Kiama pilot and worm farmer Ian Harvey-George has transformed his front lawn into a mini community garden – and is encouraging other neighbourhoods to do the same.
Six months ago, Ian started with pots full of herbs along the front of his property, but in September decided to transplant them into his front lawn.
“Luckily where we are it’s a raised garden bed anyway right on the front of the road, so it’s easy access for everybody,” he said.
“For the last six months, people have been taking the herbs and having a nice chat with us.
“We decided to upscale, make it more accessible and put in more vegetables and herbs for everyone.
“The neighbours in the last week have given us seedlings, we’ve even had people offer condiments they’ve made in return for taking some herbs, so it’s absolutely fantastic.”
Already, the idea is starting to spread throughout Kiama, with a few residents messaging him to look at what he’s created to use as inspiration for their own street.
Ian said the idea stemmed from witnessing what his son was doing in kindergarten at Kiama Public School.
“They’ve got their own garden with a full-time garden teacher, which just blew me away that, from an early age, these kids are being exposed to growing their own food,” he said.
“I thought, ‘Hang on, if they’re doing it at school, I need to do it at home as well’.
“In England, I grew up with everyone having allotments, so everyone would grow food – why pay for it, when you can grow it yourself.”
There are also a couple of worm farms in the garden, to which neighbours have been contributing food waste that the worms then turn into compost and ‘worm tea’ that he then distributes back to the neighbours.
Starting as a little hobby, the worm project has turned into a side business, Kiama Worm Farm.
“It was just over a year ago, the Kiama Council had a little stall at the local supermarket talking about worm farms, and I thought ‘I’ve never heard of a worm farm before’,” he said.
“Being a pilot, I’m very keen to research and find out new ideas and I found out that in America, a lot of airline pilots run worm farms because it works around their schedule.
“The worms can survive for up to two weeks without being fed, so therefore, it’s not time critical.
“I just started off as a hobby, thinking I’ll get a worm farm going in my back garden, then my youngest son’s daycare asked ‘Can you come and talk to us about worms?’
“So I did one chat about worms and then before you know it, people are saying, ‘Did you know you can get paid to come and talk about worms?’ I said ‘That’s ridiculous. What do you mean?’”
Spurred on by Rachael Peedom from bee educational business Bee Inspired, the business has now grown into making and selling worm farms from old and damaged rubbish bins from Kiama Council, which he’s dubbed Wheelie Worm Bins.
“So rather than melt the bins down, why not turn it into a worm farm?” he said.
“I’ve put up to 10 worm farms in local daycare centres.
“I’m also trying to show to my kids that someone can do something quite dramatic to the local environment, even if it’s just a small idea.”
Along with selling the worm farms, which also use coffee grounds sourced from local cafes, he’s finding enjoyment in educating preschoolers about worms.
“There’s plenty of other worm farmers in the area. I’ve just managed to find a niche regarding the young education side,” he said.
“Some worm farms have thousands of acres that do hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food waste a year, but mine is literally just in my backyard.
“My goal is to eventually have worm farms in the gardens of businesses so they can recycle their food waste and grow their own herbs.”
He said his other goal was for “everyone in Kiama to have a worm farm and to be able to grow their own veggies”.
His advice was for budding gardeners to start small and adhere to council regulations if not planting on your own property.
“It doesn’t cost much to get a bucket and some herbs – you don’t have to do what I did and rip up five square metres of bush,” Ian said.
He said the idea wasn’t new, with Kiama already having a great crop and swap network and a community garden.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just following in the wonderful footsteps of the locals of Kiama,” he said.
“I’m just amazed by how people are being inspired by it and that people are open to try new things.”
He said his wife and children helped maintain the garden while he was travelling and neighbours were helping out, along with starting to grow veggies in their own parts of the 35-house cul-de-sac.
“I’ve turned some of the nature strip into a little wild clover garden for bees because I also love bees,” he said.
“I did my bee-keeping course last year as well, but that’s just a bit harder to maintain because worms don’t sting,” he said, laughing.