The Community Garden

Josh Dowton - Associate Pastor Northside Baptist Church


MG: Ok, now Josh. I wanted to ask you about the Northside community herb garden. Tell us the story, Josh, where did this all start?

JD: The idea started because one of the things that we want to do is bless our local community in ways that don’t necessarily include getting people into our doors. We want to do stuff out in the public area where we are situated right in the heart of Crow’s Nest, in a very public place. We want to do things for the rest of the community in ways that they find helpful. Kind of on their terms rather than on our terms. And so one of the things we wanted to do was to use our space to make it look beautiful and to make it useful in terms of the kinds of things people might use. So people coming home and wanting to pick some herbs or have some herbs in their meal. It looks really nice, the design is something that we worked hard on and it had to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s something that is useful in our community and it is something that draws people together.

MG: That’s fantastic. Now where did this all begin?

JD: So, a couple of things coming together. I have a background in permaculture which is organic gardening and the church had been thinking about things like a community garden. It hit our passions and skill set and those sorts of things that allowed us to bring it all together.

MG: If you are going to do something like a community garden and you’ve got the idea, give us a bit of a five steps you should probably think through and do to make it a reality.

JD: So you need to think through multiple levels. It’s not just the construction. So there’s going to be costs. We partnered in the local community with council with the local rotary club and we crowd-sourced some money. So there is financial outlay. We also needed the skill of a tradesman, a landscaper to do some of the work. You need to think through the ongoing nature of it. So it’s something that you need to do a fair bit of effort up front to try and get people in on so then it has a sort of self sustaining nature of it.

MG: Ok, some other things: what else do we need? You’re going to need some people who understand, like you and others, gardening. 

JD: What happens with a community or herb garden is that people realise that it’s not as hard as they think it is. Once they do they get excited because they grow some basil or they grow some tomatoes and realise, “Wow, we’ve just done this. I can do it.” And now I’m picking the produce, the fruit, the veggies and getting to eat them. And so people realise they can do it and so as long as you have a few people who know a little bit about what they’re doing and can think through the types of plants and when to plant and how to propagate new plants and that sort of thing. 

And for me this is a missional permaculture strategy - you get people growing some of their own herbs or their own fruit or veggies, suddenly they’ve got something to share with their neighbours and they’ve never had any reason to or way of connecting with their neighbours, invite them over for a meal because you’ve grown so much food that you want to share it or share the produce, you know, “I’ve got too many tomatoes, would you like some?” And suddenly we’ve got ways of loving our communities and loving our neighbours, opening up opportunities of eating together and so much good stuff comes out of eating together so it’s a way of training people up in small ways to do stuff in their own homes.

MG: What about the partnership side of the story so far.

JD: Yes, so we decided that we were going to do it, we were going to underwrite the project and we want everything that we do to be in partnership. We are really fortunate that we have a council here in the North Sydney area which is really interested in community gardens, sustainability, all those kind of things. So they loved it and then we were able to put plans that had been costed, professionals looked over the designs and the construction possibilities and they could see that we had an idea of what we were doing. They helped in a number of different ways, so they helped pay for some of the sandstone we used for the garden, helped with soil, helped us with mulch, a Tahitian lime in the centre of the herb garden. We want to work towards bringing the community together. There is a bunch of opportunities for us in doing things around multicultural inclusion and community kitchens where you come together and cook together with different people in the community and get to know each other so those opportunities have really been central to where its not just us, it’s something we are doing in and for and with the community.

MG: Josh, were there any trials with this? Were there any things that didn’t go right or didn’t go to plan?

JD: Absolutely. One of the principles of permaculture that I work out of is there’s not necessarily any failures, there’s just things that you can learn. And so for example, you plant something in a particular area and it doesn’t grow. And you think, “Why doesn’t it grow there?” Who knows, but it happens to grow over here so let’s go with that. So with the whole construction there was a number of things that didn’t work, timeframes that didn’t go according to plan. And also when more people become involved it’s this wonderful thing of losing a little bit of control over “This is how I envisaged it. It looks a little bit different to that.” Because other people have bought into it and are owning it and doing things with it; that’s part of community, that you roll with it and you learn from each other and in fact its a lot better now than it would have been if it was just something that I did and no one else was involved. It’s better because of community.

MG: That’s good. Now I’ve got two more: could you actually tell us some of the things that are here?

JD: Oh! There’s everything. There’s parsley, there’s coriander, there’s basil, there’s different types of mint, peppermint, Vietnamese mint, regular mint, there is sage, there is dill, there is aloe vera, there are some tomatoes even though its a herb garden, there are chives, there are chillies, there is some rosemary, some oregano and some tarragon. There’s all sort of things: strawberries and bunches of flowers. So all kinds of direct flowers which help attract bees and pollinators to the garden which then opens things up.

MG: Now Josh, I think I would love to just ask for the ending: Is it what you hoped for and why?

JD: It’s more than I hoped for. It still ticks all of the things that we hope for. It is aesthetically pleasing, its a beautiful garden and we get so many people commenting on that and thanking us for not only building something that’s functional but something that’s beautiful. It is something in the community that’s helpful for the community. It raises huge amounts of contact with the community. People come in a bit sheepishly thinking “Can I knick a little bit of the herbs?” And that open up conversations with us saying, “This is for you, please come in.” And it is something that draws people together. So it’s all of those things in ways that I had hoped for, but sort of more than that.