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I just come here and enjoy
myself -- I don't want to go
home! I used a drill which
I've never used before.
Coming here is my morning
away. There's just a lovely
KAREN IS DESCRIBING CatholicCare
Hunter-Manning's latest initiative -- a
lush and lovely garden in the heart of
Taree which is playing a role in supporting
people whose lives are severely affected by
The seed of the idea was planted by Chris
Cassar, Team Leader with the Personal
Helpers and Mentors Program (PHaMS).
When asked if he's a keen gardener, he
says modestly, "A little bit, here and there."
Eventually it emerges that Chris is a chef
with an interest in growing for the kitchen
and sharing the results. He once worked
in a restaurant where all the employees
had experienced mental health issues and
he saw, first hand, the confidence that
comes when opportunities to develop skills
About two and a half years ago, Chris
approached the local Conference of St
Vincent de Paul and pitched his idea. Would
the Conference allow the land at the back
of their cottage, not far from Taree's main
street, to be developed as a place to
grow herbs, vegetables, fruit and flowers --
herbs for flavour, vegetables and fruit for
nourishment and flowers for joy?
After careful consideration the Conference
said 'yes' and in a relatively short time, a
green house, raised beds, a shed, a water
tank and one of those beautiful timber
seats circling a tree appeared -- not by
magic, but by the willing labour of the
PHaMS Team and participants.
Crops so far have included broccoli,
snow peas, cabbage and lots of
spinach. Helga Smit, Regional Manager
of CatholicCare, recalls "a stir fry
workshop, where we only bought one
vegetable, the rest were grown here".
Since the garden's inception, its use has
become a little more formalised, although
it remains a welcoming oasis for all.
"Essentially we run weekly workshops, both
practical and educational, on such topics
as 'square foot gardening', building and
decorating planter boxes, growing herbs
and cultivating particular vegetables and
fruits," says Chris.
The garden project has been so successful
that its use has extended into the Brighter
Futures program, which provides support
and services for vulnerable families to
ensure that children can have the best
possible start in life.
There is a strong emphasis on
sustainability and the use of recycled
materials. This is not only cost effective but
models good practice. An important aim
of the programs which utilise the garden
is to encourage participants towards
healthy living, physically, spiritually and
psychologically. Even for someone with not
the slightest interest in planting, watering
and harvesting, the garden is a place of
"As staff, we love to have site meetings here.
It's much more informal, there are fewer
issues, we resolve issues more quickly,
there are more creative ideas...I wish I
could have every meeting here!" says Helga.
Participants who use the garden have
also enjoyed excursions, for example, to
Ricardo's tomato and strawberry farm,
north of Taree. This has promoted good
taste, good fun and good friendship.
In Karen's words, "We're like a family."
Please visit www.catholiccare.org.au
Karen, Helga and Chris
enjoying the garden.
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
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