Sunday, August 15, 2021

Protecting public participation: why gardeners are protesting their exclusion from the Collingwood Children’s Farm Community Gardens

Posted on behalf of Angelica Platt and Jennifer Bowen, Collingwood Children’s Farm community gardeners.

This and an earlier post from 7th July are shared unedited as a service to members of the community.  

Please contact Angelica or Jennifer directly if you have questions or comments (their details are included at the end of the article).



We have read the statement posted on the Moreland Food Gardens Network by Dr. Chris Williams on behalf of the Collingwood Children’s Farm Committee of Management on July 7.

The statement discusses the community gardens at the Collingwood Children’s Farm, currently the subject of a dispute between the Committee of Management and its community gardeners following the closing of the gardens in early June (irrespective of COVID). We are concerned that the post published by Dr. Williams presents a highly partisan account of this vexed issue.

We would like to respond, particularly on matters of fact. Some of the details are incidental, others more substantial; but they are the reason a community united by a love of gardening has been galvanised into action.

Peter & David


How well does the Committee of Management actually know its community garden?


i) The post refers to ‘40 or so’ gardeners and ‘48 individual plots’.

FACT there are 70 plots (no 46, being shaded, is used as a seating area); those currently allocated are gardened by a total of 172 people made up of individuals, couples, groups and families. The community garden population is in constant flux, as people join and leave for a range of reasons, so that the number of local residents who have participated over the gardens’ 42-year history, or will do so in the future, is far larger.


ii) The post suggests that the allocation of plots has been inappropriate and lacking in equity, with the implication that the current gardeners – to a person – are not the proper beneficiaries of a community resource.

FACT the allocation of plots has always been done by the Farm itself, acting on behalf of the Committee of Management. Furthermore, the number of unallocated plots has been a bone of contention with community gardeners, pre-Covid and earlier this year. Prior to the closing of the gardens in June 2021, 15 plots were not allocated to anyone at all, hardly a situation that maximises community opportunity to garden. As it is, the current community gardeners are a rich mix of ethnic backgrounds, ages, and circumstances with many having waited years to be allocated a plot.


iii) The post refers to issues identified in a recent safety report as follows: ‘anyone who says a Sunday working bee can fix them … is trivialising [them]in a misleading manner’.

FACT the recently formed Steering Committee for the Collingwood Community Gardeners has strenuously asked to meet with the Farm’s Committee of Management to discuss ways of rectifying current safety concerns, immediately proposing an on-site inspection to clarify the issues; these requests have been barely acknowledged (communication from the farm has consisted largely of social media posts such as this one in Moreland). The CCF Committee also refused to consider professional pro bono offers to remediate hazards (and, for the record, Working Bees are on Saturdays, not Sundays).
 
Sonia & Evo

How honestly is the farm presenting the issue?


The published statement presents the community gardens as a financial impost on the farm, yet the community gardeners have volunteered thousands of hours of work over the years at monthly working bees; the site is frequently observed with interest and delight by farm visitors from a raised bridge overlooking the gardens. To aid a new development proposed by the farm in early 2019, many gardeners helped prepare spaces in the gardens for communal use; as with all plots, their allocation would be handled by the farm – only these were not allocated at all, no process was established for their use and the areas quickly became choked with weeds.


Elaina

The Committee of Management recently promoted a plan for the community gardens to include an urban agriculture education hub. There has been no business case presented for this, despite the challenges COVID presents to enterprises involving the public (and likely will continue to do so); there is no draft plan, no timeline and, it would appear, no funding. The only certainty is the announcement that the site will be cleared completely and community gardeners excluded for an indefinite period.
Any plan that has such an impact on an established community resource calls for considered consultation. An invitation for ‘design ideas’ has appeared on the farm website; it gives no terms of reference or parameters for conceiving, let alone assessing, such ideas.

The statement posted by Dr.Williams makes a brief reference to CERES, whose community gardens will be closed for a period later this year while redevelopment takes place.

But he fails to note that the CERES development is the consequence of 6 years of consultation, and that gardening has continued throughout this time.

Ivan


Where are we now?


Developments in August offer a glimmer of promise to the Collingwood gardeners, partly as a result of their concerted action in raising the issue locally and politically. The farm occupies Crown Land, which is ultimately the responsibility of the Victorian Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DELWP); action by its officers brought the farm’s Committee of Management to a meeting with Community Gardeners on 11 August. No resolution was reached with the Department convening a further meeting –and proposing a joint on-site inspection.

The Farm’s response to this and the planned subsequent meetings has not been made public as yet. Community gardeners are optimistic the process may enable the gardens to be re-opened safely while consultation on future plans take place – to let community gardening prosper in a spirit of cooperation. Updates of community action are available on the community gardeners Facebook site,

As an indication of public support, a petition has so far garnered 2,992 signatures.

Meantime statements like that of Dr. Williams make for bruising reading for the existing community gardeners– uprooted like unwanted weeds, by a management committee who are careless with facts, quick to criticise and choose control rather than collaboration as a means of implementing change.

Community engagement is not as straightforward as growing a row of lettuces; for most vegetables, the principal requirements are light, water and compost. Human beings have different needs; they look for respect and trust, no bullshit.

Best wishes,

Angelica Platt, Abbotsford angelica_p@live.com.au
Jennifer Bowen, Clifton Hill, jennifer.bowen@bigpond.com

Eva, George snr & George jnr

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...