by JEFF DILLON

In the Mercy pastoral area in South Dunedin the seed of an idea is beginning to sprout and show signs of growth despite the cooler autumnal conditions reducing the options for growing plants.

A joint effort by Catholic Social Services (CSS) and the combined Mercy parishes has seen an initial idea beginning to take shape outside the St Patrick’s Community Centre building.

The flat South Dunedin area contains quite a diverse community and CSS has a number of its clients from the area. In fact it provides a community lunch once a week for some 40 people. It was from that operation that the idea of growing some of the food for the lunch within the community came about.

In a February issue of the bulletin for the Mercy parishes the seed was sown and the suggestion of getting community involvement was promoted. In the notice, reference was made to Laudato Si’ in which Pope Francis has challenged us to “sow beauty”, care for the earth and care for each other. The notice went on to comment that the creation of a community garden was one way of doing that.

The project has already created a good deal of enthusiasm with many willing volunteers and various connections into the wider community. Parishioner Lynne Toomey is very positive about how things are shaping up.

The making of the raised garden beds has been undertaken by local South Dunedin-based Cargill Enterprises, an organisation that provides work opportunities for people with various disabilities. So that in itself has been a positive spin off from the initial stages of getting the project off the ground.

Parishioners have responded as well. Some provided help setting up the garden beds in their sunny, warm location alongside the brick wall of the Community Centre building. Recently another group of nine volunteers went out to the Mosgiel area and gathered trailer loads of horse manure which has been shovelled in to form the base material in the gardens. The next stage involves filling of the beds with potting mix, top soil and then planting.

Again help has been sought within the wider Dunedin community on suitable things to grow. Writer and garden enthusiast Gillian Vine has been able to provide valuable advice on the setting up of the raised garden beds and also on vegetables to grow. As it is already autumn, she has suggested a concentration on Asian oriental vegetables, herbs and winter vegetables such as cabbages and cauliflowers.

Local firm, Nichols Garden Centre, has already supplied free suitable vegetable plants and is also going to supply free bark and woodchips to form the base area around the garden beds.

The project also will have the support of the neighbouring Sisters of Mercy community as well as wider involvement with Mercy Hospital.

There have been offers from parishioners to help with buying plants for the garden and there are already strong signs of community involvement and working together.

It is hoped that people in need will be able to help themselves to produce as well as the gardens being able to provide vegetables for the community lunch.

Local people and the CSS client base will also gain valuable knowledge about growing vegetables themselves which could lead to further benefits long term. The vision for the future would be the growth of the garden concept from the present level of raised garden beds to an even bigger area.

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