Just imagine if our access to safe and nutritious food was under threat. The Covid Pandemic, coming on the heels of severe drought and bushfires across Eastern Australia, has raised concerns about our sustainable, ready access to nutritious food. I mean, we only need to go back 12 months to the squabbles over seedlings on the streets of Bellingen, to know that food security is a collective concern.
The recently completed OzGREEN Resilient Communities Program successfully drew together members of our community from right across the Shire. Over seven months, participants were empowered to take personal and collective action to prevent, prepare, respond to and recover from future disasters. And these ‘actions’ are being implemented right now.
Since the Program’s completion, Program Co-ordinator Kathleen Hannah (pictured above right) has teamed up with Alison Heeley (pictured above left) and Donna Sowman, two of the Program’s Facilitators, to run a series of six workshops primarily focused on food security. “The Program’s ‘food resilience module’ triggered a lot of interest and passion from the community participants. It sparked ideas and conversations around food localisation, community collaboration, food preservation and storage, and self-reliance,” says Alison.
These hands-on workshops are being run at the recently reinvigorated North Bank Community Garden in Bellingen, which is is quickly developing and building to become “an amazing community resilience hub,” says Alison. Alison is also the newly appointed Co-ordinator/President of the Community Garden and foresees that this extraordinary community resource will become a centre of education and collaboration.
The workshops incorporate the many facets of food security. Building soil fertility, preserving foods, water catching garden systems, disaster preparedness, edible plants and many more topics will be covered. “When infrastructure breaks down in times of disaster, we need to be able to draw upon the skills we have as well as the the resources available locally. Learning how to save your own seed, improving your soil using the resources you have on hand, growing the plants that thrive in our climate – are some of the skills crucial to resiliency,” says Kathleen.
“The skills we discuss at these workshops are not complicated , but rather go back to basics and teach simple techniques. These workshops will give people the opportunity to come together and share skills that are based on years of trial and error, giving participants the confidence required to be quite competent in the garden,” says Kathleen.
For many of us, climate change and the ramifications of this can be overwhelming. Kathleen and Alison describe themselves as “warriors not worriers,” and know first-hand that “activism is the antidote of despair.” “ We need to recognise how we are we feeling and the impending problems, but what is crucial is finding the solutions,” says Kathleen. “These solutions are often found through skill sharing, collaboration and mutual support, which is the premise of these workshops.”
The workshops aim to not only build participants’ confidence and resilience to grow their own food, but to reduce a reliance on buying stuff. “We want participants to use what they’ve got at home, things that are accessible for everyone. Being resourceful and utilising things that we may have considered were waste or weeds, but actually can be put to great use in the garden- that is the very essence of resilience,” says Kathleen.
The Northbank Community Garden is already an amazing permaculture food forest, with rich soil that has been built up over twelve years, due to the dedication of the previous custodians of the garden, primarily Pete Bufo and Kat Tittl. The newly formed committee are full of excitement and enthusiasm for the potential of this space and hope that their ambitious plans will help to support the precious legacy left by Kat, whose sad passing has been so sorely felt by the whole community. “We are committed to the garden becoming once again a safe, inclusive, family-friendly place for the whole community to gather, learn, share and grow,” says Alison. “These workshops are just the first of some very exciting learning experiences for the whole community.”
Surely this collaborative approach is the very epitome of community resilience.
Alison, Kathleen and Donna would like to thank the Bellingen Shire Council for funding the Resilience Workshops.
Working bees at Northbank Community Garden happen every Saturday 2-4pm.