Common Ground is a response to community request for land and a link with a mission tradition.
Land for growing produce in community gardens has been made available by the sisters of the Home of Compassion in Wellington. This venture came about in response to a local advertisement for land for community gardens. In a timely co-incidence, the advert appeared while Sister Loyola (pictured left) was attending a permaculture course.
Sister Loyola rises to her full height to affirm that the purpose of this garden is to join the generations. She says that knowledge about ecology and the skills for growing food have largely been lost in the last generation. Through the community garden young and old can get together to connect with land and soil and grow fresh produce – for some, the vegetables from the gardens are a help in hard times. Sister Loyola is full of smiles when she talks about the children at the preschool on the large Home of Compassion property – they love worms and the way the young worms do as the old worms tell them – to make good soil. (Common Ground gardener Sam Buchanan with Sister Loyola & Betsan Martin (NZCCSS) pictured right)
The sprightly Sister Loyola says that the first priority is making good soil, and the gardens is as much about composting and the planting of shelter trees and hedges as about the abundant crops.
This is a part of Wellington that defies the possibility of veggie plantations with exposure to the Southerly and Northerly, and infertile clay soil. Sister said, ‘what the Northerly doesn't ruin, the Southerly destroys’. Ongoing devastation is overcome by rows of nitrogen fixing shelter trees and hedges that repel unwanted insects. (Soil bins are used for making the worm-rich soil that forms the basis for organic gardening pictured right and left)
Sister Loyola explains the initiative through the inspiration of Mother Aubert who founded the order in New Zealand to care for orphaned children. Mother Aubert’s forward thinking approaches included coming to New Zealand to learn from Maori. Mother Aubert learned te reo Maori on her voyage from France to New Zealand and only after her arrival did she learn English. Mother Aubert had a rule of not smacking children and the home was supportive for pregnant single young women (instead of conforming to the punitive attitudes of the day).
The international solidarity of women ‘religious’ was suggested by talking about a prophetic role of women in sustaining a way of life in harmony with creation. In this understanding holistic and ecological principles guide responsibility in care for land and the sharing of wealth and resources.
This Home of Compassion specializes in sharing resources creatively. For exploring the community engagement by the sisters there are several pathways to follow. One is the community gardens now organized under the name ‘Common Ground’. Common Ground has a membership of seventeen and a waiting list for people to join. Joining the group means going to three sessions in the garden, payment of $10 per year and agreement to support principles of organic growing. The main principle is that nothing deleterious to organic growing will be done. Some members bring extensive knowledge of gardening, as is evident in the plots which are prolific with broad beans, rhubarb, kale, spinach and chard, broccoli, potatoes, artichokes, parsley in the late winter season. For those who are new to gardening there is lots of support and special sessions such as a recent one on composting.
Another area of gardens is full of similar vegetables and criss-crossed by shelter hedges. This is managed by Sister Loyola with some voluntary and part time paid help as well as with people referred for PD. When she discovers the hidden skills that people have, such as reconstructing machinery, their talents can be given free rein to support the garden enterprise.
The hills beyond the gardens also have a history with the Home of Compassion. Originally these were all part of the Home of Compassion property and were farmed to provide for the children and sisters and other residents. More recently an urban Maori group rented the hillside area and began restoring native trees along with their marae development. The sisters had a jubilee during this time and came up with the idea of forgiving the debt owed for the land. Gradually the steep hills are being reforested starting with canopy trees such as ngaio to replace gorse. The re-establishment of natives will have the bonus of providing more shelter for the gardens below.
During the flow of information about the gardens, such as flowers which encourage good bugs and others which deter bad bugs, and the ingredients of good compost, Sr Loyola, who is well into her eighties, mentioned falling and breaking her pelvis. She said she ‘got better quickly thanks to the intercessions of Mother Aubert who doesn't like people lying around doing nothing’.
As we went in for lunch, another group of people appeared in the stories. These were men and women working in the grounds and kitchen and the ‘Home’ who have mental and physical disabilities or health setbacks. To quote Sister Loyola again, ‘we employ the unemployable’. Several times Sister said ‘we never push religion’, and when asked about her life as a nun and what led her from nursing to gardening after she retired, she returned the conversation to Mother Aubert’s leadership in looking after the land.
Now-days, Common Ground manages the community gardens independently and a network of gardeners continues to grow. Members and friends share the growing of food, are involved in on-going learning, and make the produce available to the public on Saturday mornings.
View the interview with Sister Loyola on YouTube here.
Contact Sr Loyola at Home of Compassion: 04-383 7769
For information on parish initiatives visited for the NZCCSS Manaaki Hapori project, contact:
Phone: 04 473 2627 / 021-388-337