Nelson

This weekend I took the children north to see my Grandad who isn't well. On the way to and from seeing Grandad, Grandma and lots of aunties/uncles/cousins, we spent some time in Nelson, my childhood home town. On Friday night we stayed in a backpackers in The Wood, a lovely area very close to Nelson's central city area.

When I was sixteen and had to choose a local history topic for my sixth form history assignment, I chose the Italian community of Nelson, who from memory arrived in three waves: the 1890s, the 1920s and the 1950s. Lots but not all came from the village of Sorrento. I got to interview lots of people for this project and it was probably the spark for my love for history and particularly of oral histories which give dignity to the lives and experiences and family stories of the elderly people in any community. The Italian community was centred on the area of Nelson known as The Wood, a sunny place with a fabulous micro climate for growing food and this was where many of them grew tomatoes. In the late 1980s many men told me of their work growing tomatoes and how it would go with them as none of their children were interested. They weren't cross with their children but proud of their achievements and diverse careers.

Twenty years later, the area has all been cut up for subdivision. In a peak oil world, the town which has many committed greenies is full of small sections with houses on them, motels with Italian names and very little green space on the part of town which would be a perfect orchard and permaculture reserve to grow food for the city dwellers to purchase and eat with a very low carbon footprint.

There is one Italian gardener still going. Beside some swanky looking pub in The Wood is a small sign and then a few boxes and trays of fruit and vegetables for sale in front of the garage of a house, with the glasshouse visible out the back. Today (at a fraction of the Saturday market prices) I bought an aubergine, a bag of tomatoes, a florence fennel bulb, three leek seedlings, two tomato plants, two basil seedlings and a bag of red peppers for a the total of $10.40. We are heading north for family reasons again next month and I'll be back in Grove Street again then.

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