Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Tale of Two Pams - Surviving in Suburbia

Common Unity Gardens, Epuni, Lower Hutt
Years ago in a nearby suburb in Lower Hutt, a woman named Pam started out doing preserves and soaps and selling them on a small-scale. By the time I met her she was running sustainability workshops and had transformed her perhaps-slightly-more-than-a-quarter-acre into a mini urban farm: growing veges and flowers in every available outdoor space, including the road berm; while also housing several varieties of ducks, hens and a couple of beehives out the front. It was – in actuality – ‘The Good Life’ (for those who may remember the British ‘70s comedy in which Tom and Barbara Good transformed their urban backyard in suburban London into a not quite model example of self-sufficiency.

This week, our city of Lower Hutt was visited by another Pam, this one being Pam Warhurst from Incredible Edible Todmorton, where a group of dedicated but fun-loving volunteers has transformed their north England town in the last eight years to one full of ‘edible landscapes’ – the good life on an urban scale. They describe themselves as “passionate people working together for a world where all share responsibility for the future wellbeing of our planet and ourselves. We aim to provide access to good local food for all, through working together; learning – from field to classroom to kitchen; and supporting local business.

Pam Warhurst is the founder. She said she was motivated by “a complete lack of leadership” around for building a world that our children could actually live in. So she got together with others to start “doing stuff around food”. They planted food wherever they could – on public parks, roadside berms, community spaces. Sometimes they’d ask permission sometimes not. They would also share their skills for preparing, preserving and cooking healthy local food.

At an informal gathering in Lower Hutt this week, she shared what she’d learnt and also heard from community initiatives in the Hutt Valley, Wellington and the Kapiti Coast. Appropriately enough, the event was held at Common Unity gardens based at Epuni School - providing a place for growing and preparing good, healthy local food for children and their families, in the heart of the Hutt Valley.

For Pam, it’s all about coming together round a place and over food. “You connect through food, it stimulates conversations with neighbours,” she said.

Other key messages:

Four types of people you need:
· someone who knows how the system works (authorities, etc);
· a networker, someone who knows where resources/other people/connections are;
· someone who understands gardening;
· a good communicator: someone who can tell the stories regularly and share.

Four basic principles for activities: Fun, fast, simple and cheap.

On action:
We know what we need to do to provide a sustainable, healthy world.
Don’t wait for the system to say you can do it. Don’t wait for experts or reports, just go ahead and do it. Sometimes you ask permission, sometimes you don’t.
Make it up as you go along.
Be positive and not negative. 

On building community:
Think: what do you know? what can you share?
Everyone has a gift to share in their own local community or situation. Each of us is a piece of a jig-saw. We’re all part of the solution.
Support local businesses – it keeps the local economy turning over.
Make the connections that aren’t the normal connections.’
Village thinking considers the needs of the children
If you do the right stuff, it will attract people.

In the general discussion, people shared about how it is preparing our children for the future – provide them with gardening skills, cooking skills, preserving food skills, hunting and catching their own food. Bees and beekeeping also came in for a heavy focus, with backyard beehive making underway in Alicetown using recycled timber and old real estate signs. Someone shared their large ‘honey pot’ harvested from just a three-month old hive.

Finally, some key survival tips from Pam:
· Have a laugh along the way.
· Celebrate.
· Make it look beautiful.
· Tell your stories.

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