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Gallie Miles gets behind Te Awamutu community food forest project

After reading an article in the Te Awamutu Courier about the community food forest project, a forest of fruit trees planted on public land around Te Awamutu, Gallie Miles has donated $1000 to support the project and is excited to be supporting such a vital and innovative community project.

“The Te Awamutu Food Forest represents a local project that is both practical and enduring. As a business, we are thrilled to have an opportunity to be involved in this valuable community initiative,” says Sue Garmonsway, Gallie Miles Director.

Read more about the Community Food Forest Project from the Te Awamutu Courier 5 July 2023 edition below.

A project to connect the community, teach self-reliance and provide for those most in need sounds like a grand undertaking – but the reality is that it simply builds on the skills and understandings of life before rampant technology and convenience living.

It is a project that is literally growing each day – a community food forest of fruit trees planted on public land around Te Awamutu where people can volunteer to help, visit to enjoy the peace and quiet and harvest the produce to help feed themselves and their family.

The idea isn’t new, not even for Te Awamutu, but the difference is the driving forces behind Te Awamutu Community Food Forest are making sure the project has momentum.

It started when Megan Priscott read about a food forest in Rotorua. That was about four or five years ago.

“Then I started seeing and hearing about others around New Zealand and it made sense to me,” she says.

Megan says she believed there was a huge disconnect in the community between the origin of our food and what ended up on the table.

“I talked to people, and they didn’t know where food came from.

“When I grew up, we had a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and we harvested a lot of our own food.”

Megan could also see other benefits, such as the pure joy of getting your hands into the soil and reconnecting with nature.

“It will be great for kids, many of whom know nothing about the skill of growing your own food.”

She says in her own family situation, she has found even fussy eaters who don’t like vegetables are more likely to try something if they have had a hand in growing and harvesting it.

It made sense to her to have community gardens, so she started talking to others.

Megan doesn’t like to take all the credit and says she quickly found two champions who were as passionate as she was to drive the project.

Brenda McIvor came on board right at the start and has been a driving force ever since.

She presented the concept to Altrusa Te Awamutu, where she is a member, and the club donated the first $1000 which Megan says was pivotal in getting Te Awamutu Food Forest up and running.

Brenda is also a huge help with both logistics and paperwork and on the tools at volunteer days. Her recently retired lawyer husband Mike is now also fully involved.

The second key person is James Bannister from New Concept Landscaping.

Megan says he turned her ideas into an incredible concept that was a vital tool to drive the project.

He is the planting and design boss, the expert when it comes to the work that needs doing and he and his team have been on the tools getting sites established and ready for the volunteers to plant.

Another vital step was getting the Waipā District Council on side.

The team made their presentations and won favour immediately, being granted permission to plant plots at Pekapekarau Reserve, behind the school, Fawley Place Reserve, near Highfield Country Estate, and Sherwin Park, near Te Awamutu Intermediate School.

Megan has her eye on other plots as well, as the aim is to spread the concept into as many neighbourhoods as possible but says the key at present is to get the first three plots well established.

Other key supporters are ZB Homes and Amber Nurseries, donating money and plants to get the first trees in the ground, and Craig’s Investment partners, “who have been amazing”.

She has also welcomed Ngāhinapouri couple Diane Cunningham and Lawrence Boucher, of Tiger Building, who are looking to give back to their community and have provided volunteer T-shirts and hi-viz vests.

Other donations and grants have also been received from the council and individuals and used for specific tasks within the project, such as providing signage, and expanding the planting.

The previous round was in April where volunteers continued to develop Pekapekarau Reserve, and last week a small team checked out the progress at the plots and prepared some more planting sites.

Megan says the team has been relentless to get to where they are, but believes it is worth it.

They have big plans for how Te Awamutu Community Food Forest is going to benefit all people of the town.

Some of these plans include involving the younger generation.

Pekapekarau School students have been assigned guardians of the food forest beside the school and it is hoped they will learn from being involved.

There is a mural planned for the reserve, and the children will be represented, plus voice boxes talking about the food forest will feature the children’s voices.

Volunteers will experience the joy of getting back to nature and helping people.

They will also be able to learn while helping – Wintec’s horticulture students and staff are involved in the project and will undertake the pruning and are the official advisers.

The public will be able to visit the plots and enjoy the orchard-like atmosphere, as well as planned amenities such as playgrounds and dog areas the group wants to incorporate.

And, of course, the public can harvest the spoils.

Megan says the ‘rule’ is to “take what you need today as you are welcome back tomorrow”.

There will also be compost bins on site and signage explaining how the public can help by cleaning up any debris and organic waste.

Eventually, it is hoped there will be an excess of fruit, and the group has exciting plans for how this will be utilised to offer year-round benefits to those that need it.

Although the concept is from a low-tech way of life, new technology is being utilised to spread the word.

A Facebook page is used to keep volunteers informed about events and working bees.

The Facebook page is also where people wanting to volunteer can register their interest. It can also be used to link to other social media platforms where people are kept informed.

The next stage is an app that will be able to scan Q-codes on-site and give people direct information relating to their location and what is happening at that site.

Megan hopes it will lead to a growth in urban tourism and be an attraction the town becomes known for.

“Te Awamutu is a great place to live, but we don’t really have a lot to offer visitors,” she says.

“Hopefully this will be popular and the catalyst to improve our walking and cycling tracks and connectivity around our community.”

Follow progress on Facebook and Instagram, “Te Awamutu Community Food Forest” to meet the team, learn information on the trees and orchards as they grow, and find out how you can take part by donating, volunteering or participating in an event.