Kids and vegies

Permablitz in Perry St

A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday  1st September, 2012

Last month, the Coffs Coast Local Food Futures Project, funded by the NSW Environmental Trust, concluded after three years.

The centrepiece of this project was the establishment of two wonderful community gardens, in Coffs Habour (Combine St) and Bellingen (Bellingen High School). Both very different, each of these gardens has already made an important contribution to community education and cohesion in their respective localities, and will continue to do so for years to come.

The Local Food Futures Project has left many other legacies, and many great stories to tell. One of the most recent is the holding of a permablitz at the Gumnut Cottage Child Care Centre in Perry Drive, Coffs Harbour.

Gumnut Cottage is a community-based, not-for-profit centre, run by the parents of the approximately 70 families who use it.

Recently a key focus for centre has been the promotion of sustainability, says Director, Donna Easey, with the installation of water tanks and a solar system.

Because the Centre supplies all the childrens’ meals and cooks for them, they have been wanting to to ‘get the kids a lot more involved, by growing [their own food], and getting them to pick and eat it themselves’, says Donna.

‘So that’s why we applied for the green grant from the Council. We’ve had gardens before, but they didn’t work, so we thought, how can we improve on this. When the grant became available, we thought, this is an opportunity to do it bigger and better, to optimise our resources, get more garden space up and running.

With a $1600 green grant from Coffs Council, and a further $1000 of their own funds, they decided that the time was right to build a great edible garden for the kids in their care.

The key ingredient  was knowledge and expertise, and that was provided by the Local Food Futures grant, in the form of a stipend for permaculture designer Matt Downie, who is an active member of both the Combine St and Bellingen High School community gardens.

Matt’s design was put out to consultation amongst the Centre’s families, and attracted a lot of interest and enthusiastic comment. Not only did it involve the construction of a highly diverse edible garden, but it also addressed some long-term structural problems the Centre had been experiencing, such as the formation of mudpits due to the slope and heavy rain.

Donna was surprised by Matt’s knowledge of species and varieties, like chocolate sapote, ice cream bean and taro, that now form part of the edible garden for the Centre.

Twenty people rolled their sleeves up and worked from 9 am to 3 pm to build six 2.2m x 1.3m corrugated steel beds, as well as extensive trellising and a further railway sleeper raised bed.


Vegie bed construction at Gumnut childcare centre
Vegie bed construction at Gumnut childcare centre


 The garden has already got the children inspired and engaged. ‘On a daily basis, the children can’t wait to come in and water the plants, and see how they’re going. It’s very exciting.

Many parents who weren’t able to attend the blitz itself have been coming in to help out. ‘The kids are very excited when mum or dad comes to pick them up in the afternoon, and they say, come and look at the garden, look at what we’ve planted’, says Donna.

There have been many donations of plants from families, and grandparents have come in to share their gardening skills with the children.

Donna is very excited about the potential the garden brings to the Centre: ‘I think it’s going to be great, for children to go and pick things for themselves. But also looking at what’s in our garden, and how we can use it – for older kids, thinking about recipes, and then cooking and eating the food themselves.’  

As well as healthy eating, just being involved in the garden has a calming effect, especially for those children who are quite active.

And it’s inspired several families to start growing food in their own homes.

Donna sees a return to previous values and practices with this sort of local food growing. ‘When I grew up, we had big vegie gardens, and you had things that you don’t see anymore, like marrows, and big squashes. They’re hard to come by these days, but we had them on our table every night’, she says.