Words Charlotte Graham

Resourceful women taking action are the driving force behind the Te Awamutu Food Forest and Cambridge Street Harvest projects. Looking for a sustainable way to support and connect the community, Megan Priscott (TA Food Forest) and Elise Badger with Nicola Turner (Street Harvest) turned to an age-old point of connection: food.

Te Awamutu Food Forest

Megan Priscott came up with the idea to plant community fruit trees, when she heard that “kids don’t know where their food comes from”. Wanting to create a space for families to collect fresh produce, Megan approached the council with her idea and was given a small area as a test run. With the help of landscaper James Bannister, the garden was a success. “The council loved it,” says Megan. “It got catapulted into this massive community project.”

TA Food Forest is run by “hardworking trustees who keep the project rolling: James (workhorse and ideas), Brenda (co-ordinator and labourer) and Joanne Wansbone (treasurer). As well as great volunteers,” says Megan.

The main location is Pekapekarau Reserve, but Fawley Place Reserve and Sherwin Park are also planted. Planting began at Pekapekarau at the end of 2022 and the trees are thriving. As you wander around you will find apples, figs, grapes, feijoas, kiwifruit and pears. “Already, we have figs and apples on the trees,” Megan says, pointing out proudly.

Pekapekarau Reserve is surrounded by a school, retirement village and families, so they are loading up on fruit and soon, veggies. As Megan says, “It’s not just about putting a tree in the ground, it’s about considering what its purpose will be.” TA Food Forest also has plans for pump and walking tracks, a playground, and boards for local artists. The Food Forest is not only about producing food, it’s about building a permanent space for the community to enjoy and belong to. “We think about sustainability, so that in fifty years it’s still working,” says Megan.

The Food Forest brings together all points of the community with the Maungatautari to Pirongia Ecological Corridor, Wintec and the rangatahi of Ko Wai Au all getting involved. On volunteer days, “we have up to twenty people here and it’s just fun,” says Megan. “Local businesses have also been amazing,” reports Megan, supplying T-shirts, plants and equipment.

Looking to the future, Megan says, “There is a lot going on. Nicki from Vital Harvest is coming down to run her workshops. Rachael Darby from Pirongia Food Foresters will offer composting workshops, we are adding QR codes for our podcasts from The Breeze interviews, […] industrial sized compost bins […] and a co-lab is starting with Waikeria Prison.” The team are also presenting their Food Forest model at the Green Pavlova conference in May. After a bit of fine tuning, they are eager to see other councils use their idea.

The Food Forest is open to everyone, whether you live up the street or not. Megan wants the community to know that “this is here for you, take what you want and come back tomorrow!”

Street Harvest

If you are driving down Williams Street in Cambridge, you may notice the berms are lush with brassicas, lettuce and a thriving pineapple sage bush. One of the berm gardens was initially part of the Pop Up Edible Garden Project, started by the Cambridge Community Board and headed by Elise Badger, in 2020.

The original garden was an inground plot and emerged from Nicola Turner’s desire to become a garden guardian. While chatting with Elise, Nicola jokingly said the gardens “had to be right in front of my house”, which led them to realise that berms are an underused resource. As Nicola says, “There is so much berm space […] and people don’t have to travel to the gardens.” Wanting to develop this idea, they launched the Street Harvest project in October of 2023. Six garden boxes now dot Williams Street.

“Street Harvest is a small way to support people as food prices skyrocket,” says Elise. What gets planted is carefully considered, as Elise notes they “want a cut and come again garden, so that there is an abundance and people from all over town can come get something”. The gardens are open to everyone, not just the house they are in front of.

It’s not just about veggies though. Nicola explains, “We can improve our own community health by connecting people to food systems and showing them that waste can be a resource.” Each garden box has a worm farm thanks to the Waipa District Council Waste Minimisation Fund. These boxes are filled with the neighbouring households’ food scraps that break down and fertilise the garden.

As well as Elise and Nicola’s own businesses, local organisations, such as Little Buddies and Greenscapes, have funded and helped set up the gardens. The planting is done by local growers, Outer Haven, ensuring there is always plenty of food to go around.

“The community connection has blown our minds,” says Nicola. “I’ve met so many people – neighbours, people walking past, people visiting town – they all stop to have a chat.” Street Harvest is teaching people about food cycles, and Nicola says the worm farms have “people saying, ‘I could do this’”. The next step is to plant a second location and to keep “connecting people and creating sustainable, robust, food systems.”

An astounding amount of work goes into these projects, but as Megan says, “It’s about giving and taking, and it feels bloody good to give.”

About the Author

Vicki Ravlich-Horan

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