Officially known as Soil & Soul, there is a thriving community garden located near the centre of Palmwoods on the corner of Hill and Churchill Streets. Erik Eilertsen went to meet the visionaries behind this project.
By Erik Eilertsen
Kay Nixon, with the enthusiastic support of her husband Tony, is the modest vision and drive behind the Palmwoods Community Garden. However, they are the first to insist they have had some great support and advice from local gardening experts and a team of helpers willing to learn and lend a hand.
“The land on which the garden is situated was left to the Palmwoods Uniting Church for the benefit of the community,” explained Kay.
“It is leased to Soil & Soul today at no cost, through the Palmwoods Community and Business Association.”
I asked how the name, Soil & Soul, came about.
“It is meant to be a safe place for mind, body and spirit so it seemed appropriate,” said Kay. “Being close to nature and others who care brings solace, peace and hope encouraging us to delight in the simple pleasures of life – observing nature; sharing; eating and getting our hands dirty.
“We need to be responsible custodians of creation, appreciating all we have while being sensitive to those who have suffered or feel broken. As a community pastor this is a central part of my role and I believe many members of this community feel the same, even if they might express it in different ways.”
Asked what prompted her to start the garden Kay replied, “I recognised a need in the community for people to be connected. Even though it is a lovely town many people do, for various reasons, feel isolated.
“I see the garden as providing a non-threatening, positive environment where relationships can be established.
“Also,” she continued, “there has recently been a swing towards sustainability as people come to realise the need to conserve the environment and live more healthily.”
In the spirit of community, Soil & Soul in turn make the food produced by the gardens available to everyone, with a few simple requirements for those who make use of its produce.
“We ask people not to uproot but to pick as much as they need,” said Kay. “Plus the occasional donation of a bag of compost, soil or some similar commitment towards the operating costs helps the project.”
The first public meeting to establish the Palmwoods Community Garden was held in February 2016 and attended by more than 50 people.
Kay then arranged to have the water connected and some landscaping of the site to be carried out. Some raised beds were put in place and the first plantings commenced.
“At the official launch an olive tree was planted in the centre of the garden,” Kay added. “Seen from above, this focal point appears to be the middle of a flower with the raised beds arranged around it like petals.”
Nearly two years later there are 10 raised beds at the top of the garden. Half of the part that slopes down from there has been terraced for crops while the other part is arranged, using old railway sleepers donated by Queensland Rail, in large steps that can be used as seating for functions.
“Further down the slope is the Pasifika Garden,” continued Kay, “where there are fruit trees and other plants associated with cultures that originate in both the Pacific region and with the indigenous peoples.”
Soil & Soul hold garden-themed workshops from time to time and guest speakers have included Anne Gibson, The Microgardener, and Robyn Cook, who has vast experience of kitchen gardens in schools.
“There are also many advisers, quite a few of whom are local, who bring their experience and know-how to the garden,” Kay said.
The garden has also hosted themed lunches, some largely funded by the state government in order to promote multicultural relations in the community.
“All cultures and ages comprise the members of the garden community and include Indigenous, Fijian and Tongan people, and enthusiasts ranging in age from two to 85!”
Kay continued, “We have a number of community groups connected with us and sharing seeds and planting, such as the Scouts, Guides, the Kindy, Palmwoods State School, and the local churches.
“The Girl Guides and the Joeys from Scouts have learned from people involved in the garden about planting seedlings and propagation.”
She paused, “Research has shown that children who are exposed to growing their own food are more likely to develop good eating habits. Being involved in these sorts of projects in the community gives them a sense of belonging.”
A local food business, Gourmet Garden, recently held a working bee at the garden and generously donated the new Soil & Soul sign.
“The garden always appreciates donations from local businesses and a grant received from the Sunshine Coast Council was most welcome,” Kay shared. “And we particularly enjoyed a personal donation from our local council member, Marty Hunt.”
While Soil & Soul, or Palmwoods Community Garden, has the stated aim of producing traditional and organically grown food crops to benefit the community, they believe that those who are actively involved benefit from it being a meeting place.
“Soil & Soul is a place to make new friends and de-stress; it is also a place of learning and growth,” said Kay, adding with a smile, “As I may have already mentioned, this garden is a place to grow, not only plants, but relationships.”
People wishing to join Soil & Soul can become members of the PCBA (Palmwoods Community & Business Association) for $25 per year – membership also includes insurance cover.
Visit their Facebook page or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.