Old CDs are tied to the black wire fence at the edge of the Western Oval.
Ballarat Food is Free founder Lou Ridsdale says the reflecting light keeps the birds away from fresh produce growing in rainbow coloured planter boxes.
They’re part of the Food is Free Green Space at the corner Ripon Street South and Urquhart Street – the newest development for the grassroots organisation which is working to ensure everyone has access to fresh food in Ballarat.
Now the group of more than 40 volunteers are pushing for funding to create a green living classroom and green recycle depot at the site.
Victorians can vote for their project to receive funding as part of the state government Pick My Project grants program.
The project, budgeted at $128,696, would deliver classroom infrastructure including seating to be able to cater for school tours and community workshops.
The funding would also be used to install storage units for the greens recycle depot for community members to drop of their scraps that can be used for composting.
“We would be able to have a green space that not only improves connectivity within our communities but also feeds people and is able to help those who are risk and falling through the gaps, or even just those who like to eat healthy food,” Ms Ridsdale said.
A Ballarat Community Health report Impacts of Food Insecurity in Ballarat released in April revealed food insecurity as a deeply entrenched and complex problem in the Ballarat community.
Of the 100 charitable food relief clients surveyed for the report, 76 per cent said they did not have enough money in their budget to buy necessary foods.
Only 6.4 per cent of people in Ballarat eat the required daily intake of vegetables.
Ballarat has a notoriously bad intake of vegetables per head per capita.Lou Ridsdale, Food is Free founder
“Ballarat has a notoriously bad intake of vegetables per head per capita so we want to encourage people to grow their own food and to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible,” Ms Ridsdale said.
“A lot of people think growing your own food is expensive when really it is not. That is why at Food is Free we want to show self sufficiency is actually an achievable goal.”
THE FOOD IS FREE GREEN SPACE
Food is Free volunteers have been working at the Food is Free Green Space for about a year and a half.
Since gaining access to the City of Ballarat land, the group has increased their capacity to grow fresh fruit and vegetables after using up every inch of their original space at the Food is Free Laneway.
The Western Oval site will be available for at-risk or marginalised community groups to grow food en masse, either for themselves, or to be placed at the nearby Food Is Free Laneway for others to share.
The group has installed water tanks, garden planters and wooden boxes for scrap collection since gaining access to the land – all decorated with bright colours to create a welcoming and inclusive space.
“A lot of people have kept an eye on this space and are asking what we are doing here. They don’t realise there is currently food being produced in this space,” Ms Ridsdale said.
“But this is about to get huge. If we get Pick My Project funding it will make it a really colourful, sustainable and energetic space.
“We are not funded. To have $128,000 at our disposal would mean we could do some really really impactful things, penetrate into community and make it so that it is a happening hub and people do pop in here for all sorts of reasons, whether it is a workshop to learn skills, garden with us, or drop their scraps off to the greens recycle depot.
“We want this to be a very active site. To do that we need infrastructure and for that to happen we need people to vote for Pick My Project.
“We have done so much in a year in a half. The sky is our limit. We just need money.”
Food is Free volunteer June Waterhouse has been acting as caretaker for the Food is Free Green Space.
She has felt the effects of gardening beyond producing food.
“It’s also beneficial psychologically, just coming out and digging in the dirt and watching things grow and breathing the fresh air.
“You can be involved as little as you like. You can grab a bag of compost and grow a tomato plant on your back verandah if you want to. It doesn’t have to be a mammoth project.”
Volunteers work short shifts at either the Food is Free Laneway or Green Space during the week to ensure the food and gardens are clean and cared for.
Jane Bolte joined the group as a volunteer to give back to the community and get to know others. She often brings her kids to help work at the laneway.
“My kids are teenagers and didn’t know anything about gardening. Now they have started a worm farm, we have got chickens, a veggie patch, all stuff that we have never had before,” she said.
“These are old world skills,” said fellow volunteer Carol Woodley.
“The things that I do here I learnt from my grandparents. Now I have taught it to my children. To be able to share that with the whole community is very special. Everyone should be able to do this.”
For volunteer Sarabjit Kaur, helping to grow food in Ballarat is a world away from her previous home in Delhi.
“I come here from Delhi which is a metropolitan culture where people don’t have the space to grow vegetables,” she said.
“There are a lot of migrants here that come from cultures that are not used to growing their own vegetables, so this is a good learning opportunity.
“When I see the small lemons or curry leaves left in the laneway it is such a beautiful surprise. I know some Indians are visiting because those foods come from Indian homes.”
The Food is Free Laneway at the corner Ripon Street South and Warrior Place will remain a dedicated space for people to drop off or collect surplus nutritious food like veggies, fruit and herbs for free.
You can vote for the Food Is Free Green Living Classroom and Greens Recycle Depot project online at pickmyproject.vic.gov.au/rounds/pick-my-project/ideas/food-is-free-green-living-classroom-greens-recycle-depot.
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