Reflecting on my garden and community development


As the first Adelaide heatwave of this summer broke last night into a steamy thunderstorm I look out over my yellowed lawn, the burnt leaves of my pumpkin plants and the still panting beaks of my small flock of chickens and though- this is going to be a long summer trying to keep this lot alive!

All of the garden, without exception, looked a little sad and battered around the edges.  For the most part, however, those local indigenous plants recommended by my native-veg botanist of a father (while not always the favourite, prettiest or flashiest in the garden) had certainly fared the burning sun the best.

While I sat under the porch and watched the rain I read a long, drawn-out article about challenges in international aid and development.  The article (and I am warning you it is quite long and a little depressing) focused a lot on our seemingly unabating desire to find the flashiest, sexiest and “pluckiest” new start up idea for tackling the big evils of poverty and then roll that idea out to every struggling corner of the world.  It criticised our want a magic bullet or big idea that will solve the ills of the world.  One idea to fix everything certainly sounds like a great idea and an even greater TED talk.  The proven effect, however, is similar to me trying to grow mangoes in Adelaide (if only!)

Call it biomimicry if you like but I certainly I saw the similarities between my two reflections.

Like wanting to grow mangoes in Adelaide, so too it can be very tempting to see a successful Community Development project really flourishing in a community and think- “my community faces similar needs and therefore we could perform that same project in our area and experience the same results”.

Much like unseen soil PH levels- so much of community development comes down to tiny nuances and personalities.  The alternative, then is to stop looking enviously at the roses of England and the tropic fruits of South East Asia and determine small indigenous local solutions.


  • Measure our PH level of your soil by mapping the strengths and assets of your local community. (here are some ideas on how to do that)  Every community has more assets that anyone knows.
  • Know what is indigenous.  Let the project be lead by people who have lived and invested long term in the community.  The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.
  • Find what already grows well and cultivate more of it (like I discussed in my bright spots blog) “What have we got? what has worked? and How do we get more of it?”
  • Be willing to grow deep roots first- start really small and scale really slowly and to evaluate as often as possible.

It’s not as glamourous or fancy but the long term results, particularly in tough times (like 42degree heat waves) prove this the more valuable approach.

Anything else you would add to this list?

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