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.”