By Eleanor Wilson
PRECEDE: As National Gardening Week encourages Aussies to dig their green thumbs into the soil, local community gardens are bustling with activity. Gazette journalist ELEANOR WILSON broke out her gardening gloves to explore the Kooweerup Community Garden on its mission to promote healthy living.
BREAKOUT QUOTE: “Getting [students] involved in the community, they feel connected, they know where they fit.”
The 100-year history of the Kooweerup Regional Health Service is well known among the local community.
The chronicles of its transformation from the old Bush Nursing Hospital, to Westernport Memorial Hospital and the birthplace of many a local baby have made it an iconic feature of Kooweerup.
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, on the western wing of the hospital, bordering Rossiter Road stood a double storey building, which housed the district nurses.
Demolished years later, the land sat dormant and unkept for years, until about 2010, when the hospital decided to invest in a community garden.
Today, the garden has grown to welcome a vast array of fruits and vegetables, a native garden and frog pond, accessible raised garden beds, a chicken coup, bandicoot habitat and a children’s play area.
For the workers who invest their time and energy into the community initiative, they hope the garden can attach itself to the legacy of the local hospital.
Kooweerup Regional Health Service youth worker Brian Harlow recalls the humble beginnings of the community program, which started with a small vegie patch in the centre of the grounds, which were carpeted with overgrown grass.
“It was very much started as a community space for people to come in and get involved,” Brian said.
“Part of our work in the health service is doing community education and sustainability.
“Healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, that’s a big part of what we do.”
Within the perimeters of the wooden garden beds, organic produce is bountiful: Queensland Blue pumpkin, corn, carrots, swedes and turnips, kale and broccolini, artichokes, and iceberg lettuce.
Then there are the fruit orchards to line the entrance to the garden – producing apples, oranges and mandarins in the warmer months, alongside two large fig trees and a passion fruit vine.
Brian’s work centres on engaging with students from the local primary school, high school and kindergarten and engaging them with the community garden to develop their understanding of food and sustainability.
“Getting young people out of the school and into the real world, it changes their attitude a bit,” he said.
“Getting them involved in the community, they feel connected, they know where they fit.
“We never really have problems with graffiti or vandalism because all the kids in the area have grown up with coming here and seeing what’s going on.”
Brian works with students to open their eyes to the life cycle of locally grown produce.
“They’ll come here, plant the food, crop the food, taking it in to the Men’s Shed, chop it up and eat it and through that process they get that better understanding of where food comes from.
“The look on a kid’s face when they pull a potato out of the ground from something that just looks like a dead plant and they realise what it is, is just priceless.”
“It gets the kids connected with where food comes from; it’s not just on a shelf somewhere.
“That was the original aim with the community garden, is it’s an integral part of the health promotion work we do here.”
Another major part of the operation of the community garden is owed to the work of the neighbouring Kooweerup Men’s Shed, whose members partner with the hospital to deliver health promotion work for the community.
That includes using produce form the garden in the Men’s Shed’s cafe – where they sell a range of pasties, pies and main meals to residents and locals on a Friday using produce from the garden.
“Probably 70 per cent of the produce that comes out of the garden goes into the cafe and straight into the food,” Brian said.
“It’s a really cool thing to have that really fresh produce coming straight out of the garden and straight into the cafe and made into pasties or what not and then you’re eating it.”
Arguably at the helm of the community garden, alongside Brian is Men’s Shed member Ernie Foster, who is armed with an impressive 60 years’ experience in the gardening game.
Ernie can be found at the garden seven days a week, quietly cropping, planting and weeding.
His favourite part about the job is bestowing a good work ethic onto the students that come through the garden.
“Sometimes kids don’t know what they want to do, they just need a bit of attention and a bit of direction and this is a great way to do that,” Ernie said.
Coinciding with National Gardening Week, held between 15 and 21 October, Brian encouraged locals to utilise the garden, which has grown to become a treasured community asset.
It’s as simple as visiting the garden, putting in a couple of hours of work and leaving with a bag of fresh, organic produce, he said.
“Gardening has so many aspects of it to the mental health benefits of getting outside, getting some vitamin D, working with your hands, fresh air, all of that is so good for your mental health.
“In this modern world of apps and instant gratification of clicking on things and you get what you want, and ordering groceries online, working in a garden gives you that instant gratification that is hard to get in some areas of the real world.
“Get out in the garden, do some weeding do some planting and then step back an hour later and go ‘ah I did that’ and you get that dopamine. “
On Saturday 21 October, the Kooweerup Community Garden is hosting a family-friendly tree planting day in its bandicoot backyard.
Locals are encouraged to visit between 10.30am and 12pm to help build healthy habitats for the native bandicoot population.