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The Covid lockdown of 2020 prompted many of us to turn to gardening, with some building vegetable patches and small orchards to keep themselves occupied and be self-sufficient. However, for Gurdwara Siri Guru Nanak Darbar Officer – the Sikh Temple Officer – cultivating a garden was more than just a pastime.In fact, since 2018 the gurudwara's volunteers had been working on transforming the empty space into a lush garden with a variety of plants and trees.

As spokesperson Harpreet Kandra explained, the gurudwara’s green transformation provided not only fresh produce for the community but also a sense of connection to the land and a deeper understanding of the Sikh faith's reverence for nature. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the gurudwara's garden served as a source of resilience and hope for the community. He said, “One of the core founding principles of the Sikh Temple Officer is to work for the environment.”

A green cause 

The Sikh gurudwara in Officer near Haunted Gully Creek has always been dedicated to environmental care and sustainability. Even before the pandemic, the gurudwara had already planted around 1200 trees in the surrounding pristine bushland. This was done not just for aesthetic purposes but also to show care for the fauna and flora, which are essential principles in the Sikh faith. The area is home to a diverse array of birds and other wildlife, making it even more important to protect and conserve the environment. In line with this, the gurudwara staff also installed four big bird feeder boxes to increase the biodiversity of the area. The gurudwara's efforts are especially significant as the world celebrates World Environment Day on June 5. Moreover, the gurudwara has solar panels, water and energy-efficient fixtures, composting, and engages young kids in various environmental initiatives, showing its commitment to environmental sustainability.

More than just gardening; a source of produce 

The act of gardening at the gurudwara during lockdown not only served as a productive use of time, but it also had practical purposes. According to Harpreet, the process helped the four staff members who were experiencing mental trauma while being isolated at the gurudwara. Together, they planted a total of 170 trees, consisting of 70 fruit trees and 300 square meters of grass on the nature strip. The planting of fruits and vegetables also contributed to the gurudwara's work in providing a free community meal known as langar, which is a vegetarian meal available to anyone who comes to the Sikh community kitchen. By producing their own food in an organic way, they were able to make it a part of their kitchen consumption. Overall, the gardening process not only had practical purposes but also served as a way to give back to the community through the provision of free, healthy meals.

The food movement 

The gurudwara’s journey towards an organic farm started from scratch, with an empty 650-square-metre land. Despite the daunting task ahead, the gurudwara was determined to achieve its goal. They approached Ripe for Change, a grants program by Sustainable Table, which promotes organic food production, and successfully secured funding. The gurudwara also received federal funding for infrastructure and farming equipment. To ensure success, the gurudwara consulted with Cardinia Food Movement for advice on planting and growing methods, including composting. They also reached out to the Food Network for guidance on seedlings, soil preparation, and where to get organic manure. Bunnings even provided free vegetable plants to help them get started. With all these resources and support, the gurudwara began the process of planting and growing its organic farm.

Less wastage 

The Food Movement has had a positive impact on the gurudwara, not only in terms of the community's health but also the environment. The gurudwara has implemented composting of its food waste as suggested by the movement, which will help reduce its waste management costs and improve sustainability. Additionally, a sprinkler crop irrigation system was installed to ensure the trees on the gurudwara grounds are well-watered. 

The gurudwara has three water tanks that hold 95,000 litres of water, but there are plans to increase that to 150,000 litres, including the use of treated wastewater. The gurudwara's manager, Harpreet, emphasizes the importance of water management for healthy produce, highlighting the gurudwara's commitment to sustainable practices. The efforts of the gurudwara serve as an excellent example of how the Food Movement can inspire and promote environmental responsibility.

Harpreet said, “We want to use only rainwater. We’re doing sprinkler irrigation, not flood irrigation. When we first planted trees we used some water from South East Water, but currently we’re only using rainwater.”

Gurudwara, becoming a helping hand 

During the strict lockdown, four staff members took up the task of tending to the crops and providing emergency groceries to those in need. Although the gurudwara provided basic grocery bags, they aim to incorporate their own vegetable garden produce in the future. The gurudwara is still in the learning phase, but they hope to increase its productivity and assist anyone who needs help. They provide grocery kits with recipes so recipients can cook in their kitchen, which can help alleviate anxiety and depression while fostering creativity and happiness. Volunteers created a recipe book that has been widely shared and well-received by the community. Apart from producing their own organic food, the gurudwara is also focused on promoting the development of vegetable patches in the community's backyards and encouraging the development of food production skills.

Way ahead 

The gurudwara has big plans for the future, including expanding its community hall and creating a multipurpose space for various events. The organic farm is also set to grow, with the gurudwara hoping to share its knowledge of organic farming and water management with visitors from India, who can in turn spread the word to their friends and relatives. The gurudwara plans to put a workshop on the property and upgrade its solar panel system to be completely off the grid, in line with Sikh principles of environmental conservation. While still on a learning curve, the gurudwara is gathering information and encouraging its community to come and help with the organic farm. The gurudwara is committed to making a positive impact on the environment and setting an example for others to follow

 

*Based on an article published in Star Community on 9th June 2021

 

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