Holder Community Garden

Article and Photos: Neil Williams (Canberra Organic – Autumn 2021)

One of our missions at the Holder community garden is to improve our sense of community, both within the garden as well as building better connections with the local community. Here are some examples of steps we are taking.

The community within…

Whilst we all have our individual plots, working bees present a great opportunity to come together for the good of the whole garden. Our October working bee was a particular success, with much needed mowing, weeding and mulching being undertaken. At the end of our collective efforts we enjoyed some lovely food, including delicious homemade pakoras with mint and yoghurt sauce made by one of our gardeners. More fabulous homemade treats were on offer at our end of year gathering, including lemonade, broad bean dip, mixed vegetable tarts, mulberries, sandwiches and falafels.

Building connections with the local community

In October we formed a relationship with the cafe Stepping Stone in Strathnairn to provide some of our excess vegetable and fruit produce. Stepping Stone is a new cafe that helps migrants and refugees by providing women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds with a ‘stepping stone’ into the hospitality industry – you can read more of their story below.

To date, the owners of the cafe Vanessa and Hannah have used our produce to make broad bean soup, rhubarb sorbet, rhubarb crumble and incorporated lettuce and silverbeet in salads and toasted sandwiches.

Hannah with some of the Holder community garden produce
Hannah with some of the Holder community garden produce

Members of the garden are also providing produce to a fellow gardener at the nearby Fetherston Gardens in Weston, to make chutneys and jams. Proceeds from the sale of the chutneys and jams go to Cancer Council Australia.

And – in reverse community engagement – our visible presence in Holder led to a very generous offer in November 2020 from a resident in the local area who was looking for a new home for her mother’s gardening tools. The tools were in good condition and have expanded the number and range of communal tools available to our gardeners.

Stepping Stone cafe

Vanessa and Hannah’s story

Stepping Stones Cafe. Photo: Neil Williams
Stepping Stones Cafe. Photo: Neil Williams

The story began years ago when, after studying Latin American Studies at the Australian National University (ANU), co-founder Vanessa Brettell moved to the Colombian tourist hub of Cartagena in 2017 to open a training cafe with two friends. They opened with five part-time employees, and by March 2020, they had grown to have 18 full-time staff; had trained and employed over 40 youth living in poverty; and were number one for breakfast in the area on TripAdvisor. As well as giving staff the opportunity to gain hospitality experience and earn a steady income, they also provided training on life skills such as nutrition, managing finances and expanding English language proficiency.

Unfortunately, given the city’s reliance on international tourism, the cafe was forced to close in March 2020 due to the global pandemic. Vanessa and co-founder, Hannah Costello, found an opportunity to open a cafe at Strathnairn Arts Gallery in Canberra in July 2020.

“We wanted to continue the concept of a social enterprise cafe, so we identified a different group of people in need in Australia. We are working with recently arrived migrant and refugee women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds,” said Vanessa.

“We provide them with inclusive employment opportunities. It doesn’t matter if they can’t read or speak English or don’t have any work experience. We are also happy to work around their needs, like school drop-off and pick-up of their children,” Vanessa continued.

“We’re creating a workplace that dismantles the usual barriers these women have to finding formal employment.”

The Stepping Stone cafe so far has employed three part-time workers – two refugees and one migrant woman – from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Indonesia. Vanessa and Hannah have five more women starting at the end of January 2021. As part of their employment, Stepping Stone will provide their staff with certificates in either commercial cookery or hospitality to further advance their skills.

Stepping Stones Cafe. Photo: Neil Williams
Stepping Stones Cafe. Photo: Neil Williams

The cafe is located inside the gallery space at Strathnairn Arts, with seating also available outside amongst the stunning gardens, and is open Thursdays to Sundays from 9am-4pm, as well as Friday nights from 4pm for woodfired pizzas. The menu is completely vegetarian, offering a range of homemade pies and pastries, toasted sandwiches, cakes and sweets, as well as everchanging specials based on seasonal produce.