Grower Profile: Ben McMenamin + Greening RMIT

Growing vegetables in your backyard is one thing, but growing them on west facing balcony 10 floors above Swanston Street in central Melbourne is another thing entirely. It’s a tough place to be producing food, yet this is exactly what Ben McMenamin and the Greening RMIT team is doing.

Greening RMIT is a student-run organisation with a focus on promoting gardening and sustainability on the RMIT campus through education, collaboration and community. Benjamin McMenamin is the Greening RMIT project manager and instigated the balcony garden project two years ago.

As well as his involvement with Greening RMIT, Benjamin is also a chef at the Realfoods café on campus. The balcony vegetable garden began as an idea to try and grow some of the produce used at the café. After plenty of door knocking he and the Greening RMIT gang were given shared access to the balcony and the planting began!

The garden consists of 20 big planter boxes spanning the 40m long balcony, as well as spaces for workshops and gatherings. It was developed with assistance from the RMIT Faculty of Landscape Architecture, and in particular, Karolina Bartkowicz from The Matter of Landscape project. The garden is open to anyone at RMIT and hosts many different events. Regular workshops are held, teaching students the basics of growing food, as well as planting days and working bees.

Benjamin and the Greening RMIT have big plans for 2015. They are hoping to host more workshops and events, and create smaller pop-up gardens throughout the campus, as well as an ambitious idea to collect green-waste from the university’s garden maintenance team to turn into compost.

As with many community driven gardening enterprises, the garden is not just about growing food. It’s a place where students can gather, connect, and learn. It plays host to a series of events, workshops, film nights, working bees, and community dinners, giving students opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of where their food comes from and the environmental, cultural, and social benefits of local food production. It’s actually revolution disguised by compost and leafy greens – the best kind! As Benjamin says,

Growing your own food is one of the most empowering things you can do. It’s a way of taking ownership of one of the most important things in life.

What Greening RMIT is doing with the balcony garden is important. But what I think is even more important is the way they’re doing it. Encouraging young people to learn about food production, gardening, and sustainability in a social, fun, and informative way is a powerful thing, with effects lasting a lifetime. Benjamin says,

We want people to be able to come together and enjoy each other’s company. We want to make it a social thing, as well as an educational thing.

Bravo, Greening RMIT! The edible, enjoyable, and social sustainability revolution has begun!

This story is part of a series we are producing in collaboration with Grow It Local to promote their Melbourne Growers Feast on the 1st of March, 2015.  If you live in Melbourne, you really should drop by the Grow It Local website, register your patch and get gardening! The owners of the top 50 most creative and unique patches will each win a double pass the event. A no brainer, right? GET GROWING PEOPLE!

PS. We were paid a small amount of money by Grow It Local to help cover some of the costs associated with producing this story.

Images by Abigail Varney