Mullumbimby Community Garden co-ordinator Jeannette Martin, who together with Paul Taylor wrote the application which has won the garden a ‘Big Green Idea’ grant to build a bio-char kiln.
Mullumbimby Community Garden co-ordinator Jeannette Martin, who together with Paul Taylor wrote the application which has won the garden a ‘Big Green Idea’ grant to build a bio-char kiln.

Mullum garden wins ‘green’ grant

Jeannette Martin and her team from the Mullumbimby Community Garden are ‘eco-visionary Australians’ – that’s the view of the British Council which has just awarded them a cash grant of $10,000.


It’s yet more recognition that the community garden is going in the right direction, particularly given that there were 87 applicants from all over Australia, with just five selected for the inaugural ‘Big Green Idea’ funding initiative.


The community garden has many big green ideas, but the one that has attracted the award is the bio-char project.


“People have been making charcoal for centuries,” explained co-ordinator Jeannette Martin, “so bio-char is the revamping of an old technology.


Carbon sequestration


“When waste is burned in a purpose-built kiln, it creates a very efficient charcoal that, when soaked in biodynamic tea and spread on the ground, does miraculous things for soil fertility.


“It also increases carbon sequestration properties of the soil, so is part of the solution to climate change.”


A community garden team member had already built a small bio-char kiln out of a washing machine basin to begin the experiment, but the British Council grant will allow the construction of a much bigger one.


The benefits of the bio-char soil improvement will last for years, and there has already been considerable effort put into promoting bio-char kilns in Africa for both fuel and soil enhancement.


“Bio-char has so many benefits, and if you build a big enough kiln it can create power – it’s pretty mind-blowing,” said Jeannette.


The bio-char project is just one of 18 different projects on the boil at the already thriving community garden, currently boasting a vista of gardens bursting with plump watermelons and pumpkins, stands of corn, and almost every other kind of herb and vegetable in season – a remarkable transformation of a piece of land that a year ago was all camphor laurel and bare cow paddock.


“Our garden is evolving into a sustainability education centre,” Jeannette said.


This evolution has received a boost with another two grants that the committee has been successful in obtaining – $30,000 from a New South Wales State Government department to build a kitchen, and $39,000 from DOCS to build a nursery and horticultural therapy program.


With so much happening, it is hardly surprising that the community garden caught the eye of the ‘Big Green Idea’ people.


“Offered for the first time in 2009,” said British Council director Rebecca Matthews, “the Big Green Idea initiative called for applications from eco-entrepreneurs with savvy ideas addressing sustainability challenges faced by urban communities.


“The initiative is designed to ‘seed’ projects that motivate individuals to minimise their personal impact on climate change, and have the potential to make a real contribution to Australia’s environmental future. “


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