Armidale Community Garden

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Although Armidale’s Community Garden has been operating for only three years, it has a feeling of permanence, as well as being a work in progress.

This was captured recently in a short film made by Year 5 and 6 students at Armidale City Public School, which won the schools’ section in New England Mutual’s 2014 M.A.D (Make a Difference) at Heart Short Film Challenge. Their film about the garden was shown for the first time at the New England North West Film Festival in Bingara and took out $5,000 in prize money, shared between the school and the community garden.

The concept behind the competition is for students to voice their ideas of what could be improved in their towns. By doing so, students are encouraged to engage with community groups and promote their activities in a short video.
“It has worked remarkably well,” said NEM Chief Marketing Officer Darren Schaefer.
“Young people seem to have a natural affinity with technology, and through the competition we can get to know more about some of great things going on in our communities.

“It helps community groups, because often they don’t have access to sophisticated technology. It also becomes a real learning experience for students, who often stay involved in the activities they film.”
This is certainly the case with Year 6 ACP student 12-year-old Max Fairy, who is now a regular helper at the garden. He turns up on Thursday afternoons after school and often at the weekend as well.
“I love the whole thing,” he said. “Before we started making the film, I didn’t know anything about the community garden. Now I like to come down and help with what needs to be done with the chooks or the garden and working with other people. It’s been a very good experience.”

Max hopes to study Rural and Environmental Science at university and says making the film and working with other volunteers in the garden has made him aware how important communication is to the success of projects.
For Year 5 and 6 teacher Maria Russell, who worked with the team of ten young film makers, this year’s win brings a bit of déjà vu. Last year she assembled a team of students for the MAD Challenge, and they won their section with a short film about wood smoke pollution.

“We were thinking of tackling another environmental subject this year and in our discussions with Carol Davies from Council, we came up with the concept of the community garden,” she said.
“It captured the kids’ imagination, as they met so many of the volunteers and could see what a difference it makes when people are passionate about a project and get together to make it happen.
“We had a couple of intense filming sessions and had a bit of help with the final editing. It has been a great project for the students and has created a bond with the garden.”
That is how freelance graphic designer David Waugh became involved, giving the 10 students a hand with the concept for the film and the editing.

“Maria and the students spent a lot of time scoping the project and doing the background research,” he said. “I think that helped enormously with the final outcome. They were thinking about the messages, and that really paid off in the end with the final product.”
Community garden convener and mainstay Jo Leoni says volunteers are still considering how the windfall will best be used. One suggestion is to create a paved seating area in the garden with an overarching trellis covered with grapevines.

“It would be a cool and pleasant place to sit, and we have been thinking for some time about growing grapes in the garden,” she said.
Her only regret is that the filming took place when the garden was not looking its luxuriant best.
“The garden looks much better in summer than in winter, but in the end that did not really matter and the kids made a wonderful film,” she said.
Jo, Robert Gasparre and Hadley White were the initiators of the project three years ago, when they put together a successful plan to convert the derelict Old Teachers College tennis courts behind NERAM into a community garden.
With the help of Council and many volunteers, they built the garden on top of the clay courts, adding soil, compost and mulch. Ducats helped by scraping back the grass and weeds which covered the old courts and also donated some soil for the project.
Since then more than 80 volunteers have helped create the garden, working on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

“There is a really creative vibe and a lot of enthusiasm,” Jo says. “We are expanding the garden all the time; every week some new little area gets developed.
“We produce lots of lovely fresh vegetables; some we sell at the Farmers Market, and some go to the volunteers and Harvest Restaurant at NERAM. It is an ongoing commitment and can be hard work, but it’s a wonderful project and we welcome visitors to share it with us.”
For those wishing to view the work of the kids’ production, go to:
 www.heartofourcommunity.com.au/MAD/

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