Sowing the seeds of community

Tucked away behind Mildura’s Around Again receival station, the Mildura Eco Village is a hub of sustainability with a small but bustling community. Teagan Bell visited the village’s Community Garden for its weekly Gardening Time to discover the importance of getting back to basics when it comes to produce and what’s next for the eco-focused site.
Pictures: Carmel Zaccone

“A TREASURE hidden in plain sight” is how Sunraysia Sustainability Network chair Krister Jonsson describes the Mildura Eco Village.

Opened around six years ago by Mildura Rural City Council (MRCC), the village was designed to educate the community about sustainable living while bringing like-minded people together.

As it has expanded, the village has become a map of projects, instalments and buildings, all sharing the message of sustainability.

Among its original and most interesting structures is the Education Centre; a multipurpose facility popular among local schools, with more than 2000 students passing through its doors last year alone, and the Eco House; built in the 1960s and originally located in Nichols Point, that showcases ways to improve water conservation, reduce electricity consumption and manage waste more effectively.

But it’s the village’s Community Garden that is truly its “heart and soul”.
Comprised of 37 plots spread over seven hectares, the garden is decorated with donated art, mosaics from ArtRageUs and is sectioned off by a rosemary hedge planted by the Christie Centre as part of TAFE’s Growability program.

Cared for entirely by the village’s 140 volunteering members who range from tiny toddlers to retirees, the garden and its community is one that is vast and ever-expanding.

Garden volunteer of four years Peg Hobson says the initial vision for the garden was to create a space where people could contribute to the village and enjoy the rewards of their efforts.

“If you help out in the garden, you’re also able to take produce home,” she says.

“At the moment we’ve got a committee that is really passionate about being inclusive to lots of different community groups and lots of different individuals and just getting people back to that connection with their food,” she says.

“It’s the process of nourishing the soil, planting something and watching it grow into something that will eventually nourish you, rather than just going to the supermarket and buying something super processed.

“I think it’s vital these days for people to have that connection – especially for the younger generation – so we have the Mulberry Tree Play Group and a couple of early learning centres that come down as well for kids to be able to have those hands-on experiences.”

With no empty plot, the garden is full of seasonal produce including zucchinis and tomatoes, as well as herbs such as oregano, mint, parsley and lemongrass, and vegetables including silverbeet, chillies, radishes, lettuces, peas, rocket, cress and strawberries.

“The strawberries are a permanent fixture but they only fruit at one time of year,” Peg says.

“They have a really long fruiting season though, so we get kilos and kilos of strawberries – it’s amazing.

“So that’s where we spend most of our time during playgroup when it’s strawberry season – we just sit in there and stuff our faces.”

The garden is also home to more uncommon vegetables including tree onion, arrowroot, afghan leek and those planted by Sunraysia’s Burundian community such as white eggplant and cassava.

“We have attempted some unusual things like peanuts and corn in the past too, which proved to be a bit iffy,” Peg says with a laugh.

Among the garden’s more recent projects is the worm farm, introduced by an exceptionally enthusiastic volunteer.

“It’s probably been going for a month or two now,” Peg says.
“Having such a big worm farm means we’re able to accept food scraps from the public as well so people can come and put their waste into the little green bin and we add it to the worm farm in cycles with water and dry stuff.”

There are also plans to expand the garden beds and to return bee hives to the site.

“We’d also like to resurrect the sheds behind the garden as art studios,” Krister says.

And while there is already an impressive number of garden members, MRCC environmental sustainability education officer Shaphal Subedi says the hope is that even more people will join.

“Our plans for the future are to run more workshops like the ones we have recently ran and to inspire more people to become part of the garden community with an open day in November,” he says.

“We have had some on basic irrigation, compost and mulching, and we’re looking at doing some on worms as well.

“But if there is something people want us to do then we can try to make that happen.

“This garden is here because of us, but it is for everybody to enjoy.”

Krister also hopes to raise awareness of the garden and its amenities by holding more events similar to the recent and very popular Eco Fest.

“The fest was actually better than we could have imagined, so next year we will make it even bigger,” he says.

“Hopefully we can get even more groups from the community involved and mingling because it really is a fascinating place to be that is open to everyone.”

Membership for the Mildura Eco Village Community Garden is free. To join, call the MRCC Environmental Sustainability Unit on (03) 5018 8455.

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