Community gardens are a growing trend the world over as little plots pop up in the smallest available spaces in cities; providing fresh produce alongside a sense of community and ownership for those involved.
At UniSA’s Mawson Lakes and City West campuses, communities are coming together as the University’s own garden projects take shape. What began as an idea in the first unijam back in 2013 is now rolling out with staff and students getting involved.
A 500 square metre area has been set aside at Mawson Lakes and last month staff and students got their hands dirty with the first planting of 11 evergreen fruit trees including avocado, lime and orange, along with less common fruits such as guava, tamarillo and white sapote.
Now in the true spirit of community gardening, members of the University community are being invited to take ownership and drive the project moving forward.
David Varga from the campus Facilities Management Unit says his staff have provided the basics including setting up the area with provisions for irrigation, several garden beds and a garden shed, but ultimately it is a blank canvas and how it takes shape will be driven by the community.
“Since unijam it’s been an interesting journey of discovery figuring out the best framework,” Varga said.
“People from across the campus have already shown their interest to get involved – we want an area that people can actually get physically involved in, to get out and dig and plant and manage the space themselves.
“We are taking a phased approach; initially involving the local campus community and if it’s successful, then we can start to invite other user groups in Mawson Lakes who could become involved.”
Program Director from the School of Natural and Built Environments Dr James Ward says the first tree planting on March 9 has provided a community orchard that will grow to be a permanent backbone of the garden space.
“We’ve put all the evergreens along the southern side so that we get good northerly sun during winter and that’s an example of the permaculture thinking behind the layout and design of the space,” Dr Ward said.
“Then the garden bed area which has room to expand will be driven by the community – we are kick-starting the area with four self-watering wicking beds, but ultimately the form of that space will be up to the community to decide.
“We also have a team of students working on interpretation signage this semester as part of the interpretation course in the Bachelor of Environmental Science degree.
“One of the most common groups using the area of lawn in the space are school children who visit the Planetarium who typically go out to have their lunch, so this is where interpretative signage will provide interaction for any visitors to the campus – there are lots of opportunities for descriptive signage that makes the garden an interesting place to learn.
“My hope is that we have some signage that at least describes the types of trees planted and where: i.e. we have tall, evergreen trees at the southern end where they will get plenty of sun year-round without shading out the shorter deciduous trees, and at the northern end we have the vegetable gardens in full sun year-round.
“There could also be signage around the irrigation system, which is run on multiple stations to account for different watering regimes for evergreen and deciduous trees, while the vegetable gardens will be water-efficient wicking beds.”
Anyone interested in getting involved can complete the sign-up sheet outside the NBE office (P1-22, Mawson Lakes) and a ‘Google Group’ has formed with the people who have signed up so far to communicate with each other. Students and staff from across the disciplines are welcome.
“My intention is to see these people establish the governance structure of the group including organising a schedule of meetings, getting the group to figure out who is leading the project, and arranging the initial next phases including commissioning raised garden beds and planting deciduous trees,” Dr Ward said.
The group will work in consultation with FMU to ensure that the development matches the aesthetics of the campus but ultimately it will be the community that manage the garden.
Bachelor of Environmental Science student Amber Michael (pictured right) got involved in the Mawson Lakes garden because she loves gardening, and the project provides a great way to connect with others and have a positive effect on people and in the community.
“It will be a great way to show people they can produce their own food at home that tastes great and is free,” Amber says.
“It’s great for the environment by reducing food miles and packaging, and it makes you feel good too.
“I like that this has been so well thought out and a lot of the things that people find difficult to source or overcome when setting up a community garden have been taken care of; there is a good water source with irrigation systems in place, a future plan set out for garden beds and deciduous trees, and the initial setup and material costs have been covered by the University.”
Post-graduate journalism student Rachael Hakim has written about the project as part of her role writing for the Community Service Learning Project blog, Where Uni Meets Community.
“When I visited the planting day I found the gardens were nothing like I expected - there were exotic fruit trees being planted, not spinach, broccoli, kale and the usual veg - although that will come later.
“I’m keen to follow the garden’s progress and I’m excited to see the response from staff, students and the community. There is so much more to learn than just planting some vegetables.”
Anyone interested in getting involved can sign up via the School of Natural & Built Environments office in person at P1-22, Mawson Lakes, by phone on (08) 8302 3000 or by email at NBEemail@example.com
At City West, an empty concrete space on the rooftop of the Kaurna building is attracting up to 150 staff and students each week to the ‘Community Gardens’ events from 12-1pm featuring catering from local businesses; promoting healthy and sustainable eating.
Tristana Sidoryn from the UniSA Business School said the events are a joint initiative between the UniSA Business School and the School of Art, Architecture and Design.
“The events have been attended each week by 120 to 150 staff and students,” Sidoryn said.
“Along with lunch, we hold structured planting activities involving students and staff, such as setting up wicking beds.
“We are involved in the broader UniSA community gardens project, and essentially have set up this part and then we will be involved in the greening George Street project, and other community gardens at City West campus.
“The events in the rooftop community gardens will be held for a year, and then we will look at extending it to other parts of the University.”
Bachelor of Marketing and Communication student Wael Mili says the weekly events provide the ideal place to take a break.
“The idea of a garden on the roof is unique by itself, you get to plant and enjoy an afternoon with friends and lovely UniSA staff,” Wael says. “I encourage everyone to come along.”
Masters by Research student Peilin Phua says the community gardens event is her favourite midweek event on campus.
“What a great way to catch up with friends and university staff over some hearty food and drinks,” Peilin said.
“It’s a great place to share knowledge about gardening and plants, I didn’t know there were so many different species of basil herb or different applications.”
Anyone in the University community is welcome and can visit Facebook for more information about what’s happening each week.