KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 ― As city-dwellers, we are often guilty of not knowing our neighbours and lacking the knowledge of growing our own food. One way to bridge both gaps is through community gardening.
Community gardening is when a group of people come together to connect, learn and grow greens.
Usually, community gardening is done on public land. How it works is the community approaches the local council to secure a lease on a plot of land to start a community garden, made up of individual allotments for families or communal areas where the produce of the area is shared among the community.
“The process is to get together and design a garden using permaculture design principles, which is basically all about sustainability,” said Bruce Molloy, founder of Veggie Village Community Gardens Inc and director of Edible Landscapes, two permaculture design movements based in Australia.
Permaculture design involves creating sustainable agricultural ecosystems, or in simpler terms, building a self-sufficient gardening system that can be maintained long term.
Eats, Shoots & Roots is a Malaysian permaculture social enterprise started by friends Sabina Arokiam and Shao-Lyn Low. They have invited Molloy over to Malaysia to conduct a three-day workshop on “Building A Community Garden” from January 26 to 28.
So why community gardening?
“Community gardening is important because it connects the community back together. It’s a real place where you can develop friendships with your neighbours and your community in a non-threatening way. Gardening is probably one of the most non-threatening ways because it’s not like sports where it is competitive,” said Molloy.
“The other benefit is the food you get out of it. It’s not what’s in the food but what’s not in the food... You know that there are no pesticides, you know that it is full of nutrients, it’s fresh and it’s really healthy for your family,” added Molloy. He said that most food sold in supermarkets are products of unsustainable agricultural practices and regularly contain chemicals.
According to him, it is financially cheaper to buy one’s food but less taxing on the planet to grow your own food in the long run.
The current agriculture system is also top heavy and relies on cheap labour, land that has been cleared and money not being paid for that land. Molloy noted that the true cost is not conveyed in the price of the food and that in the near future, people will find the food prices rising.
What will happen then is the real cost of the food will begin to affect the labour expenses, transport charges and all other costs that goes into the process.
“Growing your own, you’ll start to find that it is cheaper. You set a garden now and when the food prices go through the roof, then you’ll find that you are eating for absolutely nothing in comparison to your neighbours who are actually buying very cheap food now. So it’s a little bit of a long term plan but I’d say within the next five years to be honest. Things are going to turn around, it’s very fast,” said Molloy.
The beauty about community gardening is that you do not necessarily need a large area to grow food. Every accessible nook and cranny in the city can be used for planting because the way permaculture is designed allows greens to be grown vertically or in agricultural stacking systems.
Molloy said that urban food production produces a higher yield compared to larger agricultural systems because of the amount of space that can be derived from vertical stacking. A small, intensive gardening system can feed a family every single day of the year while a larger agricultural system has to feed more people.
It was interesting to find out how Molloy got into permaculture design and community gardening in the first place. Formerly a graphic designer, the idea of planting his own food struck him when he saw his significant other coming home from buying weekly groceries. Molloy was disappointed by the poor quality of the vegetables so he decided to start growing his own in his backyard.
Unfortunately, his gardening attempt failed so he decided to start a community garden with the idea “to create a classroom and wait for the teachers to turn up”, which they started doing in 2007; so began his journey into community garden and that of Veggie Village.
Molloy uses his graphic design background to create visual teaching tools, taking some of the complex permaculture designs and stripping them down so that people can understand them easier.
At the upcoming ‘‘Building a Community Garden” workshop, he will employ an interactive learning style of workshop with a hands-on approach so that everyone can teach and learn from each other.
What can one expect from the workshop?
“Heaps of fun, heaps of craziness and heaps of inspiration. The workshops are mainly going to be about community gardening and how to build a community garden from a community perspective. What some of the pitfalls might be when you are first starting up, some of the decision-making processes you can do as a community rather than one person coming to say, ‘This is what I want’ , actually being able to listen to each other, the governance structure, fundraising opportunities and things like that. Beginners are more than welcome because they have the most open minds,” said Molloy.
“So what will come out of it is when you get a community together that is really keen and you get a couple of empowering drivers behind that, the space will always turn up. Often people go and look for land first and try and create a community garden. The workshop is about empowering a community to want this in giving them the knowledge how to do it and then you go and find that land and just pour your love and your greenery into that and it just builds from there,” he added.
To register for the ‘Building a Community Garden’ workshop or find out more, visit the Eats, Shoots, & Roots website.
Eats, Shoots & Roots are giving out a Permaculture Activist scholarship for those who are keen to join the workshop and learn more about permaculture design and community gardening.
The Kota Damansara Community Forest is also offering a scholarship for the workshop.
Molloy will also be available for private consultations on permaculture design for edible gardens during his time in Malaysia. For more information on that, email Eats, Shoots & Roots at email@example.com.