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The garden that grows teenagers

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Greymouth is home to a special garden that grows youths as well as food.

A youngster’s unfortunate choice led to the idea of restoring a neglected garden as part of his community service and learning.

A young lad chose to vandalise some disused school buildings. A referral was made as an ‘alternative action’ by the Police, and Snapshot Youth Service worked with him [the lad] to help make things right.

Snapshot Youth Service harnesses community goodwill to provide a learning experience for youth in need of support and to give them tools for resilience.

They approached the building’s owners, Mawhera Incorporation, to suggest tidying up the unkempt vegetable garden on the property as part of the youth’s community service.

Mawhera was all too happy to have this happen because it would tidy up the outward visage of the property and maintain a regular presence at the site.

In the early days the garden was in need of some TLC.

Slowly, but surely, the garden was brought to some semblance of order. Weeds were pulled. Plants pruned and tidied. But the garden is a place for far more than just yard work.

The quiet, one-on-one, side-by-side work provides an opportunity to build a co-operative relationship with youth.

It is a place to discuss thoughts that surface in the quiet of gardening. This non-confrontational space allows for reflection and can be a more comfortable setting to discuss difficult issues.

Snapshot’s Senior Youth Worker, Estelle Connell, says, “The garden is a space where we can just tune out from other stuff in life.

It lets our youths slow down enough to consider what might be going on for them.

“And we’re down there on the ground getting our hands dirty together. There’s a kind of connection in that.”

Connecting with food

There is also the chance to reconnect youth with the concept of where food comes from. All too often in our modern society, New Zealanders are blissfully ignorant of the processes and timescales of food creation.

Being introduced in a hands-on way to soil preparation, planting, maintenance and harvesting gives youth an appreciation, beyond their standard supermarket experience of what food is.

Plants are not always removed once they have produced fruit either. They are allowed to go to seed to show the different cycles plants go through.

Some turn into new and interesting things that the youths may never have seen before or equated with food.

These days the garden flourishes with vibrant growth and food.

This is one of several informal ties that Snapshot maintains with local businesses and organisations that support a kaupapa of proactive engagement to guide those who need guidance.

It is a pathway that is in contrast with the prevailing culture of crime and punishment, which waits until after people have made mistakes. Where we see compassion and caring being used as a turning point for people experiencing turbulent times.

Community support

As the garden project has progressed, locals have offered seeds and garden supplies. Its inception also happened to coincide with Hokitika’s Community Garden having to relocate.

The Hokitika garden’s custodian, Sue Tuffnell, kindly donated many tools, mature plants and seedlings to the Greymouth-based project.

In return, when the garden was producing many excess strawberry plants, Snapshot made these plants available to the community.

Many recipients chose to donate money towards future garden supplies and it now flourishes with a variety of new plants.

The garden has become a visual manifestation of Coasters’ co-operative community attitude.

Snapshot wished to thank all those who have contributed to helping grow the teenagers.

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For more information:

For Snapshot Youth Service click here 

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