Welcome to our August update for the River Garden, our flagship community gathering and education site for BCLN! We will now be sharing monthly updates on all things River Garden.
You may have seen things happening from the highway at Bass, rows of swale garden beds across the contours of the hill with espaliered fruit trees and annual vegetables, growing trials which have so far included hops and sweet potato, an orchard and nuttery, a Nursery business 'Coll’s Plants' (you can order online here https://www.collsplants.com/) and space for so much more. Many of you would not be aware of how this all came to be so in this first monthly update we will take you back to the beginning.
Phase one of planning started back in 2015 when BCLN leased a hectare of river flat located behind our office in Bass, nicknamed the ‘Pony Paddock’ as it was then only sporadically used to agist horses. The vision was and still is, to create a garden facility, a combination trials site, community garden and education precinct, to demonstrate alternative and innovative approaches to horticulture based on biological and regenerative principles. The concept for the garden grew from a need to engage our changing demographic, encourage diversification, and provide more fresh fruit and vegetables to our community. In the ‘fresh food desert’ of the Waterline communities of Westernport there is limited access to purchase fresh food, so an opportunity existed to expand our local food economy and work towards developing a community food hub. We are now supplying local food distributors such as Grow Lightly and Udder and Hoe, with excess going to local community centre food pantries and foodbanks to support those in need.
In consultation with CERES founders and other experts including Horticulturalist/ Permaculturist’s Jarrod Ruch and John Carlson we created our first master plan in 2016. This plan sat within a framework of guiding principles and designated spaces, where the ongoing creation of the site would be flexible and iterative, evolving from the needs and interests of volunteers/land-holders/microbusinesses involved, with observations and feedback coming from the site itself. At this stage basic access was constructed with a hardstand area, drainage, VanHut shelter, first Hops trial and workshop day.
Phase two saw the official public launch in December 2017, where over 60 people inputted their ideas and knowledge to sow the seeds (pun intended!) of expanding plans for growing areas and activities they would like to be a part of on site. This was followed in 2018 with funding from Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority to run hands on workshops while establishing growing infrastructure including the contour swale beds, espalier framework, berry trellis, comparative trial beds, orchard and nuttery, drip irrigation, beehives and an indigenous insectary planting as a shelterbelt and attractor of beneficial pollinators.
Now well into phase three of Community engagement and Program development, we have one micro business onboard with Collen Asling establishing ‘Colls Plants’ a vegetable seedling nursery, Rob Fransen from Sweet Bee Honey manages our beehives, and pre-Covid-19, Corrections crews were assisting monthly and a small team of volunteers and BCLN staff had been working on site.
Covid-19 gave us all a bit of a jolt, but we managed to readjust and regain our footing. We are currently maintaining the site with additional help from our Staff and Works Crew and now a Working for Victoria Crew so we can keep the site operating before we can once again open safely for volunteers.
We will be running a new Volunteer program, one weekend morning a month, as soon as restrictions are lifted, and it is safe for us to do so. So far we have around 30 people who want to be involved, you can also register your interest on our River Garden page by clicking here so we can let you know when this great opportunity for hands on learning in growing healthy nutritious food will begin.
Establishing partnerships with local educational institutions, health providers and community organisations is another way we are creatively co-designing programs that suit community needs. Already we have established links with local people and organisations such as, Horticulture students from Bass Coast Adult Education, St. Bedes VCAL Students and Bass River Country with NDIS clients completing activities on site and excess produce going to Corinella Community Centre and Phillip Island Community and Learning Centre’s food bank and food pantry programs. Exciting developments are also underway with representatives from many local organisations grouping together to discuss forming a Bass Coast Food Collective.
New funding will see an Education Shelter constructed later this year (more on that next month), funding from Bass Coast Shire Community grants and Business support grants will also allow us to buy equipment to support our volunteers to operate safely, and funding from ANZ Seeds of Renewal program will allow us to host family fun workshops next year focusing on biodiversity and increasing environmental sustainability. Ticketed Master Class workshops on many different topics are also in development for next year.
With all these inputs and hard work from volunteers, staff, work teams, partner organisations, visiting groups and workshops, we can’t wait to see our community’s ideas come to life. The River Garden is looking set to be a fantastic community hub for growing, learning, and sharing for all in Bass Coast!
Click here to take you to the River Garden Page on our website.
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