Building community and growing healthy food at the curbside

Up until the 2011 earthquakes the Christchurch nom de plume was fittingly the Garden City. It was an apt title and a resplendent crown which hung well upon our inflated haughty heads. Tell us another green fingered tribe were grander than ours and the grizzly green monster would raise his ugly head to put you factually up to date and speed. In spite of the travesty this spirited amour towards les jardins has remained resolutely steadfast within Christchurch’s diverse bustling communities.

Small we may be but industrious we are at epic proportions. So I was rather gobsmacked and filled with a sense of incomprehensible perplexity when the municipality after gifting themselves gregarious raises and bonuses released to the Press a statement inferring that maintaining the cities green spaces and reserves was bleeding the council booty chest dry. Was I hearing things? To further add insult to industry the “Man” in running the Ivory Tower and crude cohort of cronies had the indecency to suggest that we should each pull out our Massport Mowers and altruistically like a good Samaritans go and cut these parks for them.

Mildly speaking I was shocked, passionately speaking I was enraged turning vermilion in a matter of seconds. Did these indignant overpaid tree swinging buffoons take me for an imbecile? Why the hell were they using our taxes in a far more conscientious manner rather than on banquets, broads and luxury boating getaways?

How quick they were to retreat when they saw how fast our flaring to flush em out became. The backtracking and peace-making was as instantaneous as pouring hot water into a pottle of convenience noodles. However, in one brief vain effort to save some face they made a reference to something most of rarely thought about. The humble berm.

In definition, it is normally a patch of grass strip in front of the property boundary line but just before the curb side of the edge of the road/gutter. By definition this is council land although the good willed and sharp-witted amongst us feel a sense of duty to give it a clip or plant the odd tree or shrub for home ownership’s or aesthetical prides sake. Some even seize the opportunity to use them for their own gains. From extra space for parking the car, caravan or even growing a fruit tree the Council folk while in their jurisdiction have the power to prosecute such cheek have tended to play a blind eye to these harmless misdemeanours only intervening if social harm or the issue of the act being a communal nuisance or offence is raised such as one man who placed racist political placards on these strips. It revolted people and the Council responded prosecuting him for the unlawful violation of their terra firma not because he was a neo Nazi.

Given this publicity the understandable issue of how to deal with the meaningless tax draining berm became one of those hmm hum nightmares that kept on tossing and turning at night. Why need these assumedly ornamental allotments be such problem stirring wastelands? Where was the municipal brain trust when there was a riddle of such pressing proportions to be solved?

Like a well-oiled Swiss time keeper my head started ticking and tocking and delving into the archives of my often cob web infested memory bank. Being knighted with an Order of the British Empire was out of my immediate focus for like any agitated Kiwi man this niggling issue irked at my Kiwi male fix’em gene. Assigning myself to a cosy patch in my hammock overhanging my heavenly herbal think tank (a.k.a. The lavender patch) where the navigation of busy bees tirelessly kept me amused I reflected upon the concern ad nauseum.

Perhaps the real affair was using a Polyanna approach. Why is it that council sees these strips and stretches of land as a headache instead of an eye opener? Surely the key was unlocking the visionary paddock to seeing these misused plots as mini golden geese for both the council’s and the collective townsfolk’s wellbeing and profit. And so the floodgates broke and I inundated the world with my previously well shackled stream of conscience.

Convinced that like God maybe that Noah like his arkfull cohort of accomplices needed a clean slate. Overtly grandiose an assertion I do confess, but at least I felt that this often all too obscure problem needed a good stab or two in the dark.

Who would need to torment themselves will clipping the curb side if one transformed it into a ‘herbside’? Just imagine the joy one could excite at finding fresh herbs, condiments and other salad add ons just a stone’s throw from the front verandah. At a time when various health boards and societies are forcing down our throats daily the message of 5 plus fruit and vege a day, we would now no longer need an excuse to at least have some green leafy fibre in our daily diets.

But who said anything about it strictly being all green? What about throwing in some apple trees or wild berries? Admittedly a tree may require the odd prune a few times a year but as opposed to a well-tended to manicure lawn this seems ridiculously like child’s play.

When NZ has proven itself to having an issue with obesity and closely linked diseases such as diabetes, a berm pantry may be just what the doctor ordered. But what about the weeding, you may have asked already?

Again let me astound you with the power of Polyanna and the wonder of positivity. For what is a weed other than those plants which we deem to be of no beneficial purpose. However, it’s time that we revisited our understandings of value and worth by taking an inspirational ethnocentric look at the weed.

Fortunately, our indigenous Maori tribe have always had a knack at using these apparent pests to not only fill their bellies but also to cure themselves from selective ailments. Anyone who has not sampled ‘puha’ and pork do not know what it is like to depart from a meal feeling royally replete like a king. From dandelion to wild spinach to cress, weeds could quite easily be our new ‘frenemies’. Yes, well you can’t gnaw on every weed I smugly hear you tirade back. No you are correct but again let us think beyond the box.

Of weeds such as gorse that provide shelter for birds and re-growing native trees and shrubs, of weeds like foxgloves which help fruit trees to develop and those that can be converted into solid or liquid compost. But wouldn’t a weed ravaged berm garden be unsightly and even a tad garish? Perhaps I’ll grant you with one victory need not you depart me just yet before you might be intrigued to contest me further over my day dreaming delirium.

My main point having concretely been sealed that berms offer an abundance of edible electives at a time when getting green into your daily intake requires quite a lot of copper. This need not lead to a harvest where farmers seek out to assassinate me riding their supped up John Deere tractors. These would be supplements to build upon an even more ambitious greener lifestyle vision shift for the city council and the people of this fair and health inducing utopia. Just imagine what the visitors might say in their German, French and American blogs. Hiked around Canterbury and lived off nettle tea. Made a wild rocket salad and so forth. While 400,000 of us locals show the weeds that we too nom nom mean business.

Why must a fretful council say to its public that it wants to cut back on the garden city maintenance, asking people to mow parks, rotunda patches and gardens if the problem is represented as an opportunity for the sharing of ideas? Yes, there is a lot of space which cost money to maintain if you continue to see this as the solitary choice there is to be made. But my question I suppose is need this be the resting closing absolute final case?

Why not be even more democratically liberal about it and break that dated age old rule about adult consent? Who is an adult often comes down to a magic number, 15 for a drivers licence, over 16 for sexual consent, 18 to buy liquor or any other array of legislatively penned up numbers. It has its legal merits in certain cases but chops out an important opinion sector in others. For just as Seniority could be accused of senility one would never dare use this as just cause to deny them the right to vote.

True, some issues may be beyond the relevance or interests of most ‘children’ but to accuse the little ones of ignorance in all affairs is a bit austere. Just imagine the ideas that would rush forward if every young mind was given the chance to unleash their creative juices. To present them with a real world challenge and encourage them to be involved and innovative in finding a purpose for what the “adults” brain has failed to realise into being.

What would a child present to us? Taking the matter to the classroom and uniting kids via competitive camaraderie to think up something original and awe inspiring, what a class project what a real way to gain life experience and feel like a valued part of the community.

It might offer them an after school job opportunity, where they might tend to keeping the strips free from unwanted debris, raking leaves or watering the vegetation present. Or maybe they would set up lemonade stands or baked goods stalls selling goods with ingredients that may have come directly from the patch (i.e. apple crumble or a savoury herb muffin).

Nothing would be better than forming community resilience and bonding by raising a few tree houses where neighbourhood kids could get together and strengthen communal bonds while harnessing a pride in the place where they hang out. It may help to nurture a long lifetime love for trees, nature and the mutual requirement of working together to ensure a harmonious coexistence with other young sapients.

Another proposal posited forward may be the insertion of more gaming stations or tables for backgammon, chess, checkers or whatever. What a wondrously illustrious manner to encourage social engagement while building bright and budding little minds. An ingenious way to not only entertain and educate the young ones but also to push kids away from the unhealthy biopsychosocial woes of excessive TV consumption. This could greatly assist in avoiding some of the plagues which commonly afflict the Western subject such as depression and various forms of stress and anxiety. Indeed, the idea of the self-first thinking child may bring about some shared blushes. For the contributions that flow from a child’s mind may be more universally encapsulating and embracing than what we may at first perceive.

Such eco socially resourceful mutually reinforcing drivers for positive change might include the instalment of more electronic hubs in order to urge people to shift towards hybrid vehicle use. It may urge the council to convert these berms into bio organic compost havens where green waste can be transformed into something communally useful. Where unwanted green waste becomes a desirable public good which all can constructively contribute to producing and dispersing. Stimulating a green wave of eco enthusiasm towards all things natural, organic and biodegradable.

Why is it that such a proportionate plethora of our leaders suffer from such narrow minded antiquated myopic tunnel visioned obstinacy when it comes to constructively and creatively engineering some form of remediation towards this special stigmatism? Why the quivering vacillation when it comes to casting forth a referendum on such a communally meritorious matter? Does their trepidation stem from the shell shock or PTSD which they may find themselves recuperating from when we bombast them with our blazing brilliance?

In a world where land is often a luxury we are treating it as a problem which we are frantically trying to buck of our back like enraged rodeo bulls with a madman audaciously saddled on its shoulder blades. The time for whining must be stamped out and the back peddling needs to be replaced with thoughtful forward think. We have the capacity to be remarkably resourceful if we are given the right to mobilise our massive mental might.

Swinging my own mental bat at the metaphorical ball park drama I cannot see why such respectably sizeable clumps and chunks of land can be leased of to small innovators and entrepreneurs. Food trucks, florists, used book venders would line our streets giving suburbia a “market-like” kind of ambience all while pleasing and awakening our all too often dormant senses for desirable delicacies. These small wonders are often the sweetly Moorish and decadent indulges which glaze our life like an exquisitely coated layer cake. Texture and taste do go hand in hand, any gourmand will testify to that statement.

One may not be able to afford the rent at the local mega mart with those mega colossal rent fees but a business may have the Stamina to blossom if given a golden opportunity at the grass roots level to do so. These start-ups have the magical pull potency to solidify neighbourhoods and draw people to meet, mix and middle like a fantastically shaken (or stirred if you prefer the non-Bond like choice) social martini. A human cocktail of a social gathering which lifts the spirits (ha see what I did there?) of all those congregated searching to be a part of the grander communal fibres which bring meaning and purpose to the ideal conception of le parfait joie de vivre.

Or here’s another one from the cellar dweller that rarely surfaces from the cognitive crypt that is my concealed cavernous mind, what about the council setting their stunted sites on further solidifying the foundation of the ‘salubrious state’ oasis.

At present we are like a dehydrated bedouin and his trusty camel searching for fluids and the odd date in a mirage of a vacant meaning sandpit. Yet, this feature less landscape need not be barren and purposeless to facilitate our daily wanderings across our sacred landscapes. We could meet kindred spirits if we built more berm side barbies (Bbqs). What a way to get people to come out and form lasting and advantageously amicable alliances. It may lead to the enduring fortitude of Community Watch where proud street residents take fervent pride in tackling suburban crime. It would be a council win win in its pursuit to both deal with the berms and the post-quake spike in a host of felonies.

In my Oscar earning impersonation of the great voice artist Don La Fontaine “in a world…” with more curbside braiis (South African type of bbq), where water fountains sprang up like mushrooms for parched foot traders, joggers and spandex clad cycle warriors and where more Driver Reviver coffee and tea stops were stationed on highway bermsides, we would all live in a happier healthier and safer world.

Or to take a leaf out of the French jotter pad, the council could entrust the berms back to the public. It could then lay out the incentive to organise a suburban flower fete where streets develop a sporting rivalry which encourages green fingered artistry to create a prize winning natural tapestry of floral flamboyance. These displays might get people to share ideas, work as a team learn, have fun all while strengthening communal pride and an interest in being courteously clean and green citizens of this glorious Garden City at the cul de sac of the Southern Hemisphere. Knowing my fellow Kiwis, I know there’s always the potential to turn such fun filled fanciful frivolity into a reality tv programme. And if you ask me, that’s fine, whatever floats yer boat, mates. Even if it’s for the prize money becoming a celebrity, representing ones’ suburb, city or province, the French idea of la bella petite ville, will still rub off on to the good vibe felt by the unified community. After all, who would want to sabotage and see their local team in any type of challenge lose?

As a final side thought what about mesmerising our far flung foreign friend with a taste for Kiwi number 8 wire (enterprise). Why don’t we get them hungry to see our country off the beaten track (on the less travelled roads)? Just reflect for a moments pause at how bermside huts/cabins would breathe new life into some of Aotearoas/New Zealand’s lesser known settled jewel satellites. Urging locals and fresh faces alike to reimagine Maoriland from beyond the lines scribbled onto that quizzical Lonely Planet backpack brick. Oh if only if only.

Until that marvellous dream materialises I shall dwell on at my colonial pine desk glazing out of the window while buzzy bees come forth to greet me with their heavenly hymns whilst they greedily gather the pollen from the technicoloured pansies that peek out from the window ledge at me from their floral crib. Until then my spirit canters on to pastures beyond the horizon while my body listlessly remains still waiting for my fair souls return.

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