A garden is one small part of the global environmental system where rotarians often have sole control and benefit. This place is the household garden – perhaps better to be thought of as the one piece of paradise for which we have sole responsibility. There are so many possibilities about what could be done: whereas many work to produce a beautiful small space suitable for relaxation, there is also the potential to establish a wildlife garden, or an area producing fruit or vegetables, or a simple low maintenance garden for those who are very busy. The choice is yours.

Although most rotarian garden work is done on the rotarians own household plot, this featured project deals with Rotary club activities. Here there are a few examples of Club gardening projects which deserve to be replicated.

Garden Projects

The establishment of a school gardens presents a good opportunity for rotarians to mix and work with the younger generation. Here is a brief report from the Rissingtons.

During the summer of 2019, at the request of the Rissington School, Rotary in the Rissingtons embarked on a programme of turning virgin land into an allotment area which could be used by the school for teaching purposes.  Over a period of three months, the land was cleared, boundary fences and trellis erected, raised beds constructed and filled with a soil/compost mixture and, in conjunction with Men in Sheds, storage boxes, training tables and benches provided. By the end of Autumn the children had grown a variety of vegetables which they ate! One bed and an adjacent bank has since been planted with 3000 crocus bulbs by the children and Club members, and these will be a welcome early source of pollen and nectar for bees in the spring. A great team effort by Rotarians, the School and the PTA.

A different approach to gardens has been taken by Becton and District Rotary Club. You can read their report here.

Both of the above schemes are school-based. Sometimes gardening is undertaken by a community group which is then supported by the local Rotary club. A good example of this is Green River Community Association, who have been supported by Walsall Sadlers Rotary for more than a decade. Their report can be read here.

KITCHEN GARDENS

In prosperous Europe gardens are often about establishing an area of beauty, or increasing biodiversity, or developing a plot to bring the local community closer together. In Africa South of the Sahara, gardening is much more basic than that: it is about providing sufficient and better food on small plots of land. It is also about changing from a two-crop agricultural system to a much more intensive and productive horticultural system where the small household plot provides at least ten products which the farmers family can eat or use. Furthermore, it requires a significant shift in food preferences, so changes are expected to be slow but necessary.

We know that there are several RGBI overseas community projects which include intensive food production or planting fruit trees as part of the project, but the website team know of only one project which is focussed primarily on kitchen gardens. This is a project currently sponsored by Sherwood Sunrisers Rotary to provide approximately 500 orphan &/or vulnerable children who live mainly in Busia County, Kenya with better child nutrition by establishing a series of community garden plots The website team would love to hear from other Rotary clubs involved in improving African child nutrition! You can read details of Sherwood Sunrisers kitchen garden project here.

The prime purpose of these kitchen gardens is to improve child nutrition, but there is another very significant aspect to these developments. As we know climate change is upon us, and as Rotary prepares for COP26 in November 2021 many clubs are establishing projects which aim at climate change mitigation by reducing our carbon footprint or by tree-planting. So far there seems to be little attention to climate change adaptation. Yet this is really important in Africa where climate change is already damaging fragile agricultural systems. There is already a need across sub-Saharan Africa for ‘climate smart’ agriculture – and agroforestry combined with gardening techniques are right at the heart of this new approach to farming. If there are any Rotary clubs with strong humanitarian aspects to their overseas projects, they should consider promoting kitchen gardens using ‘permaculture’ methods as part of their action against climate change.

We look forward to hearing from any Rotary clubs who have such projects in their portfolio. If there are any rotarians who want to know more about such garden work, we suggest you browse the website www.foodplantsolutions.org. This is an Australian-based Rotary Action Group, who have already established many projects in South-East Asia to counter child malnutrition. What is now needed is more similar projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

COMPOSTING

Making Garden Compost is one of the most environmentally friendly activities we can engage in. It keeps material out of landfill, saves petrol miles, produces a useful product and saves money.

Garden Compost contains some nutrients but is a soil conditioner rather than a fertiliser. It holds moisture in light soil and helps drainage in heavier soil.  It is produced from organic matter. e.g. Nitrogen rich Grass cuttings, green prunings, tops of nettles, and kitchen waste. Carbon rich material mainly originates from the tough parts of plants and includes; brown cardboard, woody prunings, newspaper and shredded paper.  Too much of the nitrogen rich material will make the compost wet and smelly. An excess of the carbon rich constituents will render the heap less active. Equal proportions of each will produce balanced compost surprisingly quickly. Depending on weather and the volume of material the heap can get very hot. This is good.  After a week or so the heap cools down but remains active through the ‘cold phase’.

Garden Compost is essentially bacteria and insect poo. (children love to learn this fact). Our material will convert to compost if we look after ‘our workforce’ of worms, insects and bacteria. They need food (our material) moisture (add some if the heap dries out) and air (which is why we might ‘turn it’ to speed up the process).