News

The healing power of community gardens

RAY OF SUNSHINE: Working at the permaculture garden at Yandina has helped Michelle Parry to reconnect with the community.
RAY OF SUNSHINE: Working at the permaculture garden at Yandina has helped Michelle Parry to reconnect with the community. Patrick Woods

MICHELLE Parry had started drinking so much she would fall over. She was at the lowest emotional point of her life following the news her unborn child had Down syndrome and the subsequent termination of the pregnancy.

In 2013, Michelle, then aged 38, moved from Hervey Bay in Queensland to the Sunshine Coast to be with her partner. They had met later in life and, soon after the move, they decided to have a child.

In preparation for the pregnancy, Michelle stopped taking her anti-depressants. These factors, combined with the heart-breaking decision she made following her baby's diagnosis, led to intense feelings of emotional, physical and social isolation.

At her lowest point, Michelle started cutting herself and drinking in an attempt to stop the mental health issues she had battled since her teenage years.

"I've got a chronic history of anxiety and depression and I get very overwhelmed, I get socially anxious and start to go into my own world, which makes me depressed. It's really important for me to interact with people, and to also have a purpose," she said.

Michelle knew she needed to make social connections. However, it was with apprehension that she walked through the doors of the Yandina Community Gardens for the first time to attend a workshop. She felt uncomfortable, and did not want to be in a room with strangers. Fast-forward three years and Michelle, 41, is now the president of the non-profit organisation. She credits the garden with being a lifeline that saved her from her downward emotional spiral.

"Sometimes it was a matter of coming in here to the gardens, even if I found it really hard to be around people, just to get out of the house," Michelle said.

"It's been somewhere to belong but it's also healing in that it's outdoors, it's growing things, but more than anything it's the people, it's that sense of community. We're doing something valuable here. We're teaching people to grow their own food, we're teaching people how to be healthy, we're teaching people to be connected and that so sits with who I am."

Michelle now spends about 35 hours a week, unpaid, on garden and administration duties. She is happiest when she sees native bees buzzing around the sunflowers of the permaculture-based garden that has sprung from unused basketball and tennis courts.

"The bees are a great reflection in some ways of the people," she said.

"The bees come here because it's such a wonderful place. It's their haven.

"In terms of what we do here, our education programs are so valuable. We're reaching out all the time, teaching them how to care for the earth, in terms of growing foods organically, through permaculture, and we're reaching out to care for other people.

"The people who are attracted to being here are giving their time. Permaculture is about caring for earth, caring for people and sharing the surplus."

Michelle said one of the biggest lessons to be learned in the gardens was accepting difference. A range of people, some marginalised, walk through the garden gates weekly as volunteers or to enjoy the peaceful surrounds. From pensioners to people with disabilities and those on work-for-the-dole, everyone in the garden has to learn to co-operate.

It is a sentiment echoed by Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network representative Russ Grayson. He has been involved in community gardens for three decades, as a volunteer and during his career in councils.

"Socially, the sociability is there but it comes mostly through co-operation," he said.

"People go through that initial phase of getting to know someone and when they get to know each other it becomes a lot easier."

He recalled a City of Sydney council decision to support a community garden near a social housing estate.

It was a place people could easily walk to and stay there, and the outing cost them nothing.

"The social yield out of that was greater than the food yield," Mr Grayson said.

"For neighbourhoods too, you have more people out and about and there is more chance for passive surveillance."

He also said there was no better reflection of a city or town's demographic than in a community garden.

Topics:  community gardening, gardening, general-seniors-news, weekend magazine


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Toddler taken to hospital with snake bite

The red bellied black snake caught by Christian Andersen.

Young patient assessed after puncture wounds found

Teacher sent naked pics to student, flirted on Grindr

Relationship exposed when teacher went to school's pastor

WATCH: Police release CCTV footage of Goodna robbery

An armed robbery took place at the IGA in Goodna at 6am this morning (27-9-16).

Masked men armed with large hammer hold up store

Local Partners

Workplace horror: Doctors use toe to replace crushed thumb

LAWYERS put employers on notice about preventable work deaths and injuries

Accused in strangulation case denied bail

A 21-year-old Brassall man has been denied police bail and remanded in custody to appear in the Ipswich Magistrates Court today.

A 21-year-old has been denied police bail

Toddler taken to hospital with snake bite

The red bellied black snake caught by Christian Andersen.

Young patient assessed after puncture wounds found

Teacher sent naked pics to student, flirted on Grindr

Relationship exposed when teacher went to school's pastor

WATCH: Police release CCTV footage of Goodna robbery

An armed robbery took place at the IGA in Goodna at 6am this morning (27-9-16).

Masked men armed with large hammer hold up store

Greyhound trainer has to fight for Lockyer Valley property

Greyhound trainer Tom Noble has been banned for life after the live baiting controversy.
Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times

Hearing for greyhound trainer to fight for Lockyer Valley property.

Baden-Clay decision shows appeal judges are 'out of touch'

Citing the Court of Appeal’s decision to downgrade Gerard Baden-Clay’s (pictured) murder conviction to manslaughter, Judge Clive Wall says “too much emphasis” is placed on offenders by the Court of Appeal.

Judge says some colleagues are touch with victims, community.

The Dixie Chicks to headline 2017 CMC Rocks festival

US country music group The Dixie Chicks.

ORGANISERS move festival dates to lock in US country music stars.

Classic car auction draws buyers from US, Dubai

"He wants everyone to enjoy the cars, the collection got too big'

Marvel's Luke Cage S1E6: Suckas Need Bodyguards review

Rosario Dawson and Mike Colter in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage. Supplied by Netflix.

*WARNING: spoilers if you haven't seen Marvel's Luke Cage*

Marvel's Luke Cage S1E5: Just To Get A Rep review

Mahershala Ali, centre, in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage. Supplied by Netflix.

*WARNING: spoilers if you haven't seen Marvel's Luke Cage*

Marvel's Luke Cage S1E4: Step In The Arena review

Mike Colter in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage. Supplied by Netflix.

*WARNING: spoilers if you haven't seen Marvel's Luke Cage*

Rob Kardashian admits his first crush was his sister Kim

Rob Kardashian once had a crush on his sister Kim Kardashian West.

Marvel's Luke Cage S1E3: Who's Gonna Take The Weight

Mahershala Ali in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage. Supplied by Netflix.

*WARNING: spoilers if you haven't seen Marvel's Luke Cage*

Marvel's Luke Cage S1E2: Code of the Streets review

Simone Missick and Mike Colter in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage. Supplied by Netflix.

*WARNING: spoilers if you haven't seen Marvel's Luke Cage*

Beach-side real estate starts at $85k on Fraser Coast

HERVEY BAY REAL ESTATE: You can buy this townhouse in Scarness for under $300k.

Live your beach-living dream locally.

$40million hotel, shops development project for Mackay

Mt Pleasant hotel and retirement accommodation, proposed at 194-202 Malcomson St.

$40m development to take Mackay to 'the next level'

Five ways to slash household bills and save the environment

THINK GREEN: Considering the environment when building or buying your next home can save you big dollars. The Village Building Company, who is responsible for Woodlinks Village at Collingwood Park, builds homes with this front of mind.

THERE is nothing as sweet as slashing dollars from your bills.

Property 200m from ocean selling for just over $100K

BEACHCOMBER PARK: Work has started on a new $19.2 million development at Toogoom.

The estate's developer is offering huge discounts for early buyers.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

First stages of $25 million housing development underway

New development on Madsen Rd - The Springs.

The blocks of land are much bigger than usual