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Convenors corner - wrap up of 2022 at Warrnambool Community Garden

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

What a sense of amazement and awe at what our members and our Garden has achieved since COVID gathering limits were removed just after our last AGM, though

we recognise the after-effects of the 2020-2021 lockdowns have slowed progress in some areas.

During this last year, our garden has received a lot of publicity at national and state levels. I was going to say “amazing exposure”, but in all honesty this is an amazing organisation and an amazing site – so without conceit the exposure is warranted even if we are sometimes slow to see it.

Word is spreading

We have been shown off to people beyond our district being a site for the filming of Everyday Gourmet with Justine Schofield, being a finalist then a winner in the Premier’s Sustainability Awards (Sustainable Places and Destinations), and being featured in the Gardening Australia Magazine. On a lighter note our own Dame Eggna was named Australia’s best named chook in one of the Grow It Local national competitions.

It has been wonderful to welcome visiting groups, especially children, back to our Garden with local schools and groups like scouts in for tours and activities. Visits have not quite reached pre-COVID levels but we are getting there. There's also been increased enquiries and visits from outside our district including Melbourne. Some of this is from the exposure, but some is also from support from Warrnambool City Council’s events and tourism staff.

Quarry nears completion

The quarry development has continued, with Stage 1 (The Amphitheatre) only needing the bollards supporting the power and water to be fitted. Our extra wet spring has also shown a couple of small areas where drainage can be tweaked. It was a new member’s observations on this wonderful asset that eventually led to our win in the Premier’s Sustainability Awards. We are anxious to give the amphitheatre a test run, but the record rainfall has kept the surface too soft given the new grass. The second stage of the development, the rainforest gully and educational space, is now attainable after a grant of $150,000 from the Warrnambool City Council Small Infrastructure Fund.

Not-so-friendly visitors

Not everything has been positive all the time. We have had another burglary resulting in loss of essential and valuable tools. We have further reinforced the container and installed high-quality CCTV in the area. However, even the thefts have led to positive relationships. We were very humbled and grateful when local businessman Jay Stuart (Southwest Pipe Relining, Carter’s Tree Services) stepped in and replaced them for us.

Maintenance area grows

Our maintenance area has also undergone a great deal of development during the year, with support from South West Community Foundation our container is now fitted out including solar power and a battery. Broken seedling tables in the area have been repaired and are being used for their original purpose helping our native propagation activities. New outdoor racking has been built, the old shed emptied, and now we have a great storage area for storing items that will have low appeal to future thieves.

Kids in the garden takes off

Our after-school children’s program, Kids in the Garden, was barely an idea when the 2021 annual report was written. Member Heather Ryan got this going and has progressed it wonderfully, with this project taking on a life of its own. The initial ideas, with funding from Wannon Water and our garden, began taking shape in late 2021. Permaculture designer and now member Kirsty Williams donated her expertise and creativity to do a design for whole area based on input from us. Kids, parents and grandparents engaged with the program from the start in February 2022, and the program has run continually since then. Heather has even run extended sessions during school holidays. Many members and volunteers have helped with the evolution of the area towards the plan, and Susan Jones supported us with further funding to install the second bank of wicking beds.

Upgrades to the HUB

Our HUB kitchen and classroom now has a commercial display fridge. This was provided through a Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) scheme. We have also received funding to replace our degraded decking boards in 2023 through a Victorian Government Living Local grant.

Around the grounds

Our grounds have looked amazing throughout this last year. The value-adding that comes from having a site manager with set hours cannot be emphasised enough. There is a whole team that come in and wrap around this role, resulting in the site manager’s 15 hours per week being magnified to more like 80 or 90 hours of work per week. This team also runs the Garden Market and everything that sits behind it, which gives us a degree of financial security many similar organisations don’t have.

That's a wrap

I reflect that in taking up the opportunities our garden offers them, our own members have grown our garden into so much more than what it started as. It was very affirming to have a conversation with a convenor from the early years who no longer lives locally, who reflected (almost in tears) that it was wonderful to see the dreams of the early days coming to fruition even if they could not see how that might happen back then. Like the world of modern work, the world of modern volunteering can quickly morph into something that it once was not. Our challenge going forward will be to hold those aspects of our Garden that make us valuable to our community, but at the same time remain unafraid to explore new ways to add to the dynamism of the organisation and the site as opportunities arise.

Looking forward to 2023 there is a lot to anticipate, looking forward to seeing you in the garden.

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