Transition Town Otaki: Sustainability in action

Bernadine Bloemgarten serves customers at the Thursday Seasonal Surplus Stall
Bernadine Bloemgarten serves customers at the Thursday Seasonal Surplus Stall

Food forest, sustainable gardening, permaculture, locavore—words once unfamiliar to gardeners now crop up regularly in the media and in gardening conversations.

All are talking about a way of gardening that is both productive and efficient, making the best use of soil, sun and water. Planting intelligently with a mixture of different trees, shrubs and crops and using chooks, worms or other animals to keep the garden fertile and abundant without expensive fertilisers and pesticides.

Sustainable Food Group

Members of Otaki’s Sustainable Food Group (SFG), an offshoot of Transition Town Otaki, have their own unique gardening styles but all want to produce delicious, seasonal, locally grown food (ie we are “locavores”). We also try to give back to our gardens just as much as we take from them, so that we hand them on even more fruitful to gardeners who will come after us.

In spring 2009, soon after the SFG started, we began the regular Thursday morning Seasonal Surplus Stall to put in practice some of our ideas. We wanted to be a hub in Otaki for exchanging produce, seeds, seedlings, knowledge and ideas about food and food growing.

Six years later, the stall is achieving much of what we hoped for. From 10.30am to about midday, there’s a lively group on the green outside the council building in Main Street. From 10am, we hurry to get our gear out of storage in the nearby Citizens’ Advice Bureau. They’ve given us good support since our early days, as have KCDC in granting us a “licence to occupy” for our pozzie on their lawn each Thursday.

At 10.30, once the tables and signs are out and the umbrella up, people start to arrive with armfuls of produce and the race is on to come up with a price, pay the growers and display their wonderful produce to best advantage.

We start selling at 11am on the dot and by then there’s often a queue of keen buyers with their eyes and sometimes hands already on what they fancy.

Anyone in or around Otaki who has surplus to share from their garden, orchard or hens, can bring their produce to the stall. We buy it at 80% of the price it will be sold at. The other 20% covers any produce which is unsold, or the expenses of running the stall. Any food left over at the end of the stall goes either to the Foodbank or to the House of Hope.
The stall runs from October until May. Each year we donate any surplus funds to groups such as St Johns for the Otaki Health Shuttle, and the Otaki Food Bank.

Transition Towns Otaki

TTO has links with the local Timebank, with Energise Otaki and runs a mulcher club, with a community mulcher available to anyone after a short training. It holds monthly potluck gatherings featuring speakers or DVDs, at members’ homes or local venues. Topics are relevant to the theme of sustainability — food, energy, housing, education, climate change.

Next potluck meeting will be Wednesday April 29 at 6pm — for more info contact Belinda McLean, 364-5573 or

Designing a more sustainable economic system is a concern of the Transition Town movement, here and world-wide. TTO founder Deirdre Kent is a community activist and author of many publications including the book Healthy Money, Healthy Planet. She’s a co-founder of the NZ New Economics Party, holding its first conference at Queen’s Birthday Weekend May 30- June 1 in Otaki. For more information about Weaving the Safety Net: Designing a Resilient Economy for a Turbulent Future enquire 364-7779 or 021 728 852

By Belinda McLean