Nurturing organic vegetables, raising chickens and growing fruit. It might not be standard operating procedure for your average, urban, 21st century family, but that hasn’t stopped Havelock North woman Janet Luke from trying to make it so.
You could say Luke, a green-fingered stay at home mum who was just trying to save money and spend some quality time with her kids, really is trying to change the world.
She turned this passion into a business and is now the force behind Green Urban Living, an ever-growing company which teaches people how to live eco-friendly lives in cities and towns. She talks to Bridget Gourlay about her work.
Have you always been passionate about green living?
“I’ve always had a garden. Even when I was a small girl at home I had a little patch where I used to grow radishes and all those sorts of things. But it was really while being at home with young children I got the passion for it – wanting to be outside with the kids teaching them about where food comes from, also obviously to grow healthy food and to save a bit of money.
“I started Green Urban Living about four years ago, I was at home with kids and I developed our garden into a permaculture garden, and friends would come round saying ‘we’d love to learn about this, would you run a course?’ “So I started running little courses about how to garden in a sustainable low maintenance way. The website sprang up from there and then more courses, and products selling on the website, and then the book came along. It sort of morphed like a mushroom.”
What kind of people attend your courses?
“There’s quite a diverse range, it’s 50/50 men and women. Some are very new to gardening, so they want to start gardening to grow food so they know it’s healthy. Or they’ve got young children and they want to be outside with them. It’s also gardeners that are quite experienced, but have gone down a conventional track and want to look at ways of making a garden perhaps more low maintenance, more productive and obviously organic.
“Most people out there are aware of the crisis in food production worldwide, they know about the conventional food production – the amount of chemicals that go into the food and the soil. And [they know] how beneficial insects are so important, and food miles and all that sort of thing.”
What are the issues we should know more about then?
“For New Zealanders it is water use; collecting your own rain water can make a lot of difference. And also the general household sprays and chemicals we use around the home. There are other alternatives that are far more natural and less damaging to the environment; not being too liberal with the fly spray and chemical cleaners, that sort of thing.”
What can offices do to be more green?
“Even in an office situation you can have a worm farm. You can put all the kitchen scraps, like tea bags, coffee grounds, when people bring their lunch to work – all those scraps can go into a worm farm.
“Simple things like having pot plants in an office, or if an office area has a rooftop garden there’s no reason why you couldn’t plant edible plants, or even keep a beehive up there.
“I’m off to New York in a couple of days and I’m meeting lots of people who are doing wonderful things. Like there’s a restaurant in the middle of Manhattan, they grow all their lettuce and produce hydroponically on their rooftop, which goes into the food they sell in their restaurant just downstairs. So there’s no reason why we couldn’t start doing that in our cities.
“Also I’m meeting urban farmers, so on large flat top roofs in the middle of Manhattan and Brooklyn, they’re actually urban farming it, they’ve put soil up there and they are growing rows of lettuces and herbs and all your vegetables and selling it at the local farmers market. I’m also meeting urban beekeepers – people who are keeping rooftop beehives right in the middle of Manhattan!”
Why all this talk about bees?
“I’ve set up a charitable trust called Save Our Bees and it’s all about educating New Zealanders on how important bees are, because they pollinate about a third of all the food we eat and how they are declining worldwide.
“It’s a real issue worldwide. In America they lost half of their hives from colony collapse disorder, so the Save the Bees trust is all about educating people on how important bees can be and what people as an individual can do, such as planting more bee friendly plants in their garden letting their lawn grow a little taller so the dandelions and buttercups and clover can flower.
“Also backyard beekeeping is becoming really popular in New Zealand again. I run free workshops and offer advice and support for people who want to become a beekeeper in their backyard.
“In New York I’ll be running my first marathon, to raise money for Save the Bees. I made the mistake of reading Kerre Woodham’s book ‘Short Fat Chick to Marathon Runner’ last Christmas while drinking my wine and eating far too much and I thought if Kerre can do it I might give it a go. I only started running in March. The furthest I’ve run is 35k. I’ve just followed a training programme. The aim is to cross the finish line in one piece – even if I have to crawl.”
In your opinion, what are the greatest environmental challenges we are facing?
“I think it is soil fertility. The over cultivation of our soil is a real issue – the soil has been so full of chemicals that it’s really just dead. To grow healthy food you need healthy soil. When we’re growing food crops, when you imagine a field of corn – it’s ploughed first then there’s herbicides put on it to stop the weeds and then there’s pesticides put on the crops. And it all goes into the soil and it kills the hardy micro-organisms in the soil which are so important for growing healthy food.
“Also water. Water worldwide is a huge problem, clean drinking water that is. I think the next world war is going to be fought over water and we’re probably going to be invaded cos we’ve got so much of it!”
Green Urban Living,
Published by New Holland Publishers, is available from bookshops nationwide.