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Planting the seeds of change in Forrest Hill

Planting the seeds of change in Forrest Hill

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When you live in Auckland it can be easy to get caught up in the rush to and from work without stopping to look around at what is happening over the fence and in your own community.

Going through two lockdowns forced all of Auckland to stop. Despite the worry, fear and disruption to life, it did remind us all that we live in a community.

I recently met Phoebe and Dave Atkinson, two people with an unwavering vision to bring their community of Forrest Hill out from behind their fences. They have lived in this community for the past 8 years and about 3 years ago a seed was planted that a portion of Seine Road reserve would be the ideal spot for a community garden.

“Our dream is to create a garden in Seine Road reserve which will be a place to learn to grow organic food, and a place to get to know our neighbours. It will be a beautiful space, a learning space, a place to get stuck in, and a place to experience what community can really be.” - Phoebe and Dave Atkinson

Starting a community garden doesn’t happen overnight. They have spent the last 3 years working through the paperwork to get access to the land. Now at the final stage, the reality of the garden is in sight with only a couple of hurdles to go. Phoebe and Dave are in this for the long haul so 3 years doesn’t bother them too much when they think of the potential longevity of the community garden. However, as Phoebe mentioned “that is 3 years of fruit tree growth that we have lost”, so the downsides to the length of the council process have not been overlooked.

The kaupapa of the Forrest Hill Community Garden is first and foremost about fostering community. “Gardening is the best leveler” says Dave. They see the garden as an opportunity for individuals from all walks of life to come together and work shoulder to shoulder.

Fruits, vegetables, herbs and a collective composting station are all benefits to the community from this garden. Phoebe and Dave want to provide a space for the people to learn how to garden and a space where people can connect. Gardening supports those with mental health conditions and a community garden can be a safe and supportive space for those that feel isolated.

The Forrest Hill community is diverse, with increasing numbers of Chinese, Korean and Middle-Eastern families and individuals. Lucy, a journalism student, has come on board as the Chinese community liaison working to break down barriers and help her community feel comfortable to get involved. There is hope the garden will be a space where people can engage with others from outside their usual social circles.

“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”

- Greek Proverb

Phoebe and Dave set up the seedling stall on Seine Road during lockdown. Stocked with both produce from their garden and free seedlings it was first step toward bringing the community out from behind their fences. Anyone could, and still can, drop off their own seedlings or spare produce from their garden to share with the community.

The stall has recently hosted rosemary, silverbeet, chard, citrus, herbs, veges, flower seedlings, and flowers. At the end of the day the stall is empty.

The changes that Phoebe and Dave have already made within the community through the seedling stall are only the beginning. Their vision and persistence to get Forrest Hill Community Garden off the ground is unwavering, and admirable. I can’t think of two better people to carry this project forward. A project that will have a positive impact on the community as they know it, now and into the future.

Want to show your support?

Once the final hurdles are a distant memory, the hard work really begins. Both man-power and donations are still required to transform the piece of Seine Road reserve into a community hub.

There are a number of ways to support Forrest Hill Community Garden.

To get involved, sign-up for more information on the website. You can also follow the garden’s progress on Facebook and Instagram.

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Words and images by Kaitaki Collective Member Nickie Hursthouse - Registered Dietitian & National Nutrition Advisor at the Heart Foundation NZ.


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