Changing lives by cultivating a community garden

From left to right: Raja Singh, Raju Ramakrishna, Lali Ranvir Singh, Sabhi Bolina and Teetu Singh.

In August 2017, the Takaanini Gurdwara Sri Kalgidhar Sahib Temple started a community garden initiative in collaboration with Healthy Families South Auckland (HFSA), to sow new plantations for fresh vegetables and fruits.

Four years on, the leaders of the Temple, Raja Singh, Daljit Singh and Lali Ranvir Singh are the driving force behind the garden, creating sustainable change that is owned by the community.

The temple feeds thousands of people in South Auckland for free every week through their community kitchen and food bank. They’re able to provide the community, many of whom are low-income families, access to fresh local produce.

“The garden isn’t for financial gain, it’s for community service and promoting healthier lifestyles. Many of us are vegetarian and we encourage people to live plant-based for good health,” says Lali Ranvir Singh, President of Gurdwara Sri Kalgidhar Sahib Temple.

The 1.5 acre garden, located alongside the temple, fell into a foliage of weeds and debris following construction work at the grounds and lack of resources last year.

However, in November 2020, the garden was back in action after a working bee cleared the path to seed new vegetables and fruits, which are currently blooming watermelons, eggplants and squash.

Picking up where they left off was easy, with many Sikh members coming from traditional farming backgrounds.

“Everyone coming from India has knowledge of growing and harvesting organic produce,” says Daljit Singh, Spokesperson for the Sikh Society.

Lead Gardener, Raja Singh

Raja Singh worked as a farmer in Pukekohe for over 15 years before leaving the field to start his own successful car parts business in Ōtara. He is now giving back by leading the project and teaching others how to grow their own vegetables.

“We want to do it for our children so they can learn how veggies grow and understand what it takes,” says Raja.

“This experience has taught me that it takes a lot of work and dedication, especially because we rely on volunteers. Sometimes I bring my own staff in to work the garden, we’re hoping to get more youth and members involved,” he said.

“We just signed on four horticultural students volunteers who will work eight hours every weekend with us and we’re working with the Sikh Heritage School to get more students in,” adds Daljit.

The community garden started with a co-design challenge led by Settings Coordination Manager Raju Ramakrishna, who worked alongside the Temple’s community leaders to think differently about how to best utilise their 11 acre compound.

“This to me is the real golden nugget because even though Healthy Families South Auckland and The Southern Initiative helped start the garden in 2017, it’s solely being driven by the community now,” says Raju.

“This is a social change in action which can be replicated all over Aotearoa to strengthen the prevention system, activate innovation and support healthier choices in the places we live, work and play,” he adds.

Raju would like to see more community involvement, with plans to harvest 460 new food plants.

“It takes people to sow the garden and there are truckloads coming through those temple gates. Going forward, it’s about inspiring them to give back and create a spirit of reciprocal exchange,” says Raju.