- Date published:
9:19 am, August 10th, 2016 - 57 comments
Categories: activism, Environment, farming, food, sustainability - Tags: climate adaptation, future-proofing, green activism, resiliency, sustainability, the commons
The following is a Guest Post from Robert Guyton.
Robert is a sustainability pioneer who along with his family grows the oldest food forest in NZ. A long time organic gardener, permaculturist and heritage orchardist, he’s a columnist, a regional councillor for Environment Southland, and an early climate change adaptor.
Some time ago, I wrote a column describing a nascent movement called Common Ground that sought to link like-minded growers of plants under the umbrella of a shared name and an icon in the form of a Greenman sticker, which I promised to send out on receipt of a self-addressed envelope. The response to that idea was remarkable. My letterbox became, for several weeks, the scene of great activity; the postie’s, in filling it with letters, and mine, carrying those letters to my house for opening and reading. It was a delightful experience all round, replying to the charming messages, slipping the sticker into the return envelope and dropping them, one after the other, into the NZ Post mailbox in the village. I’d hoped there’d be a lot of gardeners out there who found the idea alluring, and there were.
The question then became, what to do as a follow-up to the initial excitement of being a sticker-carrying Common Grounder. Those good folk who now have a little Greenman stuck to their wheelbarrow, bicycle mudguard, or like me, front door, have no doubt kept on doing what they’ve always done – garden, filling their properties with plants of all descriptions and making their little corner of the world a better, more verdant place and for that I admire them as much as ever.
In recent days, I’ve been struck by an idea that I think could qualify for the title “Next Step” or “Phase Two” in the Common Ground story. With the weather being perfect for planting down here in the south of the South, I’ve been doing just that, lifting trees and shrubs that grew from cuttings set out last autumn and shifting them to their permanent homes. Only those final destinations are not inside of my boundary fences, but outside. I’ve been planting the Commons. In various overlooked and under-appreciated strips of neglected council land, I’ve been digging and delving, clearing and planting – apple, peach and plums trees, hazel and chestnut, nectarine, grape and quince.
I’ve chosen scrappy sites that no one wants, broom-covered bony land infested with cocksfoot, cotoneaster and holly, wasteland that can’t be built on or isn’t worth sowing in grass and mowing, no-man’s land, only it’s everybody’s ground, under common ownership thanks to the rates we pay our councils. I’m adding value to the overgrown wastelands by planting fruit trees that anyone and everyone will be able to pick from, once the trees reach fruiting age.
It’s a prickly business, planting in the blackberries and gorse. I’m covered in scratches and am forever digging thorn-tips out of my hands with pins and needles. I’m reminded of when I first began planting my forest garden here in Thames Street. Back then, I made the mistake of clear-felling the broom and gorse that covered the property and in doing so, exposed the site to the wind. Nowadays, I let the shelter trees stand and plant amongst them, hence the scratches. But it’s an investment for my community and we’ll all share in the harvest from those trees in years to come. I’m guessing that locally-grown, foragable food will become important in the years ahead, so I’m getting in early, establishing as many fruiting trees, shrubs and vines as I possibly can.
And here’s where existing Common Grounders and all other readers who like the idea come in – you too could grow the Commons. You know how to grow things and you probably also know where there is waste-ground that’s aching to be made useful and you may also have, as I do, grandchildren, who would love to clamber about in trees picking fruit for their dear grandparents. Naturally, I’ve chosen Grow the Commons as the name for this follow-up to the Common Ground concept, as it captures the intent of the second phase of the movement elegantly.
It’s a benevolent act, planting for the wider community on land that isn’t being utilised productively, though your local council might have some reservations (pun intended) about that. I’ve not bothered them with the trifling issue and suspect your own council will be as busy as mine with keeping the street lights on, the gutters swept and the thousand other important issues local councils have to deal with every day and won’t want to be bothered with the planting of a few pretty trees.
So, Common Grounders, that’s where we’re headed, out onto the Commons to grow for our future. Any anxiousness you might feel is probably justified, but it’s up to you and if you’d like to report in and tell me about your progress, my letter box is swept, its hinges oiled and ready to receive mail. If there are new-to-the-idea readers who would like a Greenman sticker for whatever purpose, send me a stamped, self addressed envelope and I’ll send one your way – 20 Thames Street, Riverton, 9822.
A version of this article first appeared in the August edition of New Zealand Gardener.