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More mentors needed to pass on a love of gardening

"It’s about the people"

Published: 14 June 2018

Mangere's Old School Teaching Garden mentors (from left) Metua Aerenga, Yvonne Thomas and Denise Balmain.

There’s so much more to gardening than just growing delicious fresh produce, according to Auckland’s longest-serving teaching gardening mentor Yvonne Thomas.

But the free vegetables are a good bonus.

Yvonne, who’s worked at the Old School Teaching Garden in Māngere since 2009, encourages others to become a mentor like her if they have an interest in gardening, the outdoors or just want to meet new people.

“It gives people a chance to get some free exercise, get into the fresh air and get some good food. It has huge benefits and it's about the people you meet,” she says.

A big part of being a mentor is learning from others and then passing that information on to the many groups from schools, childcare centres and NGOs who visit the large community garden off Massey Road. 

“It’s also about doing something for the future children of New Zealand,” Yvonne says.

‘As you take out of society, you must put something back’

“My dad used to say to us; ‘as you take out of society, you must put something back’, so this is my giving back. You can read as many books or look on the computer as many times as you like, but you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, and it doesn’t have memories like gardening does.”

The 72-year-old Mangere Bridge resident currently works alongside Māngere local Metua Aerenga and Papatoetoe resident Denise Balmain.

Denise says it's been a deeply enriching experience.

“I’ve only been down here six weeks,” she says. “I’ve been a keen gardener but I want to learn more and I just learn more every day from these guys.”

Yvonne says there are lots of plans in the pipeline for ways to maximise the learning opportunities at the garden.

“There are plans for a vertical food forest, plus we’ll be installing hydroponic gardens, doubling our solar panels power system and doing a stream reformation.

“We also teach cooking as there’s no point showing people how to grow vegetables if they don’t know how to cook them.”

Gardens make a difference thanks to local board support

The Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara-Papatoetoe and Manurewa local boards help fund the Auckland Teaching Gardens Trust as a way of ensuring their local communities have opportunities to access affordable and healthy food and learn more about growing their own produce.

Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board Chair Lemauga Lydia Sosene says the Old School Reserve garden plays a vital role helping the younger generations learn how to be self-sustainable and care for their environment.

“Gardening is something that’s an important part of our community’s culture and identity and so it’s a real priority for our board to support initiatives such as the Auckland Teaching Gardens Trust as it gives our people opportunities to grow their food and learn ways to expand their gardening skills.”

*There are seven Auckland Teaching Garden Trust sites around south Auckland and mentors get paid on average 22 hours per month starting at $17.60 p/hr.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a mentor, email Auckland Teaching Garden Trust chair Graeme Hansen on dongra@xtra.co.nz.