To gain more confidence, there’s also the option of joining a community garden. These are on public land and anyone can join to grow, maintain and harvest vegetables, fruits and flowers. Check with your local council or online to find your nearest one (see Contacts).
Generally, each garden has a communal plot as well as individual allotments, for which you’ll usually pay more in membership fees, ranging from $15 to $100 a year. At most community gardens, members work together and share harvests from the communal areas, but each garden has its own unique culture.
At the Angel Street Permaculture Garden in Newtown, NSW, interested members are taken on a formal tour of the garden and its culture before they join the group. The Veg Out community garden in St Kilda, Victoria, has a more informal approach to new members, who simply have to register, turn up and help out for three working bee days (the first Sunday in each month).
Russ Grayson, a Sydney consultant who has been working closely with groups and local councils on community gardens since 1994, says keen interest in communal gardening has been expanding steadily in the past six years. In Sydney, he says, residents of Clovelly, Meadowbank and Epping may see community gardens around their area soon. “It’s record-breaking to have three such gardens planned to start in just one year. In NSW, we have seen only one new addition a year since 2000.”
You can also connect to a wide range of resources, from seed distributors to farmers’ markets, through a community garden. Veg Out, for example, organises a farmers’ market on the first Saturday of every month. “Globally, there’s a lot of distrust of the main food system,” says Grayson. “On a local level, it drives people to want to be in control of what they eat. More people are buying directly from the producers or growing their own produce.”
Randwick community organic garden
Like most community gardens, the members of the Randwick Community Organic Garden (RCOG), in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, incorporate time in the garden around their own schedule. They all meet there at least once a month – usually every third Sunday – when the harvests from the communal areas are shared. Members interact on an informal and open basis, sharing the harvests with one another.
Their website includes a list of what they grow, as well as notes for newcomers on what needs to be done at the garden, such as turning the compost bins. Membership costs $50 a year to join the communal group, and an additional $50 for those who prefer to have their own plots.