What is a sustainable community? Part 1

Apr 25, 2023 | News

As we approach the Annual General Meeting, it is timely to revisit the concept of a sustainable community and Sustainable Macleod’s purpose and place in the community.

The name ‘Sustainable Macleod’ was chosen for our organisation to indicate that our purpose was to contribute to making our local community more able to adapt to changes in both the short and long term.

We became aware of the work of local and international transitions groups early on, including Transition Banyule, who we partnered with to host the 2018 Transition to a Safe Climate Conference. The Conference featured an address by Ian Dunlop, former Chair of the Australian Coal Association, and now a highly-respected advocate for the transition away from fossil fuel use. We have worked and continue to do so, with the local Transition Groups.

Connection with other sustainability groups has been crucial in developing our own community of members and expanding our impact beyond the local area. We continue to work with groups across Banyule, including Neighbourhood Houses, running workshops with them and using each other’s facilities to host events.

Essential in this process has been the connection with Banyule City Council. Very early in our development, inviting our local councillor to support us reaped benefits. Tom Melican who was, and remains our local member, supported our drive for a community garden and negotiated with Council for funding for the fence and initial costs.

Working to promote a thriving local community was a foundation for Sustainable Macleod. Using the learnings from the Transition Town movement, we understood the importance of supporting a vibrant, healthy local economy – in our case, the Macleod Village shops and local professional and tradespeople – to ensure the resilience of the local community.

Initially, sharing home-grown produce at the Vegie Swap provided a way of meeting local residents and encouraging them to come together. Using the Macleod Village Rotunda to host the Vegie Swap helped our connection with the Macleod VillageTraders. The highlight of our interaction with the Macleod Traders has been the Green Auctions – where local businesses offered items or vouchers for auction, with the proceeds going to the Sustainable Macleod Community Garden. The Auctions involved a large number of our members, detailed organisation and weeks of work. The public response was overwhelming and the auctions, and accompanying plant sales, raised more than $13,000 over 3 years. In recognition of the support from the Traders, especially in their donations to the Green Auctions each year, each Trader is given a tray of tomato seedlings from the Sustainable Macleod plant sale each Spring. The plant sales are another event which encourages local residents to connect.

Promoting and demonstrating sustainability has been a central aspect of our purpose. To achieve this, it has been important to build a successful community garden. Fundraising and grants have allowed us to build significant infrastructure at the community garden. Each of these grants connected local benefits, such as growing food for members, with the broader picture of the climate emergency. Saving water using wicking beds, shading the orchard, establishing a solar power system and other projects all stood as local models for how to adapt to, and help mitigate, the impact of climate change.

Over the years, we have established many connections and partnerships with other groups and individuals. The most obvious one has been with Macleod College, who have made the community garden land available, as well as allowing us to use their facilities for events, including the Clean Energy Expo to be held in October this year. Supporting BANSIC with surplus produce from both the community garden and members’ gardens has been another.

The Sustainable Macleod commitment to helping build a sustainable community meant that we chose a communal model of gardening at the community garden, without individual plots. This requires coordination with an agreed approach to management. In contrast to an individual plot garden, this model also allows members of the community to visit and take part in workshops and events, some of which are run in conjunction with other groups and the Council.

Years of successful activity in the community have given our group a well-respected voice. Sustainable Macleod is constantly consulted by Council officers and by local MPs. One recent expression of this is the invitation to Sustainable Macleod to be part of the Banyule Urban Food Strategy Working Group. We have previously made submissions on local issues, including the food strategy, which we see as ensuring that our whole community has access to fresh, nutritious food.

For Sustainable Macleod, the notion of sustainability encompasses being a supportive contributor to the wider community, being a voice in local decision-making and drawing the attention of the community to the big picture issues, such as climate change.

Next month I will take a broader look at sustainable communities.

Written by Paul Gale-Baker, President

Read the next article in this 2 part series

What is a sustainable community? Part 2: Inclusion, diversity and belonging