Community garden takes crop growing back to its roots

Gavin Hawke. Photo: Supplied
Gavin Hawke. Photo: Supplied
The manager of a community garden in Sumner is taking crop growing back to its roots with the goal of creating a self-sustaining food source.

Gavin Hawke, 54, has a passion for horticulture, and he’s using his skills in an effort to increase local food security.

‘There’s nothing simpler in life then actually building soil and growing something. We’re trying to show people how easy it is to grow naturally.”

He Mara Kai – meaning ‘The Food Garden’ – is a 2000m2 section located on the corner of Paisley St and Wakefield Ave.

It follows two key horticultural principles that guide it towards being a fertile and self-sustaining food source, said Hawke.

The first is hügelkultur or “mound culture”, a technique where a mound constructed from decaying wood and plant materials is used as a plant bed.

“Wood will take 20 years to break down and you won’t need any fertiliser,” he said.

“The wood underneath works as a slow release nutrient. It also acts as a sponge for water.”

No digging is required.

“It’s about how to grow food with the least amount of work.”

The second technique, permaculture, is an approach to land management where plants are allowed to grow freely in an unstructured layout.

Hawke said this encourages a self-seeding garden, which will eventually require little human maintenance.

“We just want to help nature take its natural course. We’re pretty unique here because there’s no structure really.”

The garden has 40 mounds of different sizes which grow a wide range of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Gavin Hawke manages the He Mara Kai community garden in Sumner. He’s motivated by increasing food...
Gavin Hawke manages the He Mara Kai community garden in Sumner. He’s motivated by increasing food security and spreading awareness of mound culture and permaculture. Photo: Supplied
Except for the first time a new seed is planted, the garden does not buy seeds.

“With permaculture, everything self-seeds,” Hawke said.

He started developing the garden on land he leases from the city council, opposite his home, in June 2022. A software designer by day, he spends his evenings and weekends managing the garden.

“There’s so much food there. At any time of the year there’s always something to eat.”

With the help of two volunteers, Hawke is developing high quality soil for the garden with locally sourced compost.

They collect horse manure, green bin waste, and coffee grinds and food scraps from local cafes.

“Eventually we will end up with beautiful soil that is filled with nutrients.”

Hawke’s long-term goal is to increase food security and demonstrate the effectiveness of mound culture and permaculture.

“That garden could easily self-sustain 20 different families.”

The He Mara Kai community garden in Sumner. Photo: Supplied
The He Mara Kai community garden in Sumner. Photo: Supplied
Expanding his methods to other empty land in Sumner could increase food security even further, Hawke said.

He wants the garden to become a more collaborative effort in the future, with more volunteers.

“People who can’t grow or haven’t got the space are welcome to come and help out and enjoy the harvest.”

  • People interested in volunteering are encouraged to head along to the garden on weekends