Our 6th year started strongly with the 2015 AGM seeing 6 new and 5 long serving volunteers form the WPHO committee. It was a great moment, showing the sustainability and strength of the group and highlighting the increased awareness and involvement across the community that has been built up.
During the year we noted with thanks the services of Richard Hawkey who retired as Treasurer and Committee member.
The diversity of the group (age, gender, culture, life experience) is no barrier to friendship and camaraderie. This made the passing of one of our passionate volunteers, Brian Burns, in May a sad event for all. Brian was a great example of how WPHO adds skill and human warmth to change lives.
Talking, demonstrating and then using the new skills at our Friday morning session has increased both ability and awareness through the group. Our weekly volunteer numbers rise and fall over the seasons, but our core weekly attendance has remained at a higher level than previous years.
Active volunteer numbers have also been influenced by our presence at a number of events this year. Notably State Rose and Garden Show in November, the March Chef, Farmer and Wine Maker, Soil to Soul with Wyndham Council and the Gardeners Day Out with Deakin Uni in June. These types of events give us great opportunities to tell people about the Orchard and our group, and generally educate the public about heritage fruit.
This year has also seen us develop partnerships. With old friends, the Heritage Fruit Society we held the 1st Tasting Session at the Orchard: five lovely heritage apples that people compared – and marvelled at. We also worked with new partner 2and5 in Corio to supply and plant 100 heritage fruit trees. This NFP group aims to get social and economic disadvantaged people access to cheap fresh fruit and veg. The WPHO were happy to help with that aim. And of course our relationships with Parks Victoria, Nature West and the Karen Community continue.
Sustained volunteer numbers have allowed us to continue with expanding the Orchard. Work was done this year on the hedgerows, adding hazelnuts and crab apples; and a couple more rows were netted to protect against the ongoing threat (and damage) from possums and rabbits. For the first time this year WPHO sourced its own rootstock for the July 2016 grafting day. This was a large learning curve for a number of the committee and we will develop the education and offering to the pubic of more varied rootstock in future. For a 2nd year in July we were able to borrow a grafting machine, and together with extra volunteer sessions, it has meant we were able to secure extra varieties for the Orchard.
Our grafting days this year were a mixed bag. July events continue to go from strength to strength and prove a test in managing the growth; with about 2000 people attending. The biggest challenge is up skilling people with the confidence to take on doing double grafts – in public and for strangers. The February event this year had a disappointing turnout of about 800 – 1000 people. Whether it coinciding with Valentine’s Day made an impact or something else happened we cannot be sure. The days are a large effort by the group; and we learn from each of them.
On the financial front the cost of netting and the result of the poor February day left us with a severe cash problem. With much humble appreciation we received a number of cash and equipment gifts. Combined with many, many sausages sizzles and cake stalls we enter the new year in a much healthier position.
Looking forward the netting effort continues, as does the search for a good tree labelling method, and the need to find the successful way of striking the Hawthorne for the hedgerow. Our newly relocated nursery will make it easier to take better care of our potted grafts and strikings – essential for drawing attention to promote WPHO and sell at events we attend.
There are many ideas of what else WPHO can do in 2016 / 2017. The continued concern about summer watering versus the cost of getting electricity or solar pumps down to the Orchard is never far from our minds. We are investigating planting varieties above the flood plain for extra heritage security, running additional Tasting Sessions as soon as the Orchard can support them, and initiating a Schools and Community Program. Also under discussion is how we can take up the offers of volunteering from those who can’t attend on Fridays. E.g. making or repairing benches and tables to building and maintaining Little Free libraries, website development, grafting day planning and fruit variety research.
I look to 2016 / 2017 with anticipation of it being a great year.
Werribee Park Heritage Orchard Committee