In April 2019 the Golden Bay Community Gardens became the Golden Bay Sustainable Living Centre. The story began in 1985 as a composting project......
The first collective project for the original Community Gardens group was a large-scale composting project at the council nursery site in Takaka township in 1985. Soon after, in 1986, the Gardens group found their ideal land site on Waitapu Road, which was optimally located for a community project: close to town and adjacent to schools. The Maori whanau were visited and a lease drawn up.
With the gardens set up, in 1987 education programmes began. Many people in Golden Bay learned to grow their own organic food through free, government-funded full-time multi-week Access courses, funded by the Department of Labour for unemployed people. In 1988, "the gardens" began selling its produce through a stall located on site. A collective group grew the majority of the food sold, and this Organic Growers Group obtained organic certification for the land.
The Gardens became its own organisation independent of the Golden Bay Work Centre in 1991 with the formation of the Te Wharerangi Trust to oversee the land and operations there. “Te Wharerangi” was a whanau name bequeathed to the Trust by the landowners, meaning “the house or place of many people.”
During the 1990s, as production and education continued, the Gardens helped spark other organic ventures in the community. While the Gardens provided fresh produce, a food co-op was formed in 1995 to collectively order other organic food for local families. This grew to the point where in 1999 food co-op members opened the Golden Bay Organics shop on the main street of Takaka.
Another initiative that the Community Gardens helped facilitate was the Small Scale Organic Growers Certification Scheme (now called Organic Farm NZ) – a low-cost local alternative to formal organic certification, to enable small growers to sell organic produce regionally without paying the high fees of national certification organisations whose focus was on export (eg BioGro).
In the early 2000s, the Gardens focused on a goal of greater local employment through food production on the Gardens land. With Sol Morgan as coordinator, up to three local people were employed at a time, focusing on producing salads and other vegetables for local sale, both on site and to restaurants and shops.
Organic education programmes continued at the Gardens during this time, including gardening courses for locals and the PLANET Organic programme (Earthcare Education Aotearoa) which attracted international students. A major worm farm project took waste from the High School turning it into valuable fertilizer.
Change & Renewal
Due to changes in administrative oversight, the market gardening operation was halted in order to cut expenditures and reevaluate the Garden’s future direction. In the ensuing transition phase, from 2008 onward, only one staff member continued to be employed on the land. The majority of the productive land was not managed directly by the Gardens/Trust but was instead leased to a local organic grower in order to decrease the Trust’s engagement in the financial risks of marketing gardening.
In 2011, a renaissance in community involvement began at the Gardens, along with an increase in allotment holdings. New ventures started at the gardens at this time, included the completion of a certified commercial kitchen for community use; development of a ‘community’ stall selling home gardeners’ surplus organic fruits and vegetables from throughout Golden Bay; and establishment of the Space of Love takeaway café serving healthy lunches on a koha basis.
Due to a decrease in external funding available – a situation affecting community organisations throughout New Zealand due to changes in Government – the organisation soon had to be restructured again, as employing a full-time manager was no longer financially viable. The Manager position was reduced to 1-2 days a week, with the balance of labour onsite provided by volunteers and Community Service workers.
Nonetheless, despite financially leaner times, the Gardens are important as a community resource, with many individual allotment holders growing food, a range of workshops led by community members on sustainable living themes, and new organic mini-businesses operated by community members onsite, including an organic seedling business and a mobile organic café using local produce. Involvement with schools is increasing with the local Kindergarton and Takaka Primary School becoming stewards for the reforestation of the woodlot area and the running of nature-based learning programmes.
Present & Future
The Gardens is unique being the largest community garden in the country occupying 2.0 hectares of land, in one of the most isolated regions and is second oldest in New Zealand, after Kelmana Gardens in Auckland.
The focus on the Gardens’ mission of providing service to the community, rather than simply being a commercial food production facility, inevitably brings challenges, as the land and facilities are too extensive to simply be managed by volunteer allotment holders. However, throughout the Gardens’ history of nearly three decades, the organisation has continued to evolve to meet the needs of the community, and to take advantage of changing available funding streams, all while holding true to its original core principles of “organic methods of land use and education, fostering a vital link between nature and people.”
With this intent "the Gardens" has now become the Golden Bay Sustainable Living Centre with a focus on offering our Sustainable Living Course. Since March 2019, we have offered this 11 week course four times teaching in all the core areas of permaculture with a particular focus on the student personal project. It's an exciting time for us as we embark on this all important venture to create more sustainable business, food, buildings and thinking.