Cooktown ‘Club Veg’ growing strong – RIG News, Dec. 2013 – Feature: Remote & Regional Gardening Clubs
Cooktown ‘Club Veg’ Growing Strong – story kindly provided by David Cass for RIG News, Dec. 2013
‘Club Veg’ was formed early in 2009 and now boasts sixty members from across the Cooktown, Rossville and Bloomfield districts of far north Queensland. The group was formed by David Cass and ‘Club Veg’ member Rhonda Holland to assist home gardeners with growing of fresh vegetables in the often challenging climate and soil types of Far North Queensland.
The Cooktown District Community Centre’s Healthy Ageing Coordinator Mr David Cass facilitates the local vegetable garden group known as ‘Club Veg’. ‘Club Veg’ is a recognised program of the community centre’s Healthy Ageing program. This arrangement provides a comfortable air-conditioned meeting place and public liability insurance for club participants. Having said that, there are no age restrictions as to who can attend.
‘Club Veg’ meets once a month at the community centre and now has its own minor operational budget as a result of fund raising and a small scale organic fertiliser cooperative arrangement. The club has also purchased its own wood chipper via a funding application.
As the group developed it became evident that the deliberately informal structure of monthly meetings and field trips became a conduit for information exchange about a range of vegetable and fruit growing issues. More experienced local gardeners began exchanging valid information with less experienced ones. It was observed (by Cass) that over time, experienced local gardeners gained much satisfaction and social confidence in talking to the group.
This group now also provides a significant inclusive social opportunity for its sixty members. The group and some of its members presented their model for success on a live radio broadcast on ABC Far North Rural Report in 2012.
One of the features of the monthly meetings is a round table expression session called “I’m excited” (or “I’m not excited” as the case may be). People have the opportunity in a few minutes to express what they are excited about, i.e. “My Super Sioux tomatoes are 3 metres tall and have such abundance’ or the converse, “I’m not excited because the grass hoppers have destroyed my entire tat soy crop in 24 hrs.” It’s expressive, fun and promotes some lively discussion.
The most significant challenge ‘Club Veg’ and other local vegetable home gardeners face is the degraded soils of the local district. Heavy clay soils, associated rock and lack of fertility have forced the vast majority of members to adopt permaculture gardens, based on using local hay bales and other organic material.
The availability of high quality/low cost organically grown vegetables is limited in the district. Some access is available through a local food cooperative and district markets. Generally there is a strong trend in the local area for people to become more self sustainable in food production.
The local hay bales as used by many vegetable gardeners are relatively costly and transport distances are high in most cases. The absence of high quality organic material for use in these gardens is also costly and labour intensive to obtain in many situations.
During 2013 the club was fortunate in securing some Healthy Communities Federal Funding via a local coordinator and as a result now has a well stock seed bank and sub program called Cooktown and District Seed Savers.
As the years have progressed many Club Veg members have become involved in many other facets of food gardening production such as bio fertiliser and permaculture workshops with this knowledge flowing back to club members. Members have also assisted with the construction of a community garden for RSL residents, attended a ‘Club Veg stall’ at the Cooktown Healthy Lifestyle Expo and the local Agricultural Show.
David Cass the facilitator of Club Veg says “I have been facilitating a large number of diverse groups over the past twenty five years in Victoria and would say Club Veg is one of the nicest, most satisfying group of people I have had the pleasure to work with”.
The updated Club Veg! Planting Guide, is available on the RIG Network website – Gardening resources.
Left: Club Veg members on a field trip.Story and images kindly provided, with permission, by David Cass, Program Manager, Healthy Ageing Program, Cooktown District Community Centre.