The catastrophic bushfire season and the sobering reality of climate change has left a lot of us feeling anxious, upset and despondent.
It was in response to this hopelessness that the group Tree Growers of the Inner West (and beyond) came about. The three-year community project aims to rapidly green private land in the Inner West, help people learn about landcare and sustainability, and eventually grow new habitat in bushfire-affected areas. It’s also an eco-therapy project, meaning it’s a way to combat that feeling of despair by working with nature and contributing meaningfully to the climate crisis.
Sound like something interesting that you’d like to get involved in? Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the project actually about?
The project has three stages:
- Stage one is creating urban habitats and edible gardens in the Inner West and beyond and will be happening this year.
- Stage two is creating rural habitats by raising seedlings for Landcare Australia’s One Million Trees program, which aims to add a million native trees to the Greater Sydney area by 2022.
- Stage three is growing even more habitat, both urban and rural, and continuing to develop the edible gardens.
The end goal is to create sustainable communities made up of knowledgeable land carers, and to grow new wildlife habitat in bushfire-ravaged areas—although the group is still figuring out the practicalities of making that last one happen.
Who’s running it?
The Inner West Council, the Greater Sydney Landcare Network, the Habitat Network and the Bower are all supporting the project in some way. But it was started, and is still run by, a bunch of regular Inner Westies. They got together at the Marrickville Metro in January to organise a bushfire-relief food drive, and managed to collect 25 tonnes of food and necessities. They saw how the community came together to respond to the bushfire crisis, and that’s how the seeds of the Tree Growers project were planted.
What do members have to do?
This year is all about getting residents, schools and other facilities to plant edible gardens and habitat havens on their properties. Greening urban spaces will provide food and shelter for pollinators and wildlife, including bushfire refugee birds that have fled to the cities. And if we increase the tree canopy enough we could even cool down the city.
You don’t need to have a garden to take part: you can plant in your backyard, courtyard, on a balcony or even a windowsill. You can foster a tray of seedlings to be planted elsewhere, or join a working bee and help establish a garden at a school. The group provides lots of support, from workshops and events, to vouchers for free plants, and even a buddy system that pairs new and experienced gardeners.
My space is really small. Is growing a few plants really going to make a difference?
Around 70-80% of the Inner West council area is privately owned land, so the idea is that all those little patches of greenery will really add up. A big part of this project is finding realistic ways to have an impact, without changing our entire lives. “We don’t need to join a radical protest group or quit our job; for most of us that’s simply not possible,” says co-founder and project manager Angie Contini. “But we can choose to participate in carefully planned smaller projects which collectively make a huge difference.”
I’m in. How do I sign up?
Join the Facebook group and follow @treegrowersecolove on Instagram. Although the project started in the Inner West, it’s open to anyone, and organisers are happy to help people start Tree Growers groups in other areas. “We’re working to develop a fluid model that allows any other community to begin similar projects,” says Contini. “But if any community can offer a strong model for active change, it’s ours.”