Passion N Place – Kane Hogan – The Urban Gardner
This month we talk with Kane Hogan aka The Urban Gardner who is passionate about creating sustainable local food eco-systems, enhancing food security and community well-being. He has been working on developing the gardens at No. 37 Community House, hosting weekly gardening classes where people are invited to come together, potter in the garden and develop seed raising, composting and permaculture skills.
He has a background of running The Urban Gardner as a social enterprise with his ex-partner in Oxford, New Zealand and has developed his skills through the Koanga Institute and various other permaculture initiatives. He’s passionate about creating sustainable, resilient food eco-systems and connecting communities to become more caring and self-sufficient. Alongside this he’s a talented singer/songwriter and a natural philosopher, during our chat we talked about finding our passions and purpose, developing meaningful connections in our community and how we might empower sustainable communities in the future.
“What should we create, we’re not going to be here long you know, what should we create?
I want it to be beautiful whatever it is, to the best of my ability while having ratios of wretchedness, laziness and gluttony – those regular old vices”. – Kane Hogan – The Urban Gardner
Kane was born in Auckland but spend the first few years of his life in Wellington before moving with his Mum at the age of 5 to Nelson. He vividly remembers being 10, spending summers immersed in the swimming holes of the Matai River, riding his bike around and the sense of freedom he found there. He found his primary school years as some of his happiest, enjoying socialising and connecting with people. However he found school and particularly his secondary years incredibly difficult, with an element of dyslexia he found it challenging to slow the information down and to make sense of it.
He ended up leaving High School at the age of 16 at went to the Fishing Cadet School in Nelson, following in the footsteps of his immediate family but found he hated this role. With a inner propulsion towards physical jobs he went into building as a labourer, although he reminisces of the fact that he probably should have joined the circus and been a dancer but didn’t know how to validate his passions. He worked as a builder for 10 years, moving between different apprentices but found the theory side difficult, particularly the maths involved in calculating and reading plans.
Kane describes the main elements that encapsulate his background as a lot of “a lot of anxiety and confusion, being quite lost, with a need to send a lot of energy flying about the place with no specific aim”. He found solitude in the gym doing lots of physical exercise but found himself as a very depressed builder. At that stage in his life he didn’t know how to trust himself or identify gifts and honour his own passions.
This lead to escaping to Belfast in the UK where he studied psychology for a year, where his passion for song-writing took over and led him to performing as a Wedding singer and performer, something that he had the talent and memory for, both as a cover singer and as an original songwriter.
After a year in Belfast he realised it was time to come home with a desire to reconnect with his children. It was around this time that he discovered his love for horticulture, during a severe melt-down he experienced when he was 41. It was during this time that he found he loved musing, wandering about, writing and playing music. Overcoming a certain feeling that his passion for music wasn’t valued and or helping him to flourish. While he expresses how he would have liked to have been able to experience the stability of being a lawyer or doctor, he found that he couldn’t with his love for creativity and his desire to constantly create and explore new ideas. After his breakdown, all of the perceptions about himself dissipated and gave him the time to connect with the things he was truly passionate about.
He found joy in working as a lawnmower for City Care in Christchurch, where there was an automatic nature to the task and he had time to process his inner thoughts while listening to podcasts. He discussed how in another life he would have loved to have been in academia, filling his life with knowledge, living in cities such as Copenhagen enjoying some of the best cycle paths in the world. He explains how if he was to fulfil his other alter ego he definitely would have “joined the circus, become a jazz drummer and a professor in psychology “with a lime green suit and orange top hat”.
“Ted talks were amazing, I just saturated myself with Ted Talks for 2 years. That ultimate of connected community, sharing people’s epiphany, that community again, that ultimate of being connected, that intellectual community, with people that are progressive and breaking their own boundaries and hearing their articulate sharing of it.
Awesome – the best church, so nourishing, it was awesome!”
Having been laid off after the earthquake he spent sometime woofing before an opportunity appeared to go and earn $50 an hour looking after an experiment with the Kohanga Institute. He ended up heading up to Wairoa and running an experiment to convert a standard NZ section into a sustainable urban garden – 200 sq metres with 35 fruit trees, 40sqm of garden and running a backyard food growing mentoring program. “It was hugely challenging, but I was sick of myself, I knew I needed to get out of my comfort zone.”
Kay Baxter who founded the Koanga Institute established the experiment to see if everything shut down and the systems broke, could you grow enough nutrition for a family of four on a ¼ acre section. It was based in enhancing healthy living, returning to more primitive and sustainable food cultivation techniques rather than the modern Westernised diet that had seen marked increases health problems such as tooth decay and cancer.
We had 200sqm with four rotational garden beds, half of which would be used for growing carbon crops to feed the nutritional elements of the soil. We had rabbits on a worm farm, with 10 chickens on a compost heap that grew beautiful soil, and expeller fruit trees all around the perimeter. While it was an attempt at being a fully self-sustaining section, there was always a need to still bring some outside things in such as corn to feed the chickens or seeds to raise the seedlings with.
Kane’s experience at Koanga Institute was enriching, particularly during the summer months as he watched the fruits of his labour coming to fruition:
“Standing in the garden at mid-Summer, when everything was most productive and beautiful and lush around me, just picking vegetables daily, being in the heat of the summer and in the shade of what I had created. I just went this is beautiful, this was easy and why isn’t this woven into our culture, it’s so healing.”
Kane explains how it was a challenging experience for him, coming to terms with his own individualism and being part of and coordinating a collective of volunteers. This experience helped shape his thoughts around community and how we interact with one another as a society:
“Being a part of a community, the one thing that I learnt from being part of the community there is that essentially everyone wants to be connected, but we all want to be King and Queen. None of us want to be told, but we all want to be meaningfully connected to one another.”
It was towards the end of his time at Koanga that Kane started to consider how he would adjust back into the world around him “I knew that as soon as I left there I’d be stepping into a food desert… there was something missing in the fabric of neighbourhoods and daily coming and going in some form of environmentally enriched environment that I had experienced with having plants around me. I realised it’s a living environment that enables you to feel an experience of paradise”.
This created Kane’s desire totry and create these types of living environments, weaving them into our neighbourhoods, as part of your food production, if it creates beauty and is meaningful then it just becomes a catalyst for community wellbeing.
Kane left Koanga to undertake his first Urban Garner job with a playcentre in Hastings where they were trying to feed 100 kids a day. Helping to establish a garden and cloche, where he started to visualise a new profession, particularly as he realised the need for people to carry on and keep things going after he had it established and his time to move on came. It cemented his belief that there needs to be a new profession – “someone whose job it was to install and look after urban gardens throughout our neighbourhoods – a neighbourhood angel who is there to look after just that.”
Kane left Koanga to undertake his first Urban Garner job with a play-centre in Hastings where they were trying to feed 100 kids a day. Helping to establish a garden and cloche, where he started to visualise a new profession, particularly as he realised the need for people to carry on and keep things going after he had it established and his time to move on came. It cemented his belief that there needs to be a new profession – “someone whose job it was to install and look after urban gardens throughout our neighbourhoods – a neighbourhood angel who is there to look after just that.”
Kane moved back down South, visiting his Mum in Westport before doing a 3 month stint in Karamea helping to establish a permaculture garden at the Karamea Farm Baches. He’d been following Curtis Stone who had been developing a market garden model in urban environments under a social enterprise model. Moving in and off the dole as he tried to develop his pathway as an urban gardener, so was attracted to the idea of trying to develop it on more of a sustainable model.
Kane met his ex-wife Fiona and invited Kane to come help transform her section in Oxford based on Curtis Stone’s model. Kane was all lined up to go and do a course with Curtis Stone, so Fiona came and joined him before they returned and began developing intensive garden beds on Fiona’s ¼ acre section. They started off with double digging the soil before purchasing a rotary hoe and an automatic seeder, they went to no dig, with the intent of limiting work while enhancing productivity.
They focused on growing fresh salad greens, harvesting fresh as per demand, and selling directly from the garden, with people being able to text in and have it freshly picked before they arrived. They cycled around the community dropping off salad mixes to cafés and local restaurants while doing general landscaping work.
Kane has a strong empathy for elderly and explains how “we are all them!”, his vision for the Urban Gardner encapsulates community care, whereby they would go and connect with elderly, assisting with their gardens while providing them company that would help absolve their sense of isolation. He has a vision that’s sees a troop of young people, who have energy helping to connect with elderly, to share wisdom while creating local food systems.
“I had noticed that part of my need was to be meaningfully connected, I’d tried to be an island… we need each other, to be meaningfully connected as part of a tribe. You have to give, if you’re lonely be a friend, if you feel unconnected then connect, if you want to find meaning serve, find where to give.. just choose something, you can have what you want, what do you want? You have to know what it is and take responsibility for something”.
The work involved in trying to create what Kane and Fiona dreamt of in Oxford with the Urban Gardener was challenging, working long hours while struggling to build a sustainable income. After 2 ½ years toiling away Kane found it exhausting, and had a desire to return back to Westport, to spend time with his Mum and invest in the place that he saw his children inheriting. While Kane and Fiona had worked well as a team, with Fiona’s business skills balancing Kane’s creative and physical tendencies. However, he found himself burnt out again and needed the time to restart the game, to start from a fresh slate and bring together the learnings from his experiences and putting it into a place he could see himself spending his remaining days in.
His Mum had two properties, one by the Lost Lagoon and another section on Utopia Rd. that provided the space that he could grow and create for his girls in the future. His work has always been physical and he has never been one for sitting behind a computer, however he started to feel the impacts of age and realising that he’d need to change the way he was doing things – becoming less of the doer and more of the mentor.
Connecting with No. 37 Community House provided him with a sense of meaning in Westport and a place he could help nourish local food resiliency from, while undergoing his own healing. Kane has helped build their gardens and been running weekly gardening classes, with an environment that people could be free to relax and heal. He’s created a library in the old op shop of library books and has been helping to run a weekly community lunch on Tuesday’s that brought in local chef’s to help build cooking skills and nutritional knowledge.
It’s provided Kane with a base to work on what he believes in, where he feels that there is a need in our communities for Urban Gardner’s whose role is to help grow local food resiliency, beautify and connect their neighbourhoods. That they need to be built on the same basis and importance as other care workers like nurses and doctors. That there is a real need to connect, nourish and grow our local communities through urban gardening and recreating sustainable local food systems we can create a better sense of wellbeing and nourishment for us all.
Kane sees his work at No.37 as being a microscopic version of the community hubs that he feels need to be woven into our neighbourhoods. An iconic space for locals, where you can walk or cycle to, that you have a sense of ownership that nourishes your needs. That grows salad greens year round but is also a library and mentoring space where we can go to learn, relax and connect.
We discuss how we need to redesign our communities and society to ensure that good food is as common as doughnuts and fizzy drinks, and that once we’ve got it right in our own communities, then we can go to Mars. Expanding on how we all have the need to connect with our shared needs, the fact that we all need to eat, to have shelter and find meaningful connection.
Kane’s desire is to see the creation of these sorts of local ecosystems and iconic spaces created in Westport and every community, interconnected with the education system and creating a beautiful nourishing environment for us all.
“If you’re not being defined by a vision of tomorrow, you’re being dictated to by memories of the past – without a vision the people perish, so let’s hold something up that’s lovely to pursue.”
You can join Kane down in the garden @ No.37 Community House on Tuesday’s from 10am to 12pm, they even have a shared lunch from 12pm.