Community-run edible streetscapes

Community Spirit alive and well in Sawtell

A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 24th November, 2012

A quiet revolution is underway in Coffs Harbour and its nearby towns.

Supported by small grants from Coffs Council, first under the Local Food Futures Project and now via the ‘Our Living Coast’ Regional Sustainability Program, several primary schools and child care centres have established productive gardens for their children over the past year.

These intiatives build on longer-established school veggie gardens, such as those at Toormina Primary School and Casuarina Steiner School.

And now school veggie gardens are becoming edible streetscapes, with the planting of around 30 ctirus trees in two locations in Sawtell. First, on Friday 16th November, kindergarted and class 5 students from Sawtell Public School planted trees on the school’s boundary. Then, on Sunday 18th November, over 30 local residents of all ages worked for an hour and a half to plant lemonades, oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, cumquats, grapefruits and blood oranges on the road verge off 18th Avenue, adjacent to the Richardson’s Park sporting oval. Thus was born the very first ‘Sawtell Community Citrus Grove’.

The Sawtell Citrus Orchard team!
The Sawtell Citrus Orchard team!

Both these initiatives were spearheaded by the Sawtell Healthy Homes community group, with the organising energy provided by Peter and Erika van Schellebeck. Advice on species selection and soil preparation came from Juliet Thomas, of the Coffs Harbour Regional Community Garden. Over the past year Juliet has worked with the school principal, Michael Cheers, as well as staff, students and parents, to set up a beautiful fruit and veggie garden inside the school.



Erika highlighted the social and community-building aspects of the citrus tree plantings. “The project has been a great opportunity for us to get to know our neighbours, and I hope that the grove will become a community space where neighbours meet and walkers and cyclists stop for a rest and some shade”, said Erika. “This pathway is very popular, and so we designed a pathway through the grove to encourage people to move through it and enjoy the space. We also designed a small circular space in the middle that hopefully will one day have a seat and table to encourage neighbours to meet up in the space – maybe for Friday night drinks.”


Sawtell Public School kids planting citrus trees
Sawtell Public School kids planting citrus trees

Planting and caring for fruit trees also brings clear health and educational benefits for children. “I hope that the nature strip planting at the school will build on all the work the school is already doing to educate the students about healthy eating, and growing fresh fruit and vegies”, said Erika. This is part of raising levels of food literacy amongst children – an understanding where food comes from, how it’s grown (and raised), what healthy eating involves, and the importance of composting food scraps, so that soil fertility can be maintained and enhanced.

Erika hopes that these initiatives in Sawtell will help inspire other groups of residents in other parts of Coffs Harbour and its surrounds to also get behind the push to make this region ‘edible’ – and for the Council to support them with small grants and making the paperwork easy.

“The grove already looks great – it has turned an unloved and unused piece of swampy land into a space for the whole community to enjoy, and, in a few years, to enjoy a wide variety of free citrus. I hope that the grove and school nature strip planting will encourage Council to consider the merits of growing food in public spaces.”

This work in Sawtell builds on the Bellingen Edible Streetsacpes project begun in 2011, as a collaboration of Northbank Rd Community Garden, the Bellingen Chamber of Commerce, Transition Bellingen, and with funding from the Local Food Futures Project. Bellingen Council has also embraced the spirit, with a raised veggie garden at the entrance to Council Chambers.

Further afield, the trail has been well and truly blazed by Yorkshire café owner Pam Warhurst and her army of volunteers in the market town of Todmorden, with the Incredible Edible Todmorden project.  In Pam’s words, “I wondered if it was possible to take a town like Todmorden and focus on local food to re-engage people with the planet we live on, create the sort of shifts in behaviour we need to live within the resources we have, stop us thinking like disempowered victims and to start taking responsibility for our own futures.”

Amazing things have been achieved in Todmorden, and they’re just getting started. Makes you wonder what’s possible for Coffs Harbour, with our climate, water and soils.

For more info on Incredible Edible Todmorden, search for Pam Warhurst’s TED talk on