Edible gardens connect communities

URBAN GARDENER: Emily Harris tends to the vegetables in her backyard.
URBAN GARDENER: Emily Harris tends to the vegetables in her backyard.

For Emily Harris the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence.

The born and bred Southlander was living the corporate life as a judges' clerk at the High Court in Auckland but she tossed it all in to start up Urban Pantry.

The organisation focuses on bringing communities together by growing edible gardens in the city.

"I was reading a lot of stuff about what was happening in cities overseas with all these really interesting urban sustainability type initiatives," she says.

"I was left wondering why there wasn't something similar happening in Auckland."

So the 29-year-old mucked in and started the first project which involved transforming a rooftop on High St in the central city.

"We have done a whole bunch of different projects since then - we've worked with businesses to create edible garden installations, we've worked with communities around creating gardens and we've also done some event-based stuff."

She says the events have quickly become the focus and the latest, a Crowd Grown Feast, was the most exciting yet. The feast was a novel experience for 100 people who produced the ingredients for a dinner which was served up by Popdining at Silo Park.

"It was a big adventure and massive logistical undertaking to figure out how we could co-ordinate 100 people to grow food for a menu, get all of that food together and turn it into an amazing meal."

She says when the project came together it highlighted all the wonderful things about Urban Pantry.

"The growing of the food is important, the fact that something is produced and people get to use it," she says.

"But actually, the real core of it is bringing people together and getting them actively involved in something where they get to meet new people and learn skills that they can take home."

She says interest in the Crowd Grown Feast has been boosted by a wider resurgence in the environment and community.

"There was a whole period of time where everyone went very individual and just wanted to be at home and do their own thing but I feel like now more and more people are wanting to connect."

She says the transitional nature of Urban Pantry allows a number of people to get involved in the projects.

"It's a morphing thing so as we get a new project under way different people will come in and help out.

"It's also low commitment, one project at a time and you can be as involved as you want. It's not like you are having to sign your Sundays away to a community garden but you still get that connection."

Harris says getting your hands dirty in the garden is a great interest to have at any stage in life.

"When we were growing up my dad would always have a vege garden and I'd always help out with the weeding, picking peas and radishes," she says.

"I don't think I picked up a huge amount of skill but it was there, and when I moved away from home I didn't continue with gardening for a long time but it was there on the backburner for me to find again."

East And Bays Courier