Guest Blogger: Kathy Finigan shares her thoughts on the role of community gardens

This week, the lovely Kathy Finigan from My Productive Backyard blog, has taken the time out to share her opinion and insight into the role of community gardens in upskilling and motivating their communities in food production. 

My Productive Backyard is a horticultural consultancy service dedicated to helping and inspiring people and organisations to learn, practice, and pass on the skills necessary to produce healthy, nutritious, organic food in a sustainable way.

In recent research conducted by the Australian Institute it estimated that 52% of Australian households participate in some form of food production and a further 13% would like to. However they also discovered that the turnover rate of people participating in home food production is high with most of the 52% only having been engage in home food production for less than 5 years.

In my experience with teaching community groups, it is often the lack of knowledge, which leads to disappointing results that then leads people to “give up” growing their own food.

Also most people need to have some form of external, ongoing motivation to keep them engaged. This may be as simple as a sms saying “great time to get your onions in this week” or a monthly workshop on what is happening in the garden this month.

The percentage of the population surveyed, not participating in food production cited lack of space and lack of time as the two main reasons for non-engagement. However the researcher indicated that from the statistics collected that this was a perceived perception rather than reality.

So how, as a community can we increase participation in food production and increase the amount of production per household.

I have just given a presentation at the Right to food coalitions conference on Putting food on the table, on a program I have developed called Share and Grow, which uses peer education and social media as a way to increase participation and production, but I can also see community gardens playing a vital role in achieving these goals.

With the demise of the local nursery I can see the local community garden becoming a centre of learning and motivation for local home food producers as well as supplying access to locally grown plants and other products, such as compost, which have been produced by the volunteers. This would make Community gardens self-sustaining which is necessary in they are to continue after government grants or local government support has ceased.

To give you an example of how I could see this working.

I recently presented a workshop on integrated pest control and part of the presentation was on attracting beneficial insects to your garden.

There were a number of people from a local community garden in attendance, and we got talking about the potential for community engagement and community garden sustainability and come up with a plan to run a short workshop on attracting beneficial insects to your garden.

The workshop would be advertised heavily in the local community, put on at a time when people are available, have a corresponding kid’s activity going at the same time and would supply morning tea to increase the social inclusion potential.

You would have to charge participants to cover the presenter’s costs (we were looking at $20.00 ahead).

We also looked at the potential of having, on sale, packages of insect attracting herbs and flowers, both plants and seeds, both produced by volunteers at the community garden.

Then engaging with local men’s shed to build attractive little insectaries which could also be sold on the day.

This gives the Community garden an income to develop and deliver further engagement type activities to ensure ongoing interest and enthusiasm in the community garden, but which would also flow onto home food production.


In order for a community garden to become the hub of the communities’ food production they must:

  • Encourage more people to become involved.
  • Have some method of ensuring there is a constant roll over of governance to avoid burn out waning of enthusiasm.
  • Be Welcoming of everyone.
  • Non-judgemental.
  • Tolerant of people’s different gardening philosophies, but with good governance guidelines for how things are down to reduce conflict.
  • Develop at range of communication strategies to inform everyone what is happening. This is so people don’t feel left out, ie notices, flyers, emails, SMS etc.
  • Have open days to encourage wider community to come and have a look at their local community garden.
  • Provide morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea to encourage social interactions and knowledge sharing.
  • Run weekly /monthly workshops that are of interest to the wider community, survey community to see what they want to learn.
  • Encourage local children to participate- research has proven that if children are interested in food production their parent will engage as well- run holiday workshops, always have child friendly activities on open days, have corresponding kids’ activities when holding adult activities. Always make the children feel welcome.

There is a need to develop the local community garden as the “One stop shop” for their local communities. Where people can come and participate in activities, learn and share knowledge, maintain motivation for food production, buy or swap seeds, buy plants, compost and other garden products.

With this model, community and home food production would become an accepted integral part of everyone’s lives.

You can visit My Productive Backyard on Facebook and Twitter also:


Health benefits of Urban Agriculture

We all know that gardening provides a plethora of benefits for people including getting outside in the Vit D, having fresh produce on hand, and feeling a sense of accomplishment after a big harvest!

However whilst reading some conference papers given to me kindly by the Sustainability Project Officer at Randwick City Council, I slowly realised myself that gardening in an urban environment provides great health benefits for people living in this concrete jungle!

1. Eating a more fresh and seasonal diet – when food is mass-produced and brought by the truckload, transport and storage systems decrease the nutrient content of many fresh fruits and vegetables (Feagan 2007).

2. Food systems are changing – the current food system of global sourcing of food is a business model created mostly by large retailers and has been very effective, however the alternative food system of community gardens shows that people are interested in growing and distributing food on a smaller scale. People have become increasingly aware of information provided on labels in large supermarkets, and are shifting their focus towards organically produced and healthier foods AND hopefully will start growing more of their own fruit and veggies after seeing these labels!!!

3. Physical activity – digging, weeding, planting, moving….it is all exercise and all great for the body!

4. Psychological health – social interactions between members of community gardens is a VERY important thing. As discussed in the ‘Conceptualising community in community gardens’ blog post, the idea of ‘community’ I feel is diminishing and therefore this focal point that brings people together and contributes to feelings of belonging.

To see how community gardening can provide health benefits and a sense of belonging to refugees, see this Fact Sheet from Gardening AustraliaBuilding a Future

5. Relieves stress – Getting out in the garden and placing your mind on something else other than your own problems is all it takes sometimes to be a solution to stress.

Take a look at another Fact Sheet from Gardening Australia on how gardening can be a solution to stress for people with busy lives: Solution to Stress



Guerrilla gardening

Even though this campaign is about sharing and connecting people to community gardens, I had a read of this blog post by Bee Kind Australia and absolutely LOVE the challenge they have proposed for all you prospective gardeners to do!! Even if you and a few friends got together and made a change in the Eastern Suburbs, like a few members of the Marrickville Council community have done, this would make it more apparent to the councils of the Eastern Suburbs that we ARE serious about bridging the gap between the nature and culture divide!!

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I have a challenge for you. Go out into the suburban and urban areas close to you, and look around. What do you see? Roads? Concrete? High-rises? Not much plant life, I’m guessing. Urbanisation is one of the main threats to bee populations today as natural environments are destroyed to make way for new developments. More often than not, the plant life destroyed is never replaced, which limits the food supply available to bees.

This is where guerrilla gardening comes in. But what on earth is it? Guerrilla gardening is the act of gardening on land that gardeners do not have the legal right to work on, such as abandoned or neglected sites, council owned property and private property. It is usually done in the form of a protest or direct action to provoke change. When I walked around the area I live in, I noticed areas of land, like this…

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Conceptualising community in community gardens

Is it just me or is the significance of ‘community’ slowly diminishing in our society? I feel as though everywhere I turn people are no longer willing to help their next-door neighbour put up that fence in exchange for a few beers anymore…But maybe it’s just where I’m living – in urban Sydney.

I’m sure quite a few people would agree with me, however I’m quite sure some people would think I’m crazy! However Moseley (2003) put it best when saying that the term ‘community’ cannot simply be applied to any collection of people who happen to live close to one another; communities are socially constructed through people sharing and interacting with a common purpose.

People always say, “I’m part of the ____ community”, but really you’re not if you don’t contribute and connect to the vibrant network of people that surround you. Keeping your head down walking down the street, not talking to anyone in the area, and not participating or contributing to an organisation or activity is NOT generating social capital. THIS is why I’m campaigning for people in the Eastern Suburbs to join their community gardens!!! I see too many people each day doing exactly this!

Honestly, who doesn’t like fresh fruit and vegetables? And who couldn’t take a couple hours out of their day to tend to a garden plot and catch up with some really lovely people in the area. If you just took those two hours that you spend at home watching a TV series, and instead you turned them into two hours of gardening and helping out at the garden…

A) You’d have a GOOD set of guns for summer

B) You’d feel A LOT better about yourself after getting outside and talking to people (or just talking to your plants!)

Community gardens generate a huge amount of social capital in various different ways, and I’ll run through a few of them for you now:

  1. People from different backgrounds are brought together with a common interest…FOOD – whatever the age, ethnicity, religion…A girl’s gotta eat!
  2. You feel like you’ve contributed in a joint activity and done something with a common purpose – My first foray into Coogee Community Garden saw me shoveling wheelbarrows full of mulch and then placing it around member’s garden plots – doing something for yourself is good, but doing something for another person is exhilarating
  3. Gardens create a physical meeting place – they give a place for people to meet new people and interact/contribute. Hopefully you all know by now that meeting someone at a nightclub or bar at 2am probably doesn’t mean that they are going to be the love of your life – and MAYBE just maybe, you’ll meet a like-minded individual at a garden!

So yes, you may just meet someone that you actually bond with on some sort of level because community gardens create networks of individuals with a similar interest and help people engage in social activities and share their skills and knowledge about food production, preparation and consumption – which is pretty scarce these days!