Peta Christensen

Peta Christensen

Food Systems Team Leader, Peta Christensen

Food Systems Team Leader

In 1996 after a stint of traveling overseas I came home to Perth unsure of what I was going to do next when a friend suggested I volunteer at the International Permaculture Conference. Not really knowing what to expect I stumbled into a conference full of people like Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison, international educator Rosemary Morrow & Seed Savers’ Jude Fanton showing me communities putting simple, practical design principals to work with inspiring results – it was a massive “aha” moment!

Over the next couple of years I got involved with the WA Permaculture Association and put my journalism degree to use editing the monthly newsletter. This role showed me projects all over WA and I was lucky enough to meet pioneering people & communities and see their projects first hand. There was much to see and learn and I was slowly beginning to become aware of food’s power as a tool for creating change.

In 1999 I took a break, headed east to go WWOOFing and see what was happening in the world. A few months later in a workshop tent at Woodford Folk Festival I had another “aha” moment hearing future Cultivating Community chairperson, Greg Milne, and Maya Ward speak about the inspiring work of Basil Natoli in Melbourne’s community gardens and the fantastic going-ons of this place called CERES. It was all I needed to hear.

To Melbourne I went and tracked down Basil Natoli at the Office of Housing, I joined Cultivating Community and before I knew it I was volunteering in community gardens on Melbourne’s public housing estates and plotting to change the world with a bunch of passionate “Cult” members in various Melbourne lounge rooms.

Soon after Cultivating Community advertised for their first paid position. It was working with kids, gardening on three different housing estates across Melbourne. I applied and was lucky enough to get the job. At the time it was all new – there were no how-to manuals, no existing projects and Basil and I were making it up as we went along. From here I went on to work in community gardens in public housing. I was also the first garden teacher at Collingwood College during the initial school gardens collaboration between Cultivating Community and what is now known as the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. I also did a gardening project at the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre.

After four years at Cultivating Community I received a Churchill Fellowship and headed overseas for six months exploring the best the world had to offer in terms of community food projects in Denmark, Brazil, Cuba, Canada and USA (Community Garden and Market Projects in Low Income Communities Report). Fired up by the local food system approach I’d seen overseas, my focus widened and I began working with community food markets, produce swaps, community compost initiatives including Compost Mates, street gardens, the Growers and Eaters forums and local government food policy projects.

It’s been a huge privilege being part of Cultivating Community over the past decade, witnessing the growth from the early days of our history in lounge rooms to a fully fledged professional organisation. To me the beauty of Cultivating Community is that it has always held true to itself and its ideals – a credit to the passionate and committed people who are the staff, volunteers and Board.