On Sunday 9 March, judges for the Kapiti Coast’s Greenest Neighbourhood made their second and final visit to the three groups participating in this year’s competition. Neighbours from Ames Street, Paekākāriki; Waimeha Lagoon, Waikanae Beach; and Reikorangi, Waikanae have spent eight-and-a-half months seeking to reduce their environmental footprint, increase resilience and build community, and this was their opportunity to show off some of their achievements.
‘Inspiring’ was the word for the day as Mayor Ross Church, Professor Brenda Vale, Paul Kennett, Kath Irvine and Bob Glensor were guided through productive gardens, a variety of composting methods, rainwater collection and green transport choices. Alongside the individual lifestyle changes was a constant theme of thriving new communities.
“The community aspect has been brilliant”, said Robyn White from Ames Street, “Probably the best thing for us.”
Rick Swan echoed this later in Reikorangi, saying “More community networking has been achieved in a year than in the previous eighteen I’ve lived here”.
Starting the day in bustling Ames Street, the judges mingled with visitors to the Paekakariki Edible Garden Tour. Communal gardening has been a core activity for this group, starting with a garden bed on Vicky’s berm and a notice encouraging passers-by to ‘Help Yourself’. This has been expanded to two beds and a larger shared garden has been built over the road on neighbour Les’ property. Over the winter Robyn hosted a workshop with Council’s Green Gardener on fruit tree pruning and care before participants went next-door to practice their new-found skills.
Council staff offered a range of other workshops. An early series of talks on water conservation and meters established water as an underlying theme. Checking everyone’s water meters for leaks, Gwyn Williams and Rob Noon were surprised to find a large one under Gwyn’s kitchen. “The mosquitoes have gone since that was fixed”, said Gwyn. Two households have used Council’s funding assistance to install large rainwater collection systems. At Gwynn’s however, effective watering meant a 200L tank provided all the water he needed for his garden until the last week of February.
Neighbours also got together for a visit from Council’s Eco Design Advisor (EDA) to discuss ways to make their homes warmer, drier and healthier. Hosts Carolyn Parker and Peter Nelson have continued to work with the EDA as they insulated their newly-purchased home and explored other ways to reduce dampness.
“The Council workshops have been a great motivator and provide context for community building”, says Robyn.
Other highlights of the tour included visiting a small orchard, complete with free-range chooks, on land Natasha and Nick are leasing along the rail corridor. Further down the street a combination of steep land and abundant bamboo has led Megan and Francis to weave retaining walls to support their garden beds and bees, an endeavour nicknamed ‘The Hanging Gardens of Ames Street’. At Shona and Sebastian’s fluffy ducklings abounded as Sebastian is raising a hard-to-get breed of meat duck favoured by Sebastian’s French heritage.
While the competition has now ended, activities are set to continue in Ames Street. The group have received money from the Paekakariki Community Board to plant fruit trees on their berms. However the logistics of utilities and a southerly wind tunnel have led them to work with Lex Bartlett, Council’s Leisure & Open Space Asset manager, to arrange for the trees to be planted on the local library lawn this winter. There are compost bins to be built courtesy of the Council’s Waste Minimisation Grant, a community garden to tend and, following a recent street party for all the eighty-plus households on Ames Street (funded by Greenest Neighbourhood tea towel sales at Christmas), even more neighbours to get to know.
Moving onto Waimeha Lagoon in Waikanae Beach, the judges found a similar tale of a community that’s grown in leaps and bounds. This group faced the initial challenge of being spread over a wide area due to the large number of weekend homes in their neighbourhood. Starting with a monthly pot-luck meal, the group quickly grew.
When asked how many households are participating in the Greenest Neighbourhood challenge, Simon explained that the range of activities participants are involved in have broadened their community network well beyond those who signed up to take part. Julie’s yoga group, Friday drinks at their local bar for new and established community members, a community garden and shared mulcher, Julie and Simon’s regular visitors via the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) or Couch-Surfing networks, and harvesting surplus produce for Community Fruit have all drawn in new members.
Starting in Julie’s front yard where she has created a community children’s garden with the help of her neighbours, WWOOFers and local children, the judges were updated on the summer’s abundance and shown the new outdoor solar shower. The garden was also the site of a Matariki gathering for the children and their families.
From here it was pleasant walk around the lagoon – the reserve has numerous walkways serving as a hub for linking these neighbours. At Simon’s house, several recycled bikes were dotted about ready for visiting travellers. Simon moved into the area just prior to the start of the competition, so his garden is still young.
Created with seeds and assistance from his new neighbours, it is thriving despite its super-sandy soil and close proximity to the beach. In his bid to improve the soil quickly, Simon has sought out bulk composting materials – he currently has two lawn contractors dropping off grass clippings from unsprayed lawns and supplements these with coffee grounds from a local café. Rainwater is collected off the roof in a series of buckets until a more permanent solution is obtained. Large recycled glass jars are dotted about, sheltering and marking new seedlings.
“I’m slowly figuring out what works and what doesn’t”, he says. “I’m inspired by my neighbours and our seed swap at our monthly Sunday gatherings. Someone always brings something new and interesting.”
Sharing their skills and the labour of the volunteers Simon and Julie host has enabled several members of this group to tackle and extend some large projects this year. Simon says it became apparent early on that they were land-rich but time-poor. Sigi says she is the exception to the land-rich trend, living in a unit with a small yard.
She’s been experimenting with the space she has however, planting tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkins in recycled feed bags in her paved courtyard. A rack of strawberries planted into guttering have produced a bumper crop this year as a new rainwater collection system encouraged her to be less stingy with their watering. Future plans for Waimeha include a community orchard for which funding has been obtained. Their hope is to get permission to plant a variety of fruiting trees in the park at the centre of their community, encourage locals to keep an eye on them and perhaps adopt one to care for.
Finally it was on to beautiful Reikorangi. As a rural community with many of their members travelling to fulltime work then coming home to run their farms, participants readily admit it’s been difficult for them to engage with the competition in the timeframe given. But Leanne Myers, the group’s key organiser, says they’ve really enjoyed gathering for several pot-luck meals.
“Isolation can be a problem in rural communities with the separation of distance and buy lives. The desire to connect brought many people to Greenest Neighbourhood and it’s provided the excuse we needed to get together.”
“The competition has provided food for thought and strengthened connections. There is a degree of like-mindedness among the group by virtue of having chosen a particular lifestyle. It’s been good to find out what other people are doing on their land and share ideas.”
And there was plenty of inspiration to be had as Rick Swan showed the judges around his property.
Starting with his electric three-wheeler, Rick talked them through the process of continuous improvement that has shaped this one-of-a-kind vehicle. Out in the garden, he told us how Leanne and James have helped him chop wood and garden in exchange for firewood. Then it was round to the woodlot where we saw a small selection of the trees he’s trialling. Planting species like redwoods, giant sequoia and kauri, which have harvest dates extending into his grandchildren lifetimes, Rick has a long-term vision for the future. Over their lives, these trees will sequester many tonnes of carbon.
For this group, the competition is perhaps the beginning. Things take time to happen in busy lives, but the connections have been made. From expanding gardens and produce trading through to a greater awareness of packaging waste, plans for future stock sharing, more composting and worm farms, pest animal control, greater use of public transport and tree planting, steps are being taken.
“Being part of the competition has made a difference to lives – people wave, stop and talk. There’s also more awareness of the green things different people are doing. We learn and challenge through observation,” said Leanne.