Sowing the seeds of compassion in garden

How does your garden grow? For members of one community, their garden is growing with a fresh mix of compassion and generosity.

Located behind the Toowoomba Community Baptist Church, and funded by a Carinity Innovation Grant, the Flourish PYO (Pick Your Own) community garden is helping to improve the health of socially and economically disadvantaged people by providing free fresh produce and nutrition education.

Locals can access a large range of fruit and vegetables grown in the garden including apples, blueberries, pears, mangoes, mulberries, citrus, avocados, cucumbers, zucchinis, beetroot, potatoes, eggplants, spinach and shallots.

Anne Tadman Cramb and Danielle Carter in the Flourish PYO community garden in Toowoomba in February 2020.

A former GP, Danielle Carter helped conceive the idea of a communal garden where people who cannot afford fresh produce could “come and pick what they need” for free.

“Where I was working, I saw a lot of people who had chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease were from a lower socio-economic background,” Danielle explains.

“There’s a whole lot more that contributes to poor health outside of the daily choices about what we put in our bodies. Major factors that impact on that include financial security, job security, employment, housing and other social factors.

“It costs about one-third more in the weekly budget to buy enough fresh fruit and veggies to eat according to Australian guidelines. For families that are living on welfare they just can’t stretch the budget that far.

“We thought by providing a garden that’s absolutely free for anybody to access at any time… we can try to help reduce those risk factors that then lead to chronic disease.”

Fruit and vegetables grown on-site are donated to Toowoomba Community Baptist Church’s community food pantry and distributed with food items such as bread, milk, cereal, coffee, jam, baked beans and spaghetti, “at no cost to people who are in crisis”.

“The church office had a steady flow of people coming and asking for help for homelessness, food and petrol vouchers but we had nothing to give them,” food pantry manager Jill Williams says.

Jill Williams manages the food pantry at Toowoomba Community Baptist Church.

“We used to distribute packets of frozen vegetables but now that the community garden is established, Flourish keeps us supplied with fresh veggies to give out.”

Herbs and edible flowers harvested in the organic, pesticide-free Flourish garden are donated to a local café which employs homeless teenagers.

Other flow-on benefits have included collaborations with the local Men’s Shed, cooking lessons, and establishing links with other churches wanting to start a community garden.

“One wonderful woman brought her home-schooled teens along so they could study plant cultivation in a biology unit,” Flourish PYO Secretary Anne Tadman Cramb says.

The community garden is also a way to educate school students and children from playgroups about the joys of gardening and eating fresh produce.

“Many young children don’t have veggie gardens at home and need to have that formational experience of playing in dirt, planting seeds and seeing them sprout and, most of all, enjoying eating something they picked for themselves,” Anne says.

“Toddlers experiencing the flavour and aroma of fresh veggies and fruit helps them to learn to love them and develop healthy lifelong habits.”

Last year a Carinity Innovation Grant helped Flourish PYO garden grow with the purchase of gardening tools, wicking gardens, and the commencement of a new orchard.

“The Carinity grant has been amazing. We have been able so far to purchase and erect a small shade house for germination seeds as well as purchase many different fruit trees, a watering system and mulch,” Anne says.

Over the decades, Carinity has worked alongside Queensland Baptist churches to help develop hundreds of community-building initiatives, including new community outreach programs, expansion of existing ministries and collaborating to introduce a Carinity service into their communities.

In the past 15 years alone, Carinity has granted almost $450,000 towards 137 projects throughout the state, reaching some of our smallest communities such as Nanango, Boonah, Gracemere, Yandina, Dalby, Tenthill and Maleny, and larger regional towns such as Bundaberg, Gympie, Rockhampton, Hervey Bay and Townsville.

The Flourish PYO community garden educates children and school students about gardening and eating fresh produce.

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