Artemis: goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth and virginity.
If you’re unlucky enough to have a home among the gum trees, then you will know how hard it is to grow anything within a backyard-size distance from this iconic plants’ water-sapping base. Throw in a cool climate, short seasons and soil with a fertility rating equivalent to that of the Simpson Desert, and you have one hell of skills-hunt ahead of you to realise that dream of a home centred food oasis.
My gardening journey began with a snap dragon. At the time, Mum and I had been on a Peter, Paul and Mary bender and so I had developed a burning desire to have my very own Puff. Unfortunately, that year also signaled the start of what was to be a ten year drought. As the much needed water was diverted to the families drinking barrel – carted each afternoon from the only tank still in operation – my little plant was soon singed by the blistering hot Aussie sun. Whilst Puff sadly slipped into his cave of withered roots and cracked soil, this snuffed-out experience would prove to be the seed for a lifelong commitment to all things green.
In my teenage and early university years, my growing love went communal: open theater plays in college conservatories; study sessions in public garden rotunda’s; and gourmet gatherings spruced up by a harvest from the self-catered-accommodation herb patch. By the time I had reached our little cottage in a quaint Oxfordshire hamlet, my appetite for having a growing space of my own was finally sated: the classic courtyard garden. A summer fill of potted cherry tomatoes, accompanying Mediterranean herbs and a compost bin later, and I was ready to take my old flame on a hot date to the classroom.
Carving out time to grow a garden in an obese-curriculum subject like science, is a little like trying to convince a big supermarket to reduce it’s importation of cheaper, internationally made food products. Not wanting to disappoint my eclectic group of passionate urban gardeners, the lunchtime and after-school activity group (Growers Society), was germinated. A rake, hoe (well many really) and a piece of fertile ground later and we had our schools first allotment. Over the next three terms – supported by some local farms, businesses and the “cake-for-rake” school maintenance team – we had successfully harvested enough food to create some delightful soups and salads in the schools kitchen. Hearing of our plans for expansion, a cohort of our finest “gifted-and-talented” juvenile delinquents thought they would get in on some of the action. Unfortunately the poor dears confused their scientific terminology and our seed raising enterprise at the local farmers market went up in smoke as the greenhouse was razed to the ground. UK garden ventures: extinguished. For the next two years, my passion for reconnecting our younger generations to the food cycle remained on ice at the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Whilst most would have viewed our Aussie backyard as an urban wasteland – thirsty square meters of hard-clay…and nothing else – I saw our bit-of-earth as a new challenge: water efficient food growing. From the moment the frosted ground began to melt in our first spring back in Oz, I was out with a mattock ploughing up the earth, planting green manure crops and conditioning the soil. By the time K1 was ready for his first year in the education system, I had clocked up a significant number of training hours in the home garden and had completed a Permaculture Design Certificate. Combining forces with the very enthusiastic preschool teachers, my itching-to-get-back-in-the-classroom thumb was given the green light: the Science Garden Project. Starting with a community grant, our previously abandoned food garden was transformed into a productive green space. Over the next twelve months, a number of local businesses came on board to contribute soil, gardening equipment, consulting advice, and plants. The local ornithology association and environment centre provided some hands on experience in bird watching and vermiculture respectively and parents traded in their flex time to rip up dirt, cart soil, mulch beds and support their children in a number of planting and harvest days.
The following year the students moved over to the big-school campus. With them went their skills and a vision for an expanded garden program. Two years, further community partnerships and a small army of parent volunteers later, and the teachers and students had realised their enterprising dreams: raising seedlings for the fete and selling their produce to the school families. Whilst I have temporarily relinquished my role as coordinator to assist at K2’s playschool, the garden program grows on with a long term plan to see every student in the school totally hooked into the food matrix.
Today marks the beginning of what is set to be another season of insightful food desert challenges. Since I seem to have lucked out in the agrarian genetics department, I am giving the finger to my black thumb and, instead, paying homage to my name. Armed with a bowed pitchfork and barrow, my kids and I are venturing out into our more-fertile-than-last-year wilderness to prepare the soil for yet another season on the hunt for that lionised beast: a monstrous glut.