Growing from the rooftops


We aim to share the many stories a garden can tell

A rooftop garden is all set to flourish in Sydney’s inner city, and the fruits of volunteers’ labour will in turn be used to nourish disadvantaged members of the local community.

The St Canice’s Rooftop Garden Project is the brainchild of St Canice’s parishioner Rob Caslick, who runs a weekly organic soup kitchen as part of the parish’s outreach for local people in need. The kitchen is situated below the offices of Jesuit Refugee Service, which boast the rarity of a spacious rooftop.

‘We have been looking to create a garden to grow our produce for a while and didn’t need to look further than our own rooftop,’ explains Rob.

Motivated by the promise of a fresh produce source right here in the city, Rob rallied the local community and was overwhelmed by their support. A crowd-funding campaign was launched and almost $30,000 was raised from more than 200 donors.

The project soon began attracting attention from organisations such as the Royal Botanic Gardens and from high-profile Australians: ABC gardener Costa reached out and Jill Dupleix – food writer and curator of the food component for TedxSydney 2014, which worked with refugee and asylum seeker organisations to produce a communal meal – asked the team to grow herbs for use as a seasoning. Their offering was thirty pots, grown on JRS’ rooftop.

The garden has been designed by two of Australia’s best design agencies and has been conceptualised as a communal, multi-beneficial project rather than as a simple, one-dimensional garden. The design is focused not on creating produce but on creating opportunities for meaningful and familiar activities.

‘We have been offered support by Built, a construction company that will also employ five asylum seekers (with work permits) as general hands, allowing them to gain work experience within the construction industry,, says Rob.

‘At first the main beneficiaries [of the garden project] will be asylum seekers [through workshops, training and employment opportunities]. However, we are also working with St Vincent’s hospital on horticultural therapy classes that will focus on other community groups.  And of course the people who come to the soup kitchen will benefit from the fresh food!’

But there’s more to the project than mere physical nourishment: Rob’s garden manifesto honours the parish’s pledge to that the heart of its work ‘is to reach out to one another without judgment, without condemnation….  The health and vitality of our community at St Canice’s is directly in proportion to the degree that we reach out to those who are on the outside. We cannot allow the community to die by shutting out the one who seeks refuge with us, who seeks companionship, who seeks food, hospitality, conversation.

St Canice’s parishioners – already well-versed in the communal welfare projects they are called to engage in – have unleashed their green fingers, with many of them eager to become garden volunteers. When the building of the garden is complete, they will come together on the JRS rooftop to plant the first seeds.

‘But we hope that even those who aren’t gardeners can share the fruits. We aim to share the many stories a garden can tell. The more stories shared, the more we learn about each other,’ Rob says.

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