With the world economy teetering, fossil-fuel based agriculture depleting our soils and climate change intensifying, I have begun to take very seriously the need to work together as a local community to produce some of our food. We can all make a contribution to this even if it’s just growing parsely in a pot on your decking or having a few tomato plants scattered around. The aim is for us all to take more responsibility in providing for our food requirements.
Moreover, even if things were untroubled on the environmental and economic fronts, it would still be a worthwhile thing to re-establish a more connected, vibrant community. Somehow in our frenzied, consumer-driven lives, community has largely vanished. Our affluence has created a society where everything can be bought and we find ourselves with little need for each other. However, with the economic crisis deepening, something tells me that we will be seeking to connect with each other in unforseen ways. What better way to forge community, then, than by working together to grow, harvest and share our food.
With this in mind – and under the supportive umbrella of a newly formed community organisation in Melbourne’s outer east called the Community Harvest Project – I have formed what is termed a “cluster group”. This is simply a group of local people who meet on a casual or more formal basis to find ways to help their local community grow, harvest and store more of their own food. In doing this, community bonds are strengthened, connections with neighbours are made and we find ourselves interacting with people in our surrounding streets – most of whom we probably wouldn’t know if we fell over them.
So, on a recent Sunday my newly formed clustergroup gathered in an outer suburban garden in Melbourne, Australia to learn how to make a No-Dig organic veggie garden. Also called a lasagne veggie-patch – because it’s layered – the idea is to save your back by doing no digging whatsoever. Instead, layers of straw, manure, liquid manure, and dynamic lifter are progressively added, followed finally by a thorough watering. Little depressions are then made in the straw and a handful of potting mix is placed inside. The seedlings are then directly planted into the patch. We all took turns applying layers and planting seedlings. It was so easy it felt like cheating.
The workshop was run by Peter Allen, a well-known Melbourne permaculturist. He lives on a large farm in the Dandenong Ranges and runs a variety of workshops including how to keep chickens, make cheese, create compost or start a worm farm. Peter’s knowledge is vast and he is keen to share it with everyone. His website is well-worth visiting (see Resources below) and if you live in Melbourne you might like to consider attending one of his workshops.
The No-Dig method – attributed to Australian writer and conservationist Esther Deans – has been around for many years although many, including me, have never heard of it. However, it’s simplicity, ease of construction, low maintenance and ability to create healthy soil will make it increasingly popular.
If you are interested in a low-effort, highly enjoyable way to grow vegetables while at the same time creating good, healthy soil then you can either do a workshop or borrow a book from you local library. If you feel your cultivator archetype coming to the fore then see if you can get a few people together and find someone to teach you or just fumble your way through it. Even if your first attempt is a botch-up (very unlikely) at least you have begun the incredibly valuable work of building community. Nothing is more important in these turbulent times.