GreenThumb Enterprises New England is a not for profit company formed by Maureen Chapman and Robert Gasparre. Robert tells us more about this great project.
Tell us about GreenThumb Enterprises New England.
GreenThumb Enterprises New England is a not for profit company formed by Maureen Chapman and myself (Robert Gasparre). One of our primary objectives is to create educational opportunities centred around a market garden supplying fresh produce to the local community. Those involved in the garden will learn about effective strategies for growing fruit and vegetables using chemical free methods.
As a former chef and director of Slow Food Australia, Maureen brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this program. I established the Armidale Farmers’ Market and managed it for many years, gaining a good understanding of fresh local produce and the needs of the community. We both have a passion for education, gardening and fresh produce.
GreenThumb has initiated an exciting new work for the dole program based at the TAFE Rural Skills Centre on Taylor Street in Armidale. Our aim is to provide the participants involved in the program with the skills and experience involved in growing, using and maintaining chemical free fruit and vegetable production in a cool climate area.
The skills and knowledge that are cultivated in this program will mean that the participants can use these skills not only in their own life and backyards, but hopefully lead to employment opportunities.
What is your connection with TAFE New England, and what opportunities has this created locally?
GreenThumb Enterprises New England has formed a partnership with the Armidale TAFE Rural Skills Centre to develop a working market garden to showcase the extraordinary range of produce which can be successfully grown in the area.
It is our aim to demonstrate how to build and grow a productive garden that can operate 12 months of the year. We are teaching those involved how to control pests and diseases in plants using natural methods and providing a living classroom where people can understand the importance of bio diversity in a garden, soil improvement and different ways fresh produce can be utilised.
Describe the market garden and how it is operated.
As a not for profit company, any money raised from the sale of produce is returned to the business to expand our program. We are now in our fifth month of operation and are developing the garden every day. A work schedule is discussed at the start of each day and a priority list of tasks that need to be undertaken examined with the workers.
The garden also provides opportunities for people to discuss personal issues in a non-threatening environment and learn how others manage these challenges in their own life.
Armidale has become a very multicultural city, with the UNE providing an influx of a wide variety of people and cultures living in the area. Our garden aims to cater for this rich cultural heritage by growing fruits and vegetables from around the world.
How can residents get involved with the project?
At present it is only work for the dole participants involved directly in the garden. However, we hope to be able to expand our programs and accept volunteers in the garden over the next 12 months.
Can locals access the garden?
Locals can come and buy any produce we are growing between 9 and 3 during the week (except for Tuesdays) and also 9 – 12 on Saturday mornings. People can come and see what they like the look of, and we will pick it for them. You can’t get fresher than that. You can have your food from the garden to the table in literally minutes!
We are also currently selling our produce at the exciting new store “Full of Goodness”, located on Marsh Street.
What plans do you have for the future of GreenThumb?
GreenThumb is aiming to create a successful work for the dole program which can also be adapted to suit other areas in the New England. We are also hoping to provide educational and activity options for people with a disability under the NDIS system of funding. In time we will also look to provide services for youth in the local area, where they are able to learn life skills and healthy food choices.
It is also our goal to explore a range of short course options and general interest workshops like fermented foods etc. Maureen is currently on a dog sled in Alaska and returning in March. Upon her return, it is her desire to run cooking classes using our fresh produce.
As the garden becomes more established, we will also incorporate more local Aboriginal foods, including wattle seed, vegetables and fruits, even exploring native plants used for weaving and dying.