Here, she talks to us about the social value of community gardening, companion planting and why she’s passionate about growing local food for local people.
Hi, Juneen. Let’s start by going back to your roots. Where did your love of gardening come from?
Well, possibly from my mother. I grew up on French Island, Western Port Bay. Things weren’t easy to come by, so mum always grew fruit and vegetables and milked a few cows, while we hunted rabbits as children.
You now work across three gardens. How did they come about?
I started the Manna Community Garden in Foster when our youngest son first went to primary school. Then Fish Creek asked me to help reinvigorate their community garden. A year or two later, Marg Watson [co-founder of Buckley Park Community Farm] said she’d like to grow more food. That was an idea I'd had some years beforehand, but I hadn't yet found anywhere to do it. Marg put the feelers out in the community to see where we could find some land, and in 2016, we found Buckley Park. Bev [another early Buckley Park Member] joined us soon after, but it really was just Marg and me in the beginning.
Growing more local food for local people, that was the whole idea. We just felt it was more educational in the long run; to educate people about growing local food.
Is that because you're concerned that our food system is sourcing foods from afar?
Exactly. And the seasonality of food and supporting local people. Trying to keep the money within, creating a circular economy.
Diversity is very important in a garden. Even a farm shouldn’t be monoculture.
So it started off as just the two of you. How did you get more people involved in the garden?
It’s still really only growing slowly because sometimes I think people take a while to realise the need for growing local food. In saying that, we often have up to 10 or 15 volunteers now. And it's growing. The boxes of veggies that we sell each week are between 13 and 15 boxes, all harvested from Buckley Park Community Farm.
We’ve been able to support groups or people that are needier too. And we’ve supported school programs with food for children who don't get decent food at home. I'd like to think that will continue.
When I first started the community garden in Foster, I went to the Rotary Club thinking I would find support there. At the time, I had got the farm site, but I hadn't started doing anything to it yet.
Quite a number of the Rotary Club were from the older farming generation and they just said, "I don't understand why you want to put a community garden in Foster. Everybody's got land to grow food." And I just said, "Well, it's not really about the growing of food. It's about the people coming together talking."
What are your future goals for Buckley Park -- what would you like to happen in the next 12-24 months?
I’d like the garden to grow, and I'd like to connect with people that also have fruit trees and stuff in their own backyard. So that we can go and harvest or prune in the wintertime and help to manage those plants, and also make use of the fruit.
We try to have two festivals at Buckley Park a year; usually sustainable festivals. They're not big, but it's about getting the word out there about what you can do within this area. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We're just trying to showcase what’s already here.
In the long term, we just want to grow and try to educate people more about the need for growing food locally and supporting local food systems.
Let’s talk about the work that’s involved in running a successful community group. Not only the physical stuff, but the email newsletter and organising that’s required.
I've been in the area for quite some time and I know quite a few people. I'm a bit nosy and pushy, at times, too
Like when the farmer was busy baling hay next to Buckley Park, I said, ‘Well, I'm just gonna jump the fence and ask him if we can have a bale of hay.’ And some of the others said we can't do that. And I said, ‘Why not? He can only say no.' I'm happy to have that contact with people. (And he was more than happy to give us a bale of hay!)
But with the Buckley Park group, we just asked people to give us their contact details, and it was easy to email them each week. It's just a little email that I send out weekly to tell them what's happening at the farm and the days that we’re getting together to volunteer and do some maintenance.
One of the things I like about your emails is that they're very personal. You’re really putting care into it and you can see that.
I do have a lady who's never been a volunteer, but she receives my emails. And she said I just love your emails. They’re so informative, and I feel like I'm having a conversation with you.
I’ve started writing my garden articles again in the local paper too, once a month. I used to do it years ago, in The Mirror. And then when I wrote the book [A Year in Our Gardens], I thought people can just read that. But they asked me to please write again for all these people that come into the area and for people who don't know anything about gardening. So I started again, and people love reading it.
What are some of the social benefits of the garden?
I'm just chuffed at the relationships that have been created. Aside from friendships, it’s also helped some people -- like those in low socio-economic groups that come to work in the garden -- feel revived. Because as soon as you put your hand in the soil, you feel like you're connecting to nature; going back to the grassroots.
Take Hanneke, for example, who's Dutch. Her husband wasn't interested in gardening. And so she just needed to come to the garden to talk to people who were interested in gardening or interested in certain foods. She milked a goat, and she made her own cheese. And she just wanted to share some companionship. Because of that, she's got some really good friends from the garden.
In today’s society, where there’s a lot of technology and disconnection, growing food or just talking to somebody, that’s what can be helpful for some people.
What farming or vegetable growing techniques do you use at Buckley Park?
I like to think that I have a bit of a permaculture aspect to it all. But when you're growing crops like we do at Buckley Park, particularly for harvesting, it’s far better to grow them in long rows. There’s a lot of companion planting happening too, and crop rotation.
Can you explain companion planting?
Certain plants really love being together. Carrots really love onions, for example. Carrots have a long taproot, whereas an onion doesn't, and the onion helps to combat the carrot fly too. Certain leguminous plants like beans and peas dislike the onion family or garlic. But because they have nitrogen-fixing roots, they might make good companions for heavy feeders -- like the cabbage family -- who can take a bit of that nitrogen that they’re releasing.
How did you learn all this?
From books, other people, and through observation.
Observation is really important in a garden. You can tell when certain things don't like each other or plants don't like that particular part in the garden because it's either too cold, too windy or too wet. So a lot of observation and planting with the moon cycle. You can see what happens when the moon is waxing or waning. It really has an effect on how things grow.
If you are interested and would like to know more information about the Buckley Park Community Farm, you can do so by visiting their Facebook page.