Community gardens offer free produce — and a chance to learn new skills — as rising costs bite

At a time when an iceberg lettuce can cost as much as $12, a trip to the supermarket can easily stretch many household budgets to the limit.

Community gardens could be the answer many Australians have been searching for.

They have been sprouting up across a wide range of local communities for decades.

Although the exact number of community gardens is unknown, there are hundreds registered across Australia, so chances are there is one in your neighbourhood.

While some are fenced off and may require membership, others are open anytime, to anyone.

Husband and wife Josh and Tallara Palmer helped set up the Gum Tree Community Garden project at Littlehampton in the Adelaide Hills.

They say there was never any question about making it free and accessible to the whole community.

“It’s open to anyone — it’s a safe space for everyone to kind of come and mingle and join together — and it was really about bringing the community together and connecting people in a day and age when we’re not as connected,” Mr Palmer said.

“When I drive past, I see people in here chatting and gardening together and that’s what it’s really all about.”

Tallara and Josh Palmer with Stuart and Valerie Gilmore at the Gum Tree Community Garden in Littlehampton in the Adelaide Hills.,ABC News: Lincoln Rothall,

The garden, like many others, also offers a Grow Free! cart system where locals can drop off excess produce for their neighbours.

Stuart and Valerie Gilmore are regular volunteers at the garden and help maintain it all year round.

“It’s giving back to people. It’s wonderful in this particular community to be able to sort of come together,” Mr Gilmore said.

A community garden with a house behind in a drone photo
The Gum Tree Community Garden offers respite for families doing it tough.,ABC News,

Mr Gilmore said it was a chance to connect with neighbors and to help each other out.

“Things are tough and the young families out there. Some of the mums [who] have popped in with their children have expressed that … during COVID, some of them lost work or their work hours were reduced, so the fact they could come in and get something free and take that with them was obviously going to help out at home, ” he said.

Growing community spirit

Greg Martin is among a group of residents who helped set up the Walyu Yarta Community Garden in Adelaide’s southern parklands more than a decade ago.

“We got together and lobbied council — that took a long time because this was the first community garden in the parklands,” he said.

“Over the years, they’ve come to really think this is an asset in the parklands, which I think it is, and [the council] have been very supportive.”

An elderly man wearing a gray hat picking at leaves from a raised garden bed
Greg Martin was among a group of people who set up the Walyu Yarta Community Garden in the Adelaide Parklands.,ABC News: Lincoln Rothall,

Mr Martin has helped keep the garden running since its inception and says he has learned a few tricks along the way.

“I didn’t know anything about gardening, but you come down here and you meet people who have gardened for 40, 50 years and are a wealth of information so you learn a lot just by being with them,” he said.

He says residents in nearby city apartment buildings have also come to value the social aspect it brings.

A drone shot of a small community garden with lawn and tall buildings in the background
The Walyu Yarta Community Garden is just a stone’s throw from Adelaide’s CBD.,ABC News,

Although some people may feel shy about taking produce for free, those who run the gardens say they should not be reluctant.

“People use the garden the way they want to use it,” Mr Martin said.

“It’s a really lovely thing and it’s great for us, too, because — although we might be giving — we’re also receiving because people feel so pleased being a part of it,” Mr Gilmore said.

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