Some congregations look at a large grassy block and worry about the mowing roster. Others, like the members of Coorparoo Uniting Church, think about the possibilities. Dianne Jensen reports.
Coorparoo is one of Brisbane’s oldest suburbs. Its central location and traditional housing are prime targets for redevelopment, and green space is precious.
Four years ago the congregation (then led by Rev Yvonne McRostie) offered church land for a community garden. Since then, the space has been transformed into a food-growing precinct used by locals including the nearby Stepping Stone Clubhouse, an organisation established by the Schizophrenia Fellowship of Queensland.
Brisbane City Council has assisted with set-up funds, including grants for the 10 000 litre water tank and a planned upgrade of the toilet facilities.
Architect John Loneragan is the coordinator, and the project reflects his passion for enabling inner-city institutions to fully utilise their property.
“Institutions are often well located with wonderful assets,” he says. “Places like churches have facilities which are not really being used.”
This means thinking differently about the use of both buildings and land, and considering new ways of connecting to the community. In doing so, congregations can foster the small-scale social interactions which help re-vitalise communities.
“Our senior generation find it interesting as a lot of them used to do this growing up—they grew their own vegetables, had a few chooks … for younger people it is a way of showing how food gets to the table,” says Mr Loneragan.
The community garden is full of life. Raised garden beds are lush with eggplants, rampaging tomatoes, basil, passionfruit and leafy plants. There are bees and ladybugs, compost bins, garden benches, and an impressive pizza oven.
The Coorparoo garden runs on a relaxed model, with participants sharing the care and the bounty of the common garden beds. There is a regular gardening session on Saturday afternoons, and the monthly working bee followed by home-made pizzas laden with garden produce attracts between 20 and 30 people.
“The pizza oven project means we can grow and cook, which is a great asset. Young families love it. The children garden, run around, and help make the pizzas,” says Mr Loneragan.
Four years into the project, he describes the community garden as “a work in progress”, an idea which has evolved into a vibrant local mission outreach venture, replete with possibilities.
“We can be too occupied with just keeping our doors open,” he says. “We are only the custodians of these resources. They should be shared.”
Photo : Coorparoo community garden coordinator John Loneragan with the pizza oven. Photo: Holly Jewell