Ever wish you could pick up food for free by the side of the road? Well, in the north­west Auck­land sub­urb of Helensville, you can. And in nearby Parakai, Waimauku and River­head too. All thanks to op­er­a­tions man­ager Mark Den­nis, who started the first Free Com­mu­nity Fruit and Vege stand in Helensville. Ki­wis who need a feed can help them­selves to fresh pro­duce from the stand – and pay noth­ing; just leave your own sur­plus fruits and veges when you can. Con­se­quently, it’s im­pos­si­ble to put a mon­e­tary value on what has been taken and re­ceived, but there are over 20 stands now stretch­ing from Kaitaia to In­ver­cargill. Mark con­tin­ues to pro­vide sup­port, en­cour­age­ment and ad­vice as com­mu­ni­ties and in­di­vid­u­als step up to con­struct and stock more stands.

This in­cred­i­ble grass­roots move­ment was kicked off not too many months ago by Mark’s aver­sion to waste. He had a sur­plus har­vest, so he put them on a stand out­side his house and posted a mes­sage on so­cial me­dia that peo­ple should help them­selves. Res­i­dents in the tight-knit com­mu­nity re­sponded by shar­ing their own. “Peo­ple love the chance to share what they have grown and to give back. It’s an old-fash­ioned thing to share home­grown fruits and veges. We of­ten get com­ments too that what they get from the stands is bet­ter than su­per­mar­ket-bought.”

In his own gar­den, Mark grows ba­nanas, grapes, lo­quats, guava ber­ries and olives. “I also have a big bay tree and some younger limes, lemons, black­ber­ries, lots of straw­ber­ries. We have the usual herbs and a few chilli plants. My favourite are the black olive chill­ies we planted last year.”

It was his mother who got him started in the gar­den. “Mum al­ways had a good vege patch and got us kids in there too.”

In turn, he now finds gar­den­ing a great way to spend time with his five-year-old daugh­ter and twin three-year-old boys. “It is hard to find time be­tween full-time work and my kids. I might get an hour on the week­end if the weather is good, so what­ever I plant needs to be easy care.”

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