Words by Monash Permaculture and Monash Association of Sustainability
Have you seen the community garden near the Monash Clayton campus center? It is a lovely garden with glorious fruit trees and lots of overgrown parsley! If you are anything like the Monash Association of Sustainability, you might be thinking that this would be a wonderful place to rebuild for the Monash community. If so, you will probably be interested in this article, which describes the garden, what it has achieved in the past, what is happening with it right now and what it could be in the future.
What is permaculture and what is the garden you are talking about?
Permaculture is a set of design guidelines for spaces, and life that revolve around care for the earth, other people and communities. It highlights that by looking after the planet we can look after people and inspire sustainable, fruitful and equitable communities. Sounds pretty good, right?
This ideology is what inspired the Monash Permaculture Garden (next to campus center on Rainforest Walk) and the Monash University Community (MUC) Farm (300 Blackburn Road behind the eSolutions building near the Reuse Center). The gardens were established for the community to grow foods that promote good health and sustainable living practices. By inspiring Monash community members to grow fruit and veggies,they will likely begin to think about where their food comes from. This can then go on to inspire larger lifestyle changes and even social movements that support accessible food and a healthy planet.
The history of the gardens is a little bit blurry. Most of what we know are stories that have been passed on from one Monash gardener to the next. Over the past decade, the gardens have mostly been looked after by the Monash Permaculture Club. Starting as the ‘Monash Permaculture Group’ in 2012, this wonderful student club looked after the gardens. They grew fruits and veggies which fed Monash community members and some of which ended up in delicious Wholefoods meals.
Looking at old photos of the garden, it was a ‘fruitful’ venture! The gardens grew all sorts of herbs, a variety of flowers for pollination and even a pumpkin plant or two! If you go to the gardens today, you will still see wonderful lemon, peach, plum and apple trees which still produce fruit once a year. You may even spot a very persistent tomato plant that has been self-seeding for many years! The garden also has compost bins which help to reduce university waste and help the gardens thrive.
The other great thing about the gardens in the past was how they inspired community building. The shade of the beautiful gum trees and the park benches around the garden make it a great spot to relax, catch up with friends and even hold club meetings. Furthermore, the Monash Permaculture Club was one of the tightest communities on campus, with members coming together to tend to the garden frequently. The garden was also providing food-growing space for not only Monash staff and students, but also for the wider community through a partnership with the Notting Hill Community House at MUCFarm.
These gardens are a staple of university life at Monash, so what is happening with them now?
Due to the pandemic, all clubs and societies at Monash had to reallocate their activities online and try to engage students in a way no one had ever done before. This was particularly challenging for a club whose activities largely revolved around meeting in-person to tend to gardens that were outside many people’s 5km range!
As students could not get to campus during lockdowns, the gardens are looking a little run-down. Some of the plants have died and others have completely taken over their garden beds! The compost heap infrastructure has collapsed and there are quite a few weeds. However, the good news is, none of the damage is permanent and all can be fixed with some community spirit and elbow grease!
Another sad impact of the pandemic was that the Monash Permaculture Club has been deregistered due to organisational issues during Covid, which led to the inability to form a committee in 2021. However, this hopefully will also not be a permanent issue and is a problem that the Monash community can rally behind!
The folks from the Monash Permaculture Club, the Monash Association of Sustainability (MAS) and other wonderful Monash students want to bring back the gardens to their former glory! We want to re-create this space of community building and collective action towards bettering the health of humans and the planet.
Especially within this climate crisis, it is prudent that we find any way to engage people with sustainability issues. Food consumption, food waste and food supply chains are all interlinked with climate change and are all key ways to engage people in critical thinking for the betterment of people and the planet.