2 May 2024

Oak Flats Community Garden takes root to cultivate more than just veggies

| Kellie O'Brien
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Oak Flats Community Garden

Oak Flats Community Garden has only been going for four months, but is already thriving. Photos: Supplied.

Tucked between buildings in the centre of Oak Flats is a plot of land that each week is filled with garden enthusiasts doing more than just growing veggies.

The thriving Oak Flats Community Garden at Hippisley Park took root four months ago and has fast grown to include 80 members.

Garden secretary Anna Cook said while the garden now featured 10 beds and had produced food for the first time last week, it was about more than simply gardening.

“It’s a real opportunity for that multigenerational interaction,” she said.

“You get the older people down there and they really enjoy having the kids there.

“You have the mums who just want to sit back and see their kids have a play without them necessarily having to be too hands-on.”

She said others showed up just for a chat.

“We’re now starting to harvest so it was really nice last weekend, after a few of us did some work, we went around and picked everything that was ready and made sure everyone took some food home with them,” she said.

Anna said it had been a long road to get to where they were now, forming the committee almost two years ago, but having to await confirmation of the site and finalisation of the Shellharbour City Council’s Community Garden Strategy.

The strategy was created to provide a strategic focus for establishing and expanding community gardens across Shellharbour.

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“There’s been a lot of background to where we are now, but the amount we’ve got done in the four months is just a reflection on the community’s real want and need for it,” she said.

Along with Sunday and Thursday get-togethers attracting anywhere from 20 to 50 people, they were now branching into community events.

“We are planning to have some working bee days where we would like to have some of the more expert people in the community talk about different topics,” she said.

“For example, we’ve got a local guy who’s doing a PhD on composting.”

Anna said she also wanted to see school groups using it and for it to be a training space to learn to grow vegetables for not-for-profit organisations like Ratha’s Place Cafe in Oak Flats which supported people with disabilities through employing and training them.

“I know the local library have talked about having storytime there and trying to relate storytime to the vegetables,” she said.

“The Scouts are also doing a project to build a produce cart for us that we can have at the garden to put anything that we collect out the front so people can come past and grab it.

“Being where it is, we’ve already noticed people who are using the community hall are coming out and saying, ‘Oh, can we get involved?'”

Anna said along with people like Shellharbour councillor John Davey who was instrumental in the initial support to get it through council, they had also been helped by grants from Bendigo Bank, the council’s grants scheme and most recently the Calderwood Valley Seeding Fund.

She said the latest funding would help them complete their next plans, which she hoped would include a permanent gazebo with a picnic table underneath, a solid greenhouse, a pumpkin garden bed, bush tucker garden beds, water tanks and creating gravel paths to make it more accessible.

“We’ve got a few people with disabilities who are already utilising the garden,” she said.

“There’s one guy in a wheelchair who does struggle because of the grass and obviously parents with prams as well.

“We really want it to be accessible to everyone, so the next big funding grab we go for is to get some pathways in.”

She admitted the Oak Flats garden was a little different to some community gardens.

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“We’ve always taken the philosophy that you don’t have to be a member or participant to come and take something from our garden,” she said.

“If there’s something there you need, please take it.

“There’s nothing that would warm our hearts more than knowing some of the elderly in our community walk through the garden on the way to the shops and pick vegetables they can then use.

“It’s especially great with things like silverbeet where we’ve noticed people will come and take two or three leaves because they don’t need a whole bunch.

“Or you can go and get a couple of sprigs of dill when you need them.”

Anna said she had a background in gardening, being a member of the Oak Flats Garden Club and secretary of the Illawarra Bonsai Society which will mark its 50th anniversary this year.

“It’s interesting, there’s a few veggies growing there that I hadn’t encountered before,” she said.

“So it’s good to also explore other foods you might not have known about or that are new to you.”

The community garden is located at 42 Fisher Street, Oak Flats and anyone is welcome to join the Facebook group.

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