Ellie McSheedy isn’t your average community garden organiser. A self-confessed learner gardener, Ellie didn’t let her lack of experience stop her from pursuing the creation of a food garden and outdoor classroom to drive connection and a sense of belonging in her south-eastern suburb of Melbourne.
Instead, she drew on her research skills to lean into solving local concerns over food security. The bonds created amongst locals and their overwhelmingly positive reactions to the Belgrave Food Garden have been both inspiring and heart-warming.
After countless COVID induced lockdowns and a destructive storm that saw roofs torn from local homes, Ellie could sense that events had left many in her community feeling depleted as they picked up the pieces to rebuild. In the wake of the destruction, she looked for a project that could rejuvenate residents.
While out on a walk with her family, Ellie came across old planter boxes on disused land behind the local cinema. Aware of the positive psychological benefits of gardening, Ellie wanted to combine this with the universal love of food to bring her community together to share skills and build connections.
There is something fundamental across cultures in sitting down to share a meal, says Ellie, and food is always at the centre of that.
“I knew that if we were going to do a community project that was about connection and resilience, food was a really good basis on which to do it with universal appeal,” said Ellie.
“Food and all its aspects are common to everybody.”
Maintaining this broad appeal and openness of the garden has encouraged involvement from members of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the Belgrave Food Garden and to share their skills as they have grown in confidence.
“I think that’s been a real strength of the garden”, says Ellie.
“We’ve been able to leverage people’s strengths in worm farms, building compost and fixing handicrafts for the benefit of the group and for the wider community. That's given people a tremendous sense of accomplishment and purpose.”
Ellie has been touched by the special interactions she’s shared with locals while in the garden. Participants have told her of the garden’s role in supplementing their pantry when their own supplies had run out, while a young student shared his aspirations to pursue a career in horticulture.
This National Tree Day from 10am Sunday 30 July, the Belgrave Food Garden group will be planting edible native seedlings with support from Planet Ark’s Seedling Bank to extend the food garden into areas of unused land surrounding the existing garden. The Seedling Bank was established in 2019 as a means of providing funding for regenerative and community building projects involving native plants around Australia.
Visit the Find a site page on our National Tree Day website to join a planting event near you to get involved and build your own connections.