By Megan Hounslow:
There’s this awesome space on the Hawkesbury campus that is regularly buzzing with life, with people cooking together, vegetables being tended to, and informative workshops being held in the mud brick house. This place is Earthcare.
Set on a 1 hectare block within the University campus, the site comprises a community built mud brick house which demonstrates multiple sustainable living concepts, including rammed earth walls, passive solar heating, and a composting toilet (look them up, they are actually really cool and not as gross as they may sound!). The rest, and majority of, the site is gardens, designed upon permaculture principles, where various community groups within and outside of the university can come and grow their own herbs, vegetables and fruit.
Let me set the scene for you…
Ginger is grown in one of the garden beds, its lush leafy tops hiding beneath the soil an immense array of intertwined ginger roots. This ginger then gets made into a crafty ginger-beer by a dozen people at a weekend workshop.
A rogue honeybee swarm makes residence in the side of the heritage-listed piggery on the site, next to our large avocado tree, which you don’t often see avocados on unfortunately. The bees are there for a bit whilst a bee keeper who can take the bees safely can be found, and in that time, hey presto, the avocado tree produces avocadoes!
The wonders of the bees and the birds in nature!
Visiting international guests ranging from students on exchange to business people tour through the site, many expressing great wonder at the beauty of Earthcare and how lucky we are to have it.
Students can be found before or after classes busy at work in their club plot or discussing their next event on the site, or just relaxing away from the books and admiring nature underneath the apple tree (I admit to doing this a number of times!)
Speaking of clubs, a number of student clubs run out of or regularly use the Earthcare site.
Greenthumbs is a student club all about growing your own fresh and tasty food and getting to know gardening. It has a large plot on the Earthcare site, from where they grow everything from mint to tomatoes to potatoes, all of which is then taken, used and eaten by students (for free!)
The Student Farm, a newly formed start-up born out of the Social Engagement and Leadership Program (SELP), is using a plot at the Earthcare site as a comparison plot for the Student Farm site research.
All about food, Youth Food Movement Greater Western Sydney, another student club, held its launch event the One Mile Dinner under the eaves of the mudbrick house patio. Some of the food on the night was grown at Earthcare too!
Earthcare is a learning space, and has been for over 20 years, run by community members and students through the not-for-profit Henry Double Day organisation. It has been a mainstay feature of the Hawkesbury campus over this time, and one of the few strong linkages between it and the local community.
Yet here lies our dilemma.
Our future is looking uncertain at best so we need to drum up student support for the centre, to say to the University that the Earthcare site is valued, that students want a green space where they can learn, relax and cultivate their food literacy, that we want to learn more about sustainability, about growing our own food, and about creating skills that will last a lifetime.