Port Baps Patch, Rodney Noble

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There’s a beautiful and very productive community garden at the Port Macquarie Baptist Church, that produces a wealth of veggies, fruit, herbs and flowers … and also serves as a meeting place for many community groups. Rodney Noble invites the community to the fifth birthday of the garden on June 12 – a chance to enjoy morning tea and a chat with a few local green thumbs!

Hi Rod. What’s the story behind the establishment of the community garden at Port Macquarie Baptist Church?

The Port Baps Patch came about when our church had a brainstorming afternoon in early 2011. One of the ideas was that of a community garden.

So, we made a flyer and letterbox dropped them around the neighbourhood near the church.

As a Baptist Church, we fly under the umbrella of the NSW Baptist Ministry Association. We heard that Baptist Community Care was asking for applications from its churches for a community grant to start a new venture, so I applied and was successful. That was in October 2011; we received $5,000 to help us to begin.

We had our opening on June 9th 2012, where Neil Porter, the then caretaker Administrator of Hastings Council, Leslie Williams MP, Rev Howard Bennett, Baptist Community Care came and helped open the garden with afternoon tea and a special cake.

How has the garden developed over time?

The first beds were constructed as raised beds, as they were easy to access by the elderly or people with disabilities. As people have needed more space, we have continued to dig more beds further up the hill. We were very grateful for the donation of a truck load (10 tonnes) of cow manure from a local dairy farmer.

June and Ron Le Pla did a lot of work clearing the strip between the church property and Koala Street. This area is now a productive and protective strip between the road and the garden.

What types of produce is grown in the garden?

Summer vegetables include corn, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, zucchinis, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Autumn is a most productive time, with continued summer vegetables and introduction of plants requiring cooler weather, such as onions, potatoes, peas, broccoli, cabbages, sweet potato, and broad beans. Carrots, radishes, turnips, spinach, kale and lettuce grown all year round.

Fruit trees are communal. This year the citrus crop has been huge. Stone fruit, grapes, pomegranate, bananas, pawpaw, avocados, raspberries, and many more are growing well and will soon bear fruit. Not all have been successful; it’s always a learning process as to what grows best in each area of the garden.

Over the years, the garden has been utilised by several different community groups. Who are some of the groups that have been involved?

I had some great times with the men’s group from the Disability Service Provider, New IDAFE. This group came during 2012 to 2015. Every Thursday morning, they would arrive to do some gardening. The guys who were in group homes soon worked out it was best to have garden day coincide with their day to cook at home! They also came to really enjoy how good the produce tasted. We had a “cook up” some days around the fire; broad beans and bacon on toast was a favourite.

Hastings District Respite Care Dementia Group had a bed during 2013. Each week they would come to do some gardening in their plot.

What generally happens to the produce grown?

Each member of the garden has control over their own beds. The produce from these beds is theirs to use or give away.

Our Sunday night group, 3fs@5 (faith, family, food at 5pm) has enjoyed lots of salad, herbs and vegetables over the past three years.

As the garden grew and more beds were dug, more communal plantings have come about. Some sales of produce to Ken Little has provided money to purchase fruit trees and equipment for the garden. Chillies were the first cash crop, followed by turmeric.

How do you feel the garden has most benefited the community?

Position, place and all the stuff that goes with setting up any public venture make this community garden special. The Baptist Church provides a location with the required Public Insurance cover, toilets, water and car parking. The church fellowship is willing to share this with the surrounding community.

Each member of the Patch would probably answer this question in a different way.

Bob – downsized from commercial fruit growing to retire in Port Macquarie. With no garden space at home, ”stir crazy” for garden space, he loves the convenience of the garden and the escape to continue to indulge in a life time habit.

June and Ron L – they are passionate about habitat and fauna, to regenerate an overgrown space into a productive garden and animal habitat; they live for it!

Cristina and Mary – share friendship and a plot. They are passionate about fresh organic food and the need to continue to “grow your own”.

Bev – is discovering gardening – it’s never too late to take on a new passion.

Mara and Don – enjoy the friendship, fresh food, sharing and an easy access garden.

June J – Likes to duck around early, as she is still working and has grown some superb watermelons.

Rod and Elizabeth – I think it’s important to link our church to the broader community, provide opportunities for friendships, and I love to garden. My wife just likes to potter, pick the flowers and chat.

Not everyone who shares the garden are gardeners! Some walk their dogs through each day. Some bring their children to walk through and see all the different plants.

An apiarist has set up two beehives in the garden – good for him, good for the bees, good for pollination of our crops. (My dog spent the afternoon sulking after sticking his nose into the hive and getting stung.) There are plenty of flowers growing, Chrysanthemums, roses to pick, and always herbs a plenty.

The garden will celebrate its fifth birthday on June 12th. What celebrations do you have planned?

We plan to have an open garden day on Monday 12th June. Come and have a Devonshire tea (donation) or a fresh brewed coffee. Have a walk around the garden, explore; there will be garden members to chat to and share some seeds and ideas. There’ll be plants and produce to buy.

Come and hear our very own BUGS (Baptist Ukulele Group) play from 10:30 ‘til 11.

Where can readers find out more info?

Come to the open morning – Monday 12th June, 10am – 12pm. Port Macquarie Baptist Church, 18 McIntyre Close. (Drive around the back of the church).

Come any Thursday Morning 8am – 11am; morning tea 9:30am.

Call Rod: 0418 295 464.

Thanks Rod. Interview by Jo Robinson.

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