Clarification for Community Gardens

Updated 19th July 2021:

No bulldozers.
No commercial development. 

The Community Gardens will remain Community Gardens.

The section of land at Collingwood Children’s Farm known as the ‘Community Gardens’ are temporarily closed. We understand our community of gardeners are saddened by the temporary closure; however this area has been deemed an extreme safety risk for children, gardeners, the community, and farm staff by an external safety consultant.

Collingwood Children’s Farm Committee of Management made this decision in line with best practice guidelines that prioritise community safety and assist committees when dealing with risk management.

– Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP
Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change & Minister for Solar Homes

Community is at the heart of all decisions made at CCF. We are saddened by the sorrow this has caused however we also want to ensure that everyone is aware of the facts. There are several misconceptions about this temporary closure, these are clarified below.

  • The site is not being bulldozed. Every effort will be taken to maintain the soil integrity during any remediation works. Machinery will be used to remove some materials more efficiently and safely.
  • The site will remain a Community Garden. The land is not being sold. No commercial development is taking place.
  • This is not about snakes. Yes, snakes are identified as a concern in the report due to the current condition of the gardens, but this is not the main reason for the temporary closure. The combination of multiple hazards within the gardens creates an even greater risk of serious injury. 
  • The current condition and layout of the gardens are not only unsafe; but do not allow safe access for children, the elderly and those who are mobility diverse. The gardens have become an exclusive space separated from the wider community because of this.
  • Gardening will not stop. The current gardeners will be invited to return to the space and will be included in the refreshed Community Gardens. In the interim, subject to covid restrictions, we will seek to enable current gardeners to continue to garden at the farm. A list of opportunities to remain engaged with the farm and gardens are provided on our website and will be updated as more opportunities arise.
  • Healthcare card holders who rely on produce grown in the CCF community garden and who experience food insecurity are offered produce from the CCF market garden.
  • All plot holders will have their fees fully reimbursed.  

The Farm has been working with the Community Gardeners to try and improve safety in the gardens since 2018. Throughout this time, the gardeners were alerted to safety concerns via multiple channels and their support was sought to improve the condition of the gardens. Sadly, the enormity of the project to make the site safe, and to improve accessibility has been too great.

We understand that our response to these safety hazards might seem unreasonable to those currently using the gardens and to able-bodied individuals, however, these hazards are preventing a significant proportion of our community from being able to access this space safely and allowing them to also enjoy the magic and extensive benefits of gardening.

Our aims and responsibilities

Collingwood Children’s Farm provides community engagement, education and nature connection with green space and animals. CCF works to support social inclusion with a range of programs on a working community farm and is a haven for children and adults alike.

CCF aims to develop self-esteem, self-worth, and connectedness, particularly of children and those experiencing adversity.

CCF aims to facilitate participation of children and their families in broader community life and a connection to nature.

CCF aims to provide educational opportunities around urban agriculture for students and community as well as pathways to further employment.

In addition to being a safe and accessible space, our refreshed community gardens will deliver these aims for the benefit and inclusion of all. 

We have a duty of care for the safety of all at the Farm, and we cannot ignore the safety advice received.

We cannot compromise on safety; this is not an optional feature of the gardens. However, we can consult on the design and structure of the rejuvenated gardens and will do so extensively.

If you have any questions, we encourage you to email us at [email protected]

Kind regards,

Conor 

Temporary closure of our Community Gardens

On Thursday, 27 May we received a safety report from an external safety consultant about our Community Gardens. To say that the findings were not good, would be an understatement. The report identified major safety issues and concluded that the site is unsafe for gardeners, the community, and Farm staff. Several factors were rated as an extremely high risk, requiring immediate action.

The works required to fix the issues are significant and go to the very heart of the layout, structure, and design of the gardens.

Following receipt of the report, the Committee of Management reluctantly decided to temporarily close the Community Garden in order to implement the report’s recommendations.  

Our Community Garden brings immense joy to our Community Garden members. We will be doing everything we can to ease the impact of this closure and keep our gardeners connected and active during this time.

We will be providing alternative opportunities at the Farm for our Community Garden members to garden and maintain their social and physical well-being during the closure. 

Healthcare card holders who relied on produce grown in the CCF community garden and who experience food insecurity are offered produce from the CCF market garden.

While this will be an emotional and difficult transition for our Community Garden members, we hope that this will allow the Community Gardens to sprout again, not just safer, but more accessible and more inclusive than before.

Questions & Answers

Recently the Farm has had to temporarily close the CCF Community Gardens, this has raised many questions and some myths. Below we address the frequently asked questions. Will will also be providing updates via our newsletter and social media. Once re-built, the Community Gardens will be more inclusive, accessible and productive than ever before!

This temporary closure is in direct response to the findings of an independent risk assessment report that found multiple hazards rated ‘Extreme’ and
‘High’, requiring immediate corrective action, and for associated activities to immediately cease.
Hazards identified in the report include:
• Slip, trip, fall: Impaled (Extreme)
• Slip, trip, fall: Laceration (Extreme)
• Snakes, hot weather (Extreme)
• Slip, trip, fall: Uneven surfaces raised ground (High)
• Slip, trip, fall: Uneven surfaces, slippery (High)
Community is at the heart of all decisions made at CCF and we acknowledge the sorrow this temporary closure has caused.

The Farm has been working with a working group of community garden members in an effort to improve safety in the gardens since 2018. Throughout
this time, community gardeners were alerted to safety concerns via multiple channels and their support was sought to improve the condition of the
gardens.
Sadly, the enormity of the project to make the site safe and to improve accessibility, has been too great. The continued decline of the community garden
site prompted the Farm to commission an independent risk assessment report, the results of which forced the immediate closure of the site and guide
our actions today.

Yes.
The findings of the risk assessment report make it very clear that allowing any access to the site in its current state would place CCF in breach of the
OHS Act 2004 (The Act) and the duty owed to employees, contractors and others (being members of the public, including community garden members),
specifically:
• Section 21 (1)(a) An employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees of the employer a working environment
that is safe and without risks to health.
• Section 23 (1) An employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to
risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer.
Just like you, Farm employees have the right to a safe workplace, and the way in which this has been publicly ridiculed and dismissed by some in the
community and in the media has been extremely distressing for our staff.

Because the hazards are embedded, widespread and inherent to the very layout of the site and the unsafe / inappropriate materials used throughout. And because when it comes to workplace safety, the Farm will not compromise; a whole-of-site approach is necessary.

As the independent risk assessment makes clear, it is not enough to cap star pickets and wipe our hands of the collective package of safety and accessibility works. Pathways must be levelled, widened and resurfaced, access must comply with accessibility standards, collapsing retaining walls must be removed and substandard ad hoc structures and dangerous materials throughout the site must be removed.

The community garden will not be bulldozed. Great care will be taken to maintain soil integrity during remediation works. Where necessary, light machinery, such as skid steer loaders (‘bobcats’) may be used to remove some materials safely.

For many years, a piecemeal approach has been taken towards safety and accessibility in the community garden. Despite the best intentions, working bees, and monthly meetings, remediation has not progressed at anywhere the pace and scale needed to make gardens safe and accessible; the scope of works is too large. The Farm will no longer be taking a piecemeal approach. As part of this process, the Farm needs to engage with all stakeholders to
understand how the space is used, could be used, and how it should be designed. Then safety and accessibility works will be undertaken as part of a holistic approach, re-establishing the community gardens for the next 40 years.

Yes, absolutely.

The community garden will remain a community garden, but safe, inclusive, equitable and accessible for all.

Despite an ongoing campaign of misinformation, you can rest assured that the land isn’t being sold, ‘corporatised’ or developed. The community garden site, like the rest of the Farm, sits on Wurundjeri-Woiwurrung Country currently known as Crown Land Reserve and the garden site is well below the flood line – the Farm could not sell or develop the land, even if it wanted to.

Safety and accessibility issues have led to the community garden becoming a locked space that excludes Farm members and the wider community. While efforts have been made over the years to address these concerns, they have not been effective.

The current state of the community garden site excludes a huge portion of the community; people with reduced mobility, people with disability, people who are blind or have low vision, community groups, school groups – the list goes on.

The garden has become an exclusive gated space, and we wish to address this and make it accessible for everyone.

There are no secret plans. The Farm is committed to re-opening the community garden as a safe, inclusive, equitable and accessible space but to do so, we need your input and your help.

At present, the community garden at the Farm is made up of 41 individual plots, 6 shared plots, 5 communal plots and 8 community plots. We’ve been asked some important questions over the past few weeks; how can a plot be monopolised by a single family for decades while the waitlist continues to grow?; why were some current gardeners allowed to ‘inherit’ their plot from their relatives rather than the vacated plot being offered to the next in line on the waitlist?; why do some gardeners who no longer live locally, keep their plot?; why do professionals earning considerable salaries, with their own home gardens keep plots when others who rent and live in apartments do not have access?; and why the Farm is subsidising individuals who retain
effectively privatised plots for no public benefit?

These questions raise the issue of equity, and how the governance of the space must focus on fair access and generating public good. So what would a safe, inclusive and accessible community garden look like for you? For your family? For your students? For community groups? What happens there? Who visits? Who benefits?

Are you a confident gardener, or would a supported program with a horticulturist break down barriers to inclusion? Would you wish to grow food for yourself and people you know, or would you also like to grow for people in need? Do you know what you would want to grow or would the chance to work alongside and learn from ATSI people and people from CALD backgrounds who are familiar with different food plants and different growing methods excite you? Should there be spaces for children to grow food, harvest and participate in a holistic field-to-plate experience?

Send us pictures and examples! Tell us your big dreams for the space, filled with excitement!!
Send your ideas, your dreams and your needs to: [email protected] or fill out the form below.

The Farm acknowledges that the whole Farm sits on the land and waters of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people. The Farm is committed to working with Traditional Owners to recognise cultural connection to the area, and identify Traditional Owner perspectives and goals for appropriate land use. Further, the longevity of the Community Garden, going right back to the Farm’s beginnings, is a vital part of the Farm’s history and heritage. In 1979 the Farm provided post-war migrants with the chance to maintain food gardening traditions they brought with them from countries such as Greece and Turkey. We’re committed to acknowledging this history and heritage and to providing a community growing space for diverse food traditions, including Traditional Owners, new groups of migrants and refugees. The Farm has undertaken preliminary discussions with the relevant authorities at both the Federal and State levels to ensure that we understand our legal obligations under various legislations. Formal approval (where applicable) will be sought prior works commence on-site.

The Farm is a Crown Land Reserve managed by a Committee of Management appointed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. The Committee consists of 11 independent volunteers who are elected by the members, and a Councillor appointed by Yarra City Council. The Farm runs many programs and includes many different areas, one of which is the CCF Community Garden.

We are a not-for-profit organisation which exists to improve the lives of children, the disadvantaged, disabled, unemployed and marginalised persons within the Victorian community (Children and Disadvantaged Persons) by providing inclusive services and support to build independence and quality of life for Children and Disadvantaged Persons by delivering a range of programs from a rustic community working farm.

The Committee of Management takes their responsibility to ensure safety at the Farm seriously. There are regular safety audits across the site, including the management of buildings, animal and tree health, risks associated with the shared path and many other risks. 

An informal safety audit of the Community Gardens was carried out in 2018 and the response to mitigate the risks identified included: (a) starting a Working Group of gardeners, CCF staff and committee members; (b) developing a handbook; and (c)  running working bees to address hazards. 

While these were somewhat effective, the Committee recently heard that there were safety and inaccessibility concerns. The Committee themselves inspected the site and then sought out an independent audit to clarify what the key hazards were. The hazards and safety risks identified in the report meant that the Committee was obligated to close the site until it could guarantee the safety of the site, under its responsibilities in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

Ultimately, the responsibility to manage safety at the Farm sits with the Committee, and this cannot be waived, delegated or divested to a group of gardeners or any other group. 

We, the Committee, have a duty of care for the safety of all at the Farm. As such, we have reluctantly decided to temporarily close the Community Garden consistent with and in order to give effect to the safety report’s recommendations. This is not only to protect the visitors to the Community Gardens site but to protect the entire Collingwood Children’s Farm.

We know this will come as a shock; however, we must do what is right and safe for our gardeners and community.

All plot fees will be reimbursed in full.

We are exploring opportunities at the Farm for our Community Garden members to garden and to maintain their social and physical well-being during the temporary closure. The opportunities being explored include:

  • Volunteering with our horticulture team in the various gardens throughout the Farm;
  • Volunteering within our market garden to grow food for sale and for those experiencing adversity – including the opportunity to take home some fresh produce;
  • A regular social gathering of Community Garden members, with free entry to the Farm during the closure – to continue to connect with each other and the land over a cuppa and a walk through the Farm; and
  • Joining in the community-building activities when the community gardens are rebuilt.

Please email [email protected] if you would like to participate in the above opportunities.  

Yes. We will be supporting our members to rehome their plants during the temporary closure. Now that the Victorian lockdown has lifted, we are working through the OHS control measures needed to facilitate this process.

The site will be cleared. All materials and infrastructure on the site will be removed and disposed of appropriately. Once the site is made safe again, the Farm will determine the best temporary use for the land while the design process is taking place. This may involve growing food for charity, and if so the current Community Gardeners will be able to work alongside the Horticulture team in growing those crops. Once the design and fundraising steps are complete, the site will be rebuilt as a Community Garden. 

No. The Farm is a Crown Land Reserve managed by a Committee made up of unpaid volunteer members. No land will be sold. The Farm is committed to rebuilding a Community Garden where local people can reconnect with the earth, with gardening, and with each other. The Farm is looking at making the Community Garden more physically accessible, and also more socially accessible for our entire community. 

This is a significant project and will require fundraising.

While the Farm was lucky enough to receive funding under the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Building Works scheme in 2020, this is a capital works package tied to specific projects on-Farm.  The funding stream does not apply to the redesign and rebuild of the CCF Community Garden.

The Farm was closed for many months during the Victorian lockdowns in 2020. During this time, some animals moved off-site, including both of our cows – this is standard practice as we do not have a bull at the Farm.  Happily Finna has returned to the Farm but very sadly, Daphne recently passed away – a huge loss to the Farm and to the staff who cared for her every day.  In happier news, her son has come to live at the Farm and is being halter trained as we speak!

While other livestock levels are stable, the Farm does breed sheep and goats onsite and some offspring are sold to other farms / landowners. Movement of animals on and off the property is expected throughout the year. 

When you visit the Farm, you will see some paddocks without livestock, this is standard practice, to allow pasture to rejuvenate before welcoming the animals to resume grazing again.  While in a petting zoo environment you might expect to see every space crammed with animals, this is not sustainable for us, and would result in barren paddocks, poor soil health and would lead to unacceptable animal welfare outcomes.  Rotating and resting paddocks, along with cell grazing are just two of the steps the Farm is taking on its journey toward regenerative agriculture.  

Happily, the Farm is open to the public once again, and it’s wonderful to see our visitors patting the goats, laughing at the pigs, brushing the cow, saying hello to the ponies, watching the chickens, marvelling at the peacocks, cuddling the guinea pigs, being squawked at by the geese, and on occasion, watching the sheep being shorn.

If you are a healthcare card holder and reliant upon the produce you grow at the CCF community garden, please contact us via [email protected]. We will support you directly with produce from the market garden and / or via our partner organisations.

All community garden members are invited to maintain their connection to community with volunteering opportunities across the Farm’s gardens, sharing in produce as production permits.  For more information, please contact us via [email protected] 

The works will be co-managed by the Farm’s horticultural team to ensure that minimal disruption to the soil occurs. We are passionate about regenerative farming and will do everything we can to maintain the quality of the soil in the community gardens – however, safety is our main priority at this time.

Initial works to clear the hazards from the site and make it safe will be completed as soon as is practicable. 

Redeveloping the Community Gardens is a significant project requiring detailed planning, budget, and consultation with the community. A detailed timeline for the completion of the new Community Gardens is being actively worked on and is a priority for the Committee.

Updates on our progress with this project will be published in our newsletter, on our website, and via social media. We will reach out with opportunities to provide input into the design and construction of the new Community Gardens. 

Contribute your idea to rejuvenate the Community Garden

The specific designs (or landscape architects) for the rejuvenated Community Gardens are not yet known. They will however, still overflow with herbs and vegetables and flowers. They will have accessible paths, and regular taps and seating. They will honour the history of the Community Gardens, the Farm, and the history of the precinct. They will be welcoming, inclusive and demonstrate to all how productive a small area can be, hopefully encouraging many more to take up gardening. 

If you have a vision for the new CCF Community Garden, feel free to send in images or ideas which we can collate and send on to the landscape architects. Also, the Design Concept will be open for consultation, so let us know if you would like to be informed when consultation opens. 

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