Aucklanders love exploring green spaces, but some are also turning into aspiring gardeners with a little help from the Auckland Teaching Gardens Trust.
With a five-square-metre patch of land, tools, seeds, water, mulch, manure and advice, they are planting vegetables and learning how to grow their own food.
Graeme Hansen from the Auckland Teaching Gardens Trust says the trust runs seven sites on council land spread across the Ōtara-Papatoetoe, Māngere-Ōtāhuhu and Manurewa local boards.
You say tomayto, I say tomahto
"Tomatoes are popular with new gardeners," Graeme says.
"They plant them, and look after them by talking to them and cajoling them to grow. And then they brag about them."
“You get the, ‘That’s a tomato? THIS is a tomato’ routine. They’re so proud.”
Local board funding helps communities grow
The local boards help fund the 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. The trust also works closely with Auckland Council's Parks team on things as diverse as local food production, environmental maintenance, household waste minimisation and pest and predator controls.
Graeme and his team work with about 350 people who are learning how to grow veggies, seed herbs, plant citrus or get into grafting, which can double a plant’s production.
"Every garden has potential, and a place for beauty."
Graeme says they’re getting a lot of interest from people who are realising that something is missing from their lives.
“We now have a second generation of young people who don’t know the difference between a pea and a pumpkin in the ground. Supermarket food has been established for quite some time, but it is disconnected from the land. Food from the local takeaway can now be delivered to the door. The number of fast food outlets per suburb in south Auckland is alarming.”
When we spoke to Graeme, he’d just done lunch for 20 people for one dollar a head. “My menu was grass-fed beef with ca-barge….mince and cabbage. You can even add some rice and still keep the cost low.”
Even if it’s one meal a week that includes food they’ve grown on their little patch of land, Graeme says it’s a start. “We can show our gardeners alternatives and show them the money they’re saving, because every dollar saved is another dollar for somewhere else.”
Their teaching about food goes beyond that small patch of land.
“We teach people about supermarket cycles. That kilo of mince that’s reduced because it’s very close to its expiry date? Well, we can show people how to cook a safe meal with it.”
It doesn’t stop there. “We’ve got chefs starting to book sites because they want their own supplies of things like soft herbs. We’ve got ‘Kai Waka’, a mobile kitchen Auckland Council has lent us, so that we can take it to schools and the like, and help close that loop of growing, preparing, cooking and eating.”
Targeting children is important. “If we can get them to eat their own produce in meals they’ve made, then half the battle is won.”
For many people, homegrown food production is a lost art. The Auckland Teaching Gardens Trust is showing them that even a small patch of land can deliver meal ingredients.
Growing your own food is cool, you meet people from outside your usual circles, you’re outdoors, and both you and your whānau benefit. And there’s always the bragging rights.
Join the Auckland Teaching Gardens
The team at the Auckland Teaching Gardens Trust would love to see more visitors and aspiring gardeners at one of their sites in Māngere, Papatoetoe, Ōtara and Manurewa.
The best times to visit are Wednesday and Saturday mornings between 9am and 1pm. Ask to meet the Lead Mentor or Mentor, and take it from there.