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Playgroup for Adults by Kate Lawrence

We are a group of women who meet together every week to grow food. We have a roster and each week we go to a different woman’s house and work in her garden on whatever she wants us to do.

‘Playgroup for adults’ Beth calls it, ’or maybe Playgroup for food growing Mums.’  Whatever the name it is simple, it works and we love it and so do our kids and our gardens. Maybe it’s the lashings of cake we get every Friday when we arrive, or perhaps its just that all the mums are outside with all the kids, but ‘gardening’, ’veggie club’ or the more inspired name we dreamt up one week over a bed of weeds ’Food for Thought’, is the highlight of everyone’s week.

Just like a seed, the idea for our gardening group swirled around in the ether for quite a while before landing in just the right place with three Mums chatting in the playground at Macedon Primary School. It then had to wait until the conditions were just right, it had to push to the front of the conversation at least three times before finally life emerged. Someone again said, ‘We should just do it’ and instead of, ’Yeah we should’, the reply was ‘OK let’s. What day suits you? Who wants to go first?’

And so the seed unfurled into a seedling. We set some rules. She who receives the labour provides the energy (otherwise known as cake). Actually, in terms of rules, that’s about it. Oh yeah, it’s all about food—making a chook run, moving compost, planting seeds, pruning fruit trees, harvesting, laying beds and planting herbs—are all in, but the rose garden, while possibly admired, is out of bounds. As far as possible we work on organic principles, learning as we go.

For quite a while there was just the three of us, which was lovely although the pressure to be available every Friday did build up, so we thought about going fortnightly. But then we got a few more women and we could safely take a week off, knowing we’d be covered. Then a few more joined and a few more until we hit a peak of ten.

At this stage we wondered whether we should close the doors, it can be quite a task being organised to feed and work such a wonderful resource, but it has naturally levelled out and it works well. We can still have weeks of three and it’s rarely nine, except— now I think about it— if we go out to lunch, which has become an end of term tradition.

Some of us have small children who now, after three years of going to ‘veggie club’, know each other and really look forward to gardening. My four year old is so keen if I mention I am going to do some gardening he gets very excited. When he realises I’m just going to work in our garden, he bursts into tears.

We have a wide variety of experience in the group, from women who have never grown vegetables and didn’t have a garden before joining, to those with established gardens and several years’ experience. We are curious, and research to find the answers to our musings. We then share our discoveries.

It is an ancient idea of collaborative effort to produce food, not original at all, and as we have discovered, the benefits are far greater than the time and effort we put in.

The benefits are huge. Even when it’s not my day, I go home inspired and often spend the rest of the day happily in my own garden. We nearly always come home with some seedlings or produce or seeds, we learn from seeing what is happening in each other’s gardens. We are always gob smacked at how much rain Christine has measured with her rain gauge—she lives about 3km from town and gets heaps more rain than we do. We connect to our environment, to our food and what we eat and to the land we live in, and at the same time we build relationships and laugh.

Our group has grown into a little community, a place of belonging. We invite each other to our events, we celebrate the solstices together and our partners and older school children all know each other. We were very pleased to be able to encourage and support another group of women in a neighbouring town to start a similar group, and talking recently to one of them, their group is also a little place of gardening, connection and solace.

It is a truly exciting day when you cook up a storm, set a bunch of tasks and watch as work that would have taken you all weekend by yourself is done in a morning and it seems to be with very little effort.

As far as we can tell this type of idea is not actively promoted anywhere else.   We have found a lot of information about community gardens, but we live in a community that has ample land and the benefits of a garden at the back door is streets ahead of the one down the road you have to visit. We bring the community to the home garden.

The idea has the capacity to be flexible for different groups. A Sunday morning group for workers, seasonal groups that don’t work through the cold winter months or an after school group with older kids in tow, are all possible. It could work fortnightly or monthly depending on the needs of the group.

We have dreams for our group. The model we want to promote is one that builds in an aspect of philanthropy. We are still talking through various options, but the aim is to provide our labour and expertise to help others less able and privileged than us. We envisage doing this about four times a year. It may be to an elderly person, who has the passion and commitment for vegetable gardening, but no longer has the capacity. It may be to someone with a disability who is isolated and would like to grow food but doesn’t know where to start. It might be a school garden. Because we value relationship and community we are moving towards the concept of adopting a garden (rather than a one off ‘makeover’) working with them for a few years or until they have their own capacity. We will see how this aspect develops.

We have talked about writing magazine articles to spread the word and laugh about how we could make a radio program for our local radio station about growing food. We have also discussed having education sessions to learn from experts about preserving food.

As is fitting in such a group, our development and direction is very organic and a result of the influence of the people in it.

Article from Barefoot Magazine Summer 2009 issue

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