Takeaway food improves street

OUTSIDE 29 Claude St is a plastic table, more than likely piled high with fruit and vege, all free to a good home. You can take from it, or add to it.

Judy and Rod McDonald set it up in 2006 in an effort to make their Hamilton street friendlier.  She explains how it came about and how successful it is.

Judy, right, and daughter Clare pop out some persammins

My roadside produce exchange table is all the fault of a visiting Australian (it’s always good to be able to blame someone for these things).

About three years ago, Hamilton City Council hosted a public talk by David Engwicht, famous as the inventor of the walking school bus and the promoter of all sorts of interesting ways to calm traffic. In his talk he told us about how he has now become a “street reclaimer” because he believes that building the social life of the street is the most effective way to tame traffic.

He gave all sorts of brilliant examples of people holding street parties, getting to know their neighbours and generally “living on the verge” (of the street, that is). The idea is that if there are lots of people busily using a street to live in, drivers will proceed with a lot more caution because it’s obvious there are lots of people out there doing things. And once you’ve looked them in the eye, it’s very difficult to justify running them over!

David concluded his talk by asking us what we, as individuals, were going to do to make our streets safer. I decided that a community produce exchange might be a start. We’ve always put out a trestle table to find homes for our annual overdose of pears, feijoas, mandarins and other edible items, so it wasn’t a big step to replace the portable trestle with a slightly more permanent resin picnic table, cunningly attached to the stump of a defunct sycamore tree.

That looked a bit bare, so I built a circular garden round it, with a few flowers and herbs. We also decided that instead of the usual street trees, it would be a nicer idea to have edible ones. We now have two plum trees and a crab apple, and because it was difficult to mow round that lot and I’m basically idle at heart, I connected the whole lot with a garden which contains whatever survives out there: violets (who came up with the idea of shrinking violets, by the way – they’re tough and aggressive in my experience!); Californian poppies; alyssum; lemon balm (not my idea, it just got there by itself); nasturtiums; and of course weeds, which I’m really, really good at and which have to be removed from time to time.

We also have a bus stop at our door, and it seemed like a good idea to provide the long-suffering public with a seat, so we transported our old wooden garden bench around to the verge, and anchored it with a chain in front of a couple of lavendula bushes at the end of the newly created garden.

Does it get trashed? Very rarely. Once the table got stolen, but it came back on Monday after being at a party all weekend. Oh, and the plums got eaten green by the kids who didn’t know any better, but we have high hopes that they will have got it sorted for next year’s crop and leave them til they turn red. No-one stole the crab apples, and they have become six jars of verge jam. Yum.

So give it a go. Every street should have one. If you need conversation, all you need to do is go out there and work on it for a few minutes and someone will come along walking their dog or giving their toddler an airing, and tell you how much they like the idea! And you get to know your neighbours: the people across the road with the lime tree; the man down the way who grows broad beans to die for; and the lady who grows huge amounts of stuff in her tiny back yard.

And of course there are the mystery suppliers: the secret lemon leaver and the source of the golden delicious apples, who I haven’t caught yet!

  • N8N often leaves gifts of persimmons and the like on the table, and has been known to go home with limes and lemons, as well as bulbs.  Possibly we could set up a similar produce table at a local school or similar spot out here in the country?  In the meantime, check out Judy and Rod’s table on your way into town – and do help yourself!


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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

One thought on “Takeaway food improves street

  • June 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks Judy for the write up, most enjoyable and Annette where do we put the table at the school? I could donate a pumpkin or two and a few when the lemons are ripe. I guess we could keep our eyes open for other people with surplus fruit in their backyard?
    Loved that red hat! So suitable for the new environment


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