Brightly painted kiwi bins on the corner of Victoria Ave and King St in Whakatāne are an eye-catcher. They are a part of the Whakatāne Community Gardens created by inspirational pair Justin Beaumont and Hannah Irakau Pehi.
“We’re teaching people the skills they need to grow their own produce. But, most importantly, we are making that whole process free,” says Hannah. “Two generations ago everyone grew their own food. Some people are afraid to start, but once you do, it becomes natural – it just takes practice.”
Hannah first had the idea for the gardens in 2014. Feeling despondent with the current state of the world, Hannah began her hikoi along with her sister and niece on Stuart Island and ended it in Cape Reinga covering over 2,000 kms in six months.
Throughout the walk, she found people all over New Zealand working selflessly on projects that benefitted their communities. Сommunity gardens were some of the most successful. “They breach social strata, they teach essential life skills and they bring people together in a way nothing else does,” says Hannah.
Hannah’s love for gardening is in her blood. “My grandfather was an avid gardener, who had a huge passion for chilies. My parents also have an avocado orchard, which I’m hoping to help maintain for our family in the future.”
Justin came to gardening a bit later. “Hannah shared all her skills with me. Now I share them with others.”
Hannah and Justin met through Riding for the Disabled where she was a volunteer. “Justin was incredibly quiet back then” says Hannah. The gardens have given him a passion and a purpose after going through serious health problems. “Being involved with the gardens has changed me”, says Justin. “It’s brought me out of myself.”
“We want to inspire everyone in the community,” says Hannah. “The more people involved, the more the gardens will flourish.”
The organisation leases its highly visible corner section in Kopeopeo. The gardens are open five days a week and Justin is there during most of that time. He gives growing advice, shows visitors around and runs workshops. There is something there for everyone. A rolling hill for kids, a BBQ area for perfect summer evenings, a stage area for bands to play and a special feeling of an open space in an urban area. There are pear trees, macadamias, blueberries, strawberries, feijoas.
“It’s got the potential to be an amazing space for the community if we could develop commercial elements such as a shop, gallery and cafe”, says Hannah. “So we’ll keep working hard.” It’s all about looking to the future now for Hannah and Justin. “We get such fulfilment from seeing the community come together and people getting pleasure from the food they grow.”
In January this year, Hannah did another hikoi. This time she was joined by Justin and other whanau. Justin walked the section from New Plymouth to Whakatane which took about three weeks. He celebrated his 40th birthday on the hikoi. “I loved the experience,” said Justin. “But it was hard work and I managed to acquire some pretty bad blisters!”
A celebration is planned for the garden’s third anniversary on the 24th September at 12pm. Everyone is welcome. “There will be music, BBQ, pony rides. We hope the whole community will come down, bring a plate to share and enjoy this wonderful place.”
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