Does your organisation want to build a community?

October 14 ,2013 BY Nova Nelson

Think Green is a community education programme by E&O Berhad set in a community food garden in Straits Green, Seri Tanjung Pinang, Penang. We collaborated with E&O employees, local communities and the Natural Farming team from the Consumers Association Penang (CAP) to design a meaningful community food garden initiative for children living in the Tanjong Tokong area. 

Here are some important steps we took with E&O to help shape socio-ecological outcomes from a children's food garden.   

1. The landscape team our every day champions.

One of the first things we did was educate and engage landscapers already working where the Think Green food garden is located. All children gardens need day to day help and care. Nothing is more demotivating then a garden that looks drab and untended.

Children visit the garden twice a month and so I really wanted to ensure there was a reliable team that used natural gardening methods from the start. Because they used conventional landscaping methods we collaborated with CAP to spend time training and engaging them on natural farming methods. We had to encourage them to care for the children's garden through observation and on natural gardening methods. We shared with them natural approach to composting, mulching, harvesting, pruning, fertilising, pest control and sowing seeds. 

We keep the momentum going with scheduled training and engagement with landscapers. They watch the garden for us. We have lengthy chats with them. And we learn about how day to day visitors interact with the garden, who's been coming to harvesting herbs and vegetables and stories from the neighbourhood. The landscapers are from lower income groups and so getting them involved in sowing seeds and harvesting the vegetables also encouraged them to think about healthier food habits. They are encouraged to sow seeds, take care of the crops and harvest vegetables for their families.

2. Employees seed sowers.

While not everyone will have the capacity to jump on board immediately, you'll need a handful who are attracted to the mission. They will volunteer and get their hands dirty above and beyond their formal roles. In this case one of them saw the community engagement possibilities through the garden and took it upon himself to create activities with local public schools. He was a real champion. His spirit brought people together and extended Think Green to so many different groups in the neighbourhood. He now manages the community engagement programme for E&O in Penang. Community projects can respond to a calling employees may have to servicing communities.   

Employees are great but not everyone wants to grow food so it is important to have a “different strokes for different folks” approach to thinking up and planning activities in a community garden. Do not isolate the non gardeners. Run activities that cover art, festive season celebrations, health, nutrition and fitness. Use the food garden as a backdrop for meaningful community activities. 

3. Children! - Creating a classroom in a food garden

We wanted children to benefit most from this programme. So we started with primary school children aged 10-12 schooling close to the garden. The children are living up to thinking green and have fostered an awareness about the environment through hands on learning about nature, the environment, sustainability, health and food literacy, design and art, urban gardening, composting and much more. There are at least two community activities a month so this makes this private sector initiative extremely unique. This programme does not function as a once or twice a year affair. It is not a touch and go activity. The schools can count on the programme to be consistent and meaningful. We even make it a point to bring different schools together for key initiatives.  

Growth in the programme has been truly amazing, we started with three primary schools SK Tanjong Tokong, SK (C) Hun Bin and SK (T) Azad, each with about 40 participating students. And three years on, the programme also includes a special needs school, a neighbourhood kindergarten, a secondary school and parents. There has been a domino effect. All three primary schools were inspired by the Think Green programme, they created and started their own school garden. We also run yearly pop up booths to show and demonstrate urban gardening methods to the public. They truly are children on an urban gardening mission. we've watched them gain their confidence to making a difference in their schools and at home.

4. Local partnership always.  

Last but certainly not least, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of having committed, creative and sincere local partnerships. Making sure we were designing the space and programme in a was so important for us that CAP was on board. They were doing pioneering outreach work in the field of urban and natural farming in Penang. So it only made sense for us to work hand in glove building a long term programmer and creating activities for the community together. We worked out a monthly and yearly programme with specific ideas for activities with children.  At the start we ran workshops together and with time they ran most of the sessions. Every single month there are themes and kids visit the community garden at least twice a month.

Nova Nelson

Nova Nelson started Cultivate Central in 2013 after transitioning from a career in Corporate Communications, content creation and community engagement. As a Permaculture Designer she believes a city filled with vibrant, ecological and compact urban gardens will create socially and environmentally connected communities. As a mother she is passionate about exploring Permaculture with children and their communities. She serves clients and communities in Malaysia, where she was born and Singapore where she currently resides.

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