God means us to have green fingers

As part of her commitment to care for the environment, Sister of Mercy Bridget Crisp teaches a group of women who come to Te Waipuna Puawai Mercy Oasis in Ellerslie for classes in gardening and cooking. One of them, Joanne Ponds, tells why she finds the ‘food for families’ programme exciting….

Joanne Ponds learnt about the ‘food for families’ programme from her daughter, who was attending courses at Te Waipuna Puawai, the Mercy community development centre in Ellerslie, next door to where Bridget Crisp tends the garden at Papatūānuku ki Taurangi Earth Promise Centre.

“I saw a booklet that outlined options for the year, and decided to take this one. At the time I was prevented by illness from working, and I thought this course was something I could do.

“The course has actually helped me through some of my troubles. Gardening and cooking are so soothing. That’s how I met Sr Bridget, and I fell in love with her whole approach.

“Caring for plants in your garden flows over into caring for your family. Ideally the whole family should get involved. Although teenagers are inclined to say ‘Oh no; gardening is not my type of thing’.”

Joanne says her home-grown veggies taste much better than any she can buy from shops or markets. “I take pride in growing my own, especially veggies I haven’t tried before. It took me a while to get used to the flavour of bok choy, but now I think it’s delicious and a quick crop to grow.

“It tastes beautiful in stir-fries, and I’m starting to teach my grand-daughter to enjoy it.

“And of course, the herbs. There’s nothing like having fresh herbs, rather than dried herbs from packets. I’ve got parsley, sage, thyme (my favourite), basil and mint.”

Joanne struggles with arthritis in her spine and osteoporosis in her joints. “But if you want to get something done, you’ve got to have determination,” she says. “And to be honest, I don’t let my health problems get me down. I can’t walk so far now, and I’m waiting for operations on my knees. But I do what I can.

“I’ve learnt to respect the ways plants grow, acknowledging that each of them has its own way. And I love trees. I came here for a couple of lessons and then found that Sr Bridget and Teresa were growing kowhai trees from seed.

“I was lucky enough to be given a tree so that I could bury the afterbirth of my two grand-daughters here in the garden. It was so beautiful. We had a family gathering. And though the tree is not even a year old, it has already bloomed. It’s beautiful, just at the front as you drive in.”

Joanne’s tribal links are Ngati Porou. The Maori word for land, whenua, also means placenta. In Maori tradition, all life is seen to come from the womb of Papatūānuku, Mother Earth. The whenua of new-born babies is buried in significant places, as a way of establishing a sacred link between the land and the child.

Joanne is excited about the gardening she is doing. “It’s as though something had been missing from my life. All I’d ever done before was weeding. This is a new challenge – to have a garden during winter-time. I’m very happy to get all these ideas from Sr Bridget – they bring a balance into my home.
“When people come to your home, you want them to feel welcome. The garden helps to make the house more homely.”

Gardening is not without its problems. “The most disappointing plant so far has been the pumpkin. Perhaps I had it in too shady a position. It may have needed more sun. I’ll give it another go next summer.”

And the worm-farm has been difficult. “I found that flies and bugs had been getting in; perhaps someone else had left the lid off. So I decided to start again. I texted Sr Bridget last night, and she told me what to do.”

Bridget has a scheme for cheap worm-farms using polystyrene boxes with lids, discarded by the local supermarket. “All you need do is to insert a plastic tap, make some holes near the top for ventilation; prepare the bedding and add the worms, and you’re away!”

Bridget believes that if we see where our food is coming from and how vibrant Mother Earth is, we are on the way to understanding the relationship God means all of us to have with our environment.

She takes heart from the joint statement issued by Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem this May. “It was a powerful statement, noting that humanity is wasteful of resources and has not treated the environment well.

“So if we try to reduce waste and excessive consumption, we’ll be back to a better balance and will go a long way to restoring our relationship with Mother Earth. Our ‘food for families’ project aims to do just that!”

Whenua: Joanne Ponds with Sr Bridget Crisp, admiring the young Kowhai tree, grown from seed, under which the placenta of Joanne's two grand-children is now buried.