Element - - Waste Champions - By So­phie Bar­clay.

Ja­nine Nille­sen is a force to be reck­oned with. The un­stop­pable Man­gere-Bridge-based, Am­bury Farm ranger fills her days teach­ing kids how to milk cows, shear sheep and make but­ter, travers­ing the farm to trap rats and and stoats and wag­ing war on weeds. In her spare time, the mu­mof-three bat­tles waste and builds strong lo­cal bonds as the co-founder of Friends of the Farm – lo­cal vol­un­teers who pri­ori­tise com­mu­nity, the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and fun in equal, hearty doses.

Friends of the Farm (FoF) was dreamed up nearly ten years ago by Nille­sen, and fi­nally came to fruition af­ter a chance meet­ing with Frances Han­cock, a 40year lo­cal who used to live next to the farm. “With Ja­nine, any­thing seems pos­si­ble,” says Han­cock. “She’s a pow­er­ful role model, ex­traor­di­nar­ily gen­er­ous and an amaz­ing or­gan­iser. Peo­ple love her be­cause she not only cares so much for our place, but also be­cause she’s so much fun to be around!”

This sense of fun in­fuses the work that FoF do in their patch. The group’s first com­mu­nity meet­ing in­volved a tour of the farm com­plete with lava cave ex­plo­ration, wool spin­ning and brain­storm­ing at the head­land over cups of teas and bis­cuits. “One of the peo­ple who turned up said to me, ‘What I’d re­ally like is won­der­ful child­hood mem­o­ries for my kids,’” says Han­cock. “That be­came a real guid­ing light for us, be­cause many of our fam­i­lies can’t af­ford to have the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to other fam­i­lies. There was a real op­por­tu­nity for us to cre­ate things that fam­i­lies could be­come part of and en­joy.”

The group works along­side the farm, find­ing spe­cial ways for peo­ple to con­nect with the en­vi­ron­ment and their com­mu­nity. They’ve run events like the 150-strong moon­lit lan­tern walk (with lanterns made from old tin cans), past sleep­ing farm an­i­mals and along the wa­ter’s edge, jam and mar­malade-mak­ing work­shops us­ing sur­plus fruit, and huge Easter egg hunts over the ram­bling farm­land.

Each year FoF rounds up the lo­cals and in­vites them to ‘Sweet Talks’, a com­mu­nity cafe at the Farm where res­i­dents re­con­nect and re-imag­ine; con­cep­tu­al­is­ing events while nib­bling on de­li­cious desserts. “It’s a great chance for the long-timers and the new-com­ers to meet one another and get a con­ver­sa­tion go­ing about what peo­ple value in the com­mu­nity, what they want to see us do­ing and how we can work to­gether,” ex­plains Han­cock.

“What­ever we’re do­ing we’re al­ways think­ing about how to do it in a way that is waste-wise, how we can care for peo­ple by con­nect­ing peo­ple and mak­ing sure we have a good time, and build­ing the bonds of com­mu­nity that will re­ally see us through the good times and the bad,” she adds.

The group is run by ten core vol­un­teers, all women. It’s also built a great re­la­tion­ship with Auck­land Coun­cil’s Waste Min­imi­sa­tion team lead­ing to the de­vel­op­ment of waste re­duc­tion projects in the com­mu­nity. These in­clude pop-up work­ing bees, (the latest of which saw 45 lo­cals don­ning gloves to res­cue 192 ki­los of rub­bish from un­der the old Man­gere Bridge), and main­tain­ing a reg­u­lar pres­ence at the lo­cal Sun­day mar­ket to col­lect soft plas­tic - an ini­tia­tive that has been so suc­cess­ful that the FoFs are now es­tab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent soft plas­tic drop-off spot.

The group, which among the core mem­bers boasts two en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tors, also runs waste work­shops ex­plain­ing the whys and where­fores of waste. “Peo­ple re­ally wel­comed the mes­sages,” says Han­cock. “A lack of in­for­ma­tion is a huge bar­rier to be­hav­iour change. But the minute you give peo­ple in­for­ma­tion and en­cour­age their com­mit­ment, they want to do more and more.”

These women walk the talk. Whether it’s Nille­sen blitz­ing through her friends’ bins teach­ing them what rub­bish goes where (“When they see me com­ing, they hide their rub­bish,” she jokes), or Han­cock volunteering to be the first fam­ily in a house­hold waste pi­lot pro­ject (turn­ing a 2.8 kilo gi­ant rub­bish bag worth of waste into 0.8 ki­los, which would fit in a su­per­mar­ket plas­tic bag) or muscling the FoFs into lo­cal events to get or­gan­is­ers think­ing zero waste.

And they’re see­ing the re­wards al­ready, with busi­nesses, event or­gan­is­ers and schools com­ing to the FoFs for help, and of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion this year in the Man­gere-Otahuhu Lo­cal Board’s Com­mu­nity Vol­un­teer Awards.

The FoFs hope that by teach­ing lo­cals to love their neigh­bour­hood, they will even­tu­ally be able to spread their ef­forts through­out the wider com­mu­nity. “Our fo­cus at the mo­ment is around cre­at­ing an ‘our-patch’ men­tal­ity, so peo­ple adopt a part of the Bridge, and they take care of it,” says Nille­sen. “That way, peo­ple don’t need us to or­gan­ise an event or work­ing bee. They will do it them­selves.”

Never been to the Farm? Come and feed the lambs and calves, and learn about life on a farm for free on Oc­to­ber the 4th.

For more in­for­ma­tion head to face­ Friend­soft­heFar­mMan­gereBridge

Photo Ted Baghurst

Carol-Anne Armitage, Justine Skilling (on fence), Natasha Hof­mans, Frances Han­cock, Ja­nine Nille­sen (on fence), Caro­line Walm­s­ley (be­hind fence) , Nikki El­der; child is Naadja Hof­mans Allan.

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