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Food and Agriculture

Future Prospects—Kelmarna Gardens

Photography by Tracey Creed
Words by Tracey Creed

Published September 29 2022

Wrapped up against the grey concrete of surrounding Herne Bay suburbia, Kelmarna Gardens is a charitable trust, a city farm and an organic community garden that was, at the time of writing, managed by Andy Boor. Just weeks before Andy would leave, bound for Keri Keri, I caught up with him via Zoom to discuss the paddock expansion and why ecologically literate citizens and access to fresh food are more important now than ever.

The charity leases the land from Auckland Council that historically was utilised for therapy, with volunteers tending to allotment spaces for local businesses who financially support the garden. These vocational opportunities benefit the whole of society too, not just each individual and beyond social interaction, are able to develop valuable skills at the end of this. Nature is healing. Pre-Pandemic, market garden dinners were hosted between a rotation of local chefs who often had garden plots. You purchased tickets and dined alfresco. It’s a celebration of growing, cooking, eating and sharing food, giving the meal more meaning.

These plots had, however, reached a point of capacity. In 2019, Kelmarna put in place a Theory of Change for the garden's future, working through an extensive process with Resilio Studio in addition to other consultants and expertise in regenerative farming. “What is the best way we can use this land? How do we balance opportunity and responsibility? What does that look like?” says Boor. The Pandemic combined with challenges surrounding growing food and the weather extremes, Kelmarna understood they must focus on production within their given context. And then, in late 2021, crowdfunding closed, with the community investing $95,650. “We looked at agricultural and non-agricultural. We had to balance desirability with feasibility, our objective—doubling production with the new market space. What education, new production, and revenue generation opportunities are plausible?

The paddock project

It was decided the old space that was more suited for therapeutic purposes would remain. A host of volunteers and paid staff tend to the grounds. “Every afternoon, we share a meal here in the paddock, and it’s a celebration,” says Boor. The paddock is a relaxed space for both staff and members, a place to share everyday conversations, joy and community spirit.

The small area of the market garden was, at this stage, planted out, and growing in the paddock, with water now connected to the new site from the main tank. I’d witnessed the progression throughout lockdown while walking Goji. Subsequent workshops were hosted to transform more pasture into vegetable gardens, and cardboard and woodchip laid to prepare more ground for planting. For locals frustrated by the limitations and facelessness of the supply chain, also aware of the impact of fossil fuels and fertilisers, the community gardens seek to provide an alternative to conventional farming systems. “I am proud of working to create employment opportunities, six full-timers, creating self-sustaining opportunities. I ask myself, how many jobs could this space support? How much could we produce?” Muses Boor.

Agroforestry systems and the future of farming

With the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems, agroforestry seeks to create environmental, economic, and social benefits. “Agroforestry is an exciting yet underrepresented part of Aotearoa’s agricultural future,” says Boor. “Tree lines are planted through paddocks—as nature intended and not in perfectly uniform rows in a monoculture environment. We also incorporate animal grazing, which is uncommon. Boor believes attitudes will change.

“Trees are magic. Food, shade, shelter, fuel, wildlife habitat, pollinator food, carbon sequestration. Our plans include planting more than 300 trees in and around our paddocks as part of a silvopasture system with our sheep and chooks,” explains Boor. Kelmarna seeks to demonstrate different ways of farming—it is all part of an integrated system, and there are benefits from that integration. Mid March, thirty-two layer hens arrived from Thorny Croft— three heritage breeds; Golden Campines, Sicilian Buttercups and Araucana. These chooks are bred and selected for their ability to forage and thrive in lower-input systems while still producing reasonable numbers of quality eggs. “We aim to establish new models. Pasture chicken production is one. And ideally, our chooks are not reliant on external feed as local eateries can provide food to the chooks,” explains Boor.

With the silvopasture, each part benefits the other. While initially there’s more human input, your production levels are higher in the long term. “Trees are seen as the enemy of agriculture in many ways—they require management and might not produce a financial return in a production sense. Trees, however, allow minerals to surface that the animals would otherwise not have access to, and in increasingly dry seasons, they will hold moisture in the soil. Hence, you have to look at this system from a holistic viewpoint”, says Boor.

The cost of and accessibility to good food

Food is how we interact with the broader world daily. And ideally, you want everyone to be part of the conversation, to know the actual value of food, of things in general, and the true cost of growing things well, yet it still feels privileged. This is a topic we have discussed before, and we need to take the pressure off the individual and look towards creating broader system change to tackle our flawed agricultural and food systems. “When we consider the inflationary cycle impacts, our hard costs—our non-labour costs have not gone up, and so I think, increasingly people will question their purchasing habits,” says Boor.

Future direction

Much of what Kelmarna does is educational—seeking to remedy the disconnect between our industries and how seasonality affects them. “Over the past century, farms globally have gotten larger and larger, while the number of people working on them has gotten smaller.” Clearly, we to value better the human input involved in growing our food. “Do we need equalisation of actual costs to human power in agriculture? What does that cost structure look like once you take out fossil fuels and fertiliser,” poses Boor.

“As we work out how to move on from the high-input, fossil fuel-driven systems that dominate our current food system, we are certain that the solution will involve more human input with a diverse knowledge base working on the land,” explains Boor. The workshops change the perspective on the food that ends up on our plates, and the Community Supported Agriculture model is there, so I hope people learn to think of our relationship with the natural world not as consumption but as an exchange that can be mutually beneficial,” says Boor.

Kelmarna is creating a fantastic collaborative market garden, all of which is reliant on community engagement to keep doing the work it does. If you are able to purchase a workshop or subscribe to a C.S.A, you can do so here. For community events and updates, subscribe to their newsletter or follow Kelmana on Instagram, and if you find yourself those ways on a Wednesday or Saturday, stop in for some beautiful organic produce.

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