the gardens. I wasn’t sure that the confidence I had in my own abilities would be enough. What I did discover is that it is the group, not the individual person that makes it all happen. I cannot do what I do alone and succeed. The community, the team, the group had enabled me in my endeavors. At the end of a day in the gardens I am happily fatigued and satisfied with what we all have achieved. That is the greatest feeling.
How do I think people can get involved in worthwhile volunteer work? I’d like to say it’s easy, but it’s not (otherwise we’d all be doing it.) But it’s not hard either. Unfortunately we are all prone to procrastinate; find reason why we can’t. “If it wasn’t for… I’d do it!” advising others on what to won’t help either. All I can say is that if you know how great it is to do something for a community such as Perth City Farm you would pick up the phone right now. Act. Belong. Commit. Why not?
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This interview is from a book that includes 10 other amazing people who are creating positive change. You can read the full book and buy a copy for your school at Bookemon.com. Buy the e-book for 99 Cents on Amazon.com.