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Beaufort Blokes Community Garden

A 16-plot, all abilities access, community garden built by the Beaufort Blokes group in Victoria, Australia.

by Carolyn Payne

Beaufort Blokes is a community group supported by the local health department. They meet twice a month — one week they have lunch and play cards and board games, the other week they take a bus trip to visit district attractions.

The Blokes themselves consist of about 25 retired gentlemen ranging in age from 50 to 90 plus. Most have health issues. All have great life experiences and loads of stories to tell.

In 2010 the Blokes group visited the Ballarat community garden and became inspired to start their own. They spent several months trying to find a location for their garden. The local RSL (Returned and Services League) were happy to have the garden installed on their grounds as it helps to create some stability for them, with the continuity of site use. (Many RSLs have been turned into poker machine venues to maintain profitability or the sites have been sold off for house blocks.) By creating an additional community use on this land it helps strengthen it as a community resource.

The funding for the construction of the garden came from a federally funded, Health Department grant called the Healthy Communities Initiative. This initiative has set up many small activities such as community lunches, mobile tool trailers and Zumba dance classes. In their next round of activities they are doing a street harvest and community preserving project. (The advertised job position called for someone with permaculture experience! Let’s hope this means lots of people wanting to take a PDC.)

The Healthy Community Initiative acknowledges that keeping people active in their community is a key to maintaining good physical and mental health, and that people have a broad range of interests, therefore many different and small activities are better than one or two larger ones.

The job brief

Create a raised bed, easy access, community garden, with a minimum of eight participants, male, aged between 18 and 80, not currently employed.

The budget: Approx. $8000

  • Wages $3000
  • Sleepers $3000
  • Soil $1000
  • Plumbing $500
  • Nuts, bolts, screws, misc. $500

We made 16 raised beds of varying heights, 7 beds x 2 sleepers high , 8 x 3 sleepers high and one bed 4 sleepers high.

Each bed is 1.5 x 2.5 metres.

A few before and after photos:

Mown strips to mark where the plots will go

6 months later on was our open day — the locals came out to inspect
the progress and have a cuppa.

More before and after:

The carpet was a great grass suppressant for under the wood chips.
It came from several houses and the local motel after they were flooded.

The site changed day by day — as plots were built they were quickly colonised.

There were many facets to this project, tangible and intangible.

Once I had my minimum of eight target group plot holders, I could release the rest of the plots for any community members. All are now taken, some members have more than one.

The able bodied members of the Beaufort Blokes group constructed the beds with plenty of onlookers, supporters and general cheek-givers standing by.

We took ten weeks to do the bulk of the work, meeting twice a week, working all morning, and then having lunch together.

On the surface the garden looks very generic and formal and many will question where the permaculture comes in. But, believe me, this site is all about permanent agriculture and permanent culture.

Value for money, the equation

Was the money well spent?

Wages: $3000. I didn’t really get that much in hand, the government took its share in tax and some went into superannuation and insurance. What I did get I spent in the community as much as I could, supporting local traders, second hand shops and the hardware shop buying fencing material for my property.

Sleepers: $2000 went to a local timber supplier for some of the sleepers and the wood chip mulch.

$1500 went to the local hardware shop for some of the timber and the nuts and bolts.

Soil: $900 went to a local earthworks company, who sell the leftover soil from earthworks jobs. I used two different types, poor quality yellow clay loam for the bottom of the boxes and better quality grey clay loam for the top soil. I had lots of opportunities to talk creative earthworks and swales with this guy, and he has since put in 2 kms of swales for me. (Had to have that essential conversation about swale drains versus swales, as he only understood drainage up to that point.)

$100 to a local scout for sheep manure (he was raising funds to go to the world scout jamboree in Sweden).

Plumber: $500. I found a green plumber who has lots of contacts and experiences with reed beds, biolytics, rellin drains, and he has plumbed out various straw bale, mud brick and alternative type houses. A very handy guy to know.

The Blokes themselves chipped in a couple of dollars each week for their lunch so I spent it on bread rolls from the local bakery, it was the end of summer and I had plenty of salad veggies, this inspired lots of conversations about seed saving and heritage vegetables.

When assessing the value of a project such as this you can’t weigh it up in terms of vegetable production verses dollars spent and imagining some point in time when $8000 worth of produce will have been picked.

It doesn’t work like that.

In a world of unstable systems and lack of permanence you sometimes have to leverage unstable resources and fossil energy to tip a system over into the beginnings of permanence.

For me, baby steps and transitioning of ideas is all I can manage to achieve.

I had many different conversations with the Blokes over the ten weeks and the question of whether the garden was good value for money, as often people are cynical of government schemes and see vast sums of money vanish with little to show for it.

I came up with my own perspective on the comparative value of this site.

I have given each plot an approximate construction value of $500 (16 plots x $500 = $8000) and supposing 16 plot holders, or between 10 and 20 regular participants on the project, all that has to happen for each of those 16 people is that they stay out of hospital for two whole days less in their entire lives, and the money will have been well spent.

Or lets say that four of the blokes are now so much fitter from their activity and participation that they won’t need an ambulance trip to the nearest large hospital (it’s a two thousand dollar trip, I know, I have taken it myself, I fell over and cracked two ribs!).

So looking at it from the health perspective (it’s a health grant) it doesn’t take much to see where the finances balance out.

In very simple terms, by raising the health level of people you can keep them out of hospital. Hospitals are expensive beyond comprehension, and of course only really work in a heavily fossil fuel subsidized way.

The other values of this project get to be measured in as many ways as you can imagine.

These men all worked with great fellowship and camaraderie, sharing their experiences with each other and working with a war effort fervor, all pitching in — handy fellas to have around in a pinch.

I got many of them to reminisce about their younger days — their wealth of knowledge on low fossil fuel living is of great importance, they just don’t know it yet.

They constantly quizzed me on my permaculture perspective on things, often adding their own comments like, “but that’s just common sense”!!!

The site itself looks great and is generating a lot of interest in the community, we have had four stories in the local paper and they contact us now on slow news weeks and use us as a ‘space filler’. Great exposure.

The site is not fenced, so anyone can walk around it and have a look. We decided that vandalism was more likely than theft but even 10ft high razor wire wouldn’t keep out anyone determined to trash the place. It’s a small town and I feel confident we won’t see any trouble.

We installed the worm farm at the edge of the rear access ramp, beside the kitchen door. Anyone who uses the hall can easily put their compostables in it.

As for food production, we are growing plenty. We had more zucchinis and button squash than we had talent for using, and we had more tatsoi and mizuna than we could give away ( a few more cooking classes will help).

Everyone’s Brussels sprouts bolted to seed, they went in a little too late (they got taken home for chook food).

A few of the guys bought carrots in punnets, which became a stunted, tangled mess. A simple carrot seed sowing lesson set the guys, and the carrots, straight. (sow thinly, don’t cover with soil, water well and lay a board over the row until germination)

We had heaps of broccoli, and I had to get everyone over the prejudice of wanting to pull the plant out after the central head was cut. We have extended the broccoli plant life by months, they all understand it now they have seen how many side picks you get. And the true taste of chemical free broccoli has been experienced.

Kale was a great introduction and we had plenty of frosts so it had good flavor.

We have begun using our surplus produce at the Community lunches.

Lets meet some of the Blokes

From left to right: Dennis, Richard, Barry (behind), Tony and Trevor

Tony, retired farmer, severe arthritis, needs a walker, has two plots, both three sleepers high, one plot is full of herbs for everyone to share, his other plot, full of his favorites, parsnips and spinach.

Richard, over 90, walks 200 metres on his walker from the nursing home to the garden every day. Gives away everything he grows. He has been recruiting some of his fellow nursing home mates to come for the walk with him. I see them talking to others and socializing down the street on their way — that stuff is priceless.

Dennis, retired timber cutter, arthritis, deaf as a post, but fit and active, bed two sleepers high, carrots, broccoli, cabbage. He worked very hard during the construction phase.

Trevor, 50s former IT guy, brain tumor left him unable to keep his balance, plot four sleepers high so he doesn’t bend at all, shares his produce with his sister. She has loved the fresh food so much she got her own garden back up and going at home. It’s a real ripple out effect.

Barry, ex wharfie, big on social justice and community development, loves permaculture and can’t get enough. Supplied all the tools for the garden construction and he was the backbone of the motivation in getting this project going.

And Laurie, he has been everywhere and done everything, absolute trooper, cancer survivor, over 80 so they took his drivers license away, but he can park his scooter up nice and close to his plot as the isles are good and wide. Encyclopedic knowledge on food security, knows how to kill, cook and eat every animal, bird and reptile you can name (childhood of absolute poverty) two plots, three sleepers high, peas, cabbage, broccoli, radish, carrots, broad beans, turnips. His plots supply him with his entire consumption of fresh vegetables, not bad on an area 1.5x 5 metres. It really helps stretch his pension.

I hope this helps measure the un-measureables.

I will gladly take questions on this project.


  1. A wonderful project Carolyn! Transitioning from a monoculture grassed lawn to a functional & productive community space will always be a process of succession; the structured raised allotments are essential step on that journey. What a treat to be introduced to some of the beautiful blokes – they look like true characters, and well up for some fun in the sun with dirty hands. And thanks for the break-down of details as well – I will be passing this onto my dad who’s working to set-up a community garden on church land for local immigrant populations.

  2. Very inspiring! Thank you for such good documentation & sharing! We have a plot & people right here in town that need to see your example & step by step accomplishment. Thank you!

  3. Seems like a very well organised and well thought out project, and by the looks and sounds of it, a very well received project by the community and the contributors. Let’s hope projects like this can continue to spread!

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