Urban farm gives fresh start to youth and homeless in Christchurch

Cultivate Christchurch brings rubble to life by growing vegetables using organic and permaculture methods.
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Cultivate Christchurch brings rubble to life by growing vegetables using organic and permaculture methods.

An urban farm group is giving disadvantaged youth and homeless people the chance for a fresh start through gardening.

Set in the middle of the city, Cultivate Christchurch has been growing produce using organic and permaculture methods since September.

The group worked with struggling youth aged 16 to 25, teaching them how to plant, grow and harvest vegetables at their Peterborough St site.

Cultivate Christchurch hopes to scale up in the coming months after gaining access to two larger sites.
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Cultivate Christchurch hopes to scale up in the coming months after gaining access to two larger sites.

"It's really about educating and inspiring young people to find their flow whether that's within urban farming or hospitality or something else," co-founder Fiona Stewart said.

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"It's about giving young people a meaningful experience and working opportunities so they can practice employability skills."

Fiona Stewart previously worked in the youth development and mental health fields.
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Fiona Stewart previously worked in the youth development and mental health fields.

Cultivate Christchurch was created by Bailey Peryman and Stewart on a site left empty after the February 2011 earthquake.

The scheme had two-part time staff – both students at Lincoln University's biological husbandry unit – and people were welcome to help out during a weekly working bee and shared lunch on Thursdays. 

Cultivate also had a food waste collection branch that used organic waste from the city's restaurants to make compost.

Anyone is invited to join the team's efforts on Thursday afternoons after a shared lunch using produce grown on site.
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Anyone is invited to join the team's efforts on Thursday afternoons after a shared lunch using produce grown on site.

"As a young person, it's really hard to get into employment if you don't have either the networks or qualifications or haven't had to practice those skills," Stewart said.

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One of Cultivate's volunteers had been out of work and education for seven years before joining the group.

She had since put spent nearly 100 hours in the garden in the last three months and was studying horticulture at the National Trades Academy. 

"We really are good at working with people who might have learning difficulties, particularly may have had some behaviour challenges in the past as well and are wanting to work through them and learn better coping styles," Stewart said.

"Along the way, you're learning key skills such as how to grow food, how to connect with other people, building relationships, learning employability skills and the key thing is the networks that you gain."

As well as the youth programme, the urban farm worked with homeless people, including one man who had become a caretaker for the site.

"He loves what he gets from being here because he can actually do something which he feels good about," Stewart said.

Most of Cultivate's produce was sold to restaurants in the city, but about 30 per cent was donated to individuals, neighbours, volunteers and the Christchurch City Mission.

Stewart said two more sites should become available to Cultivate in the next few months, which would allow more people to get involved.

"We want to enable more people to feel that their life has abundance."

 - Stuff

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