Feature

Costa: no imposter

G Magazine

His excitement for growing food, community and health is contagious. We meet the man who’s spreading the love for growing food to a new generation.

Costa

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Synonymous with all things gardening, permaculture and growth (no beard pun intended), Costa Georgiadis has hit his stride this year as the new host of ABC’s well-loved TV show, Gardening Australia. And if there’s one thing Costa does well, it’s bringing life to a situation. The landscape architect known for his particularly hairy facial features and exuberant nature sure has passion – truckloads of it, backyards full of it, and he’s more than forthcoming in sharing it around. We popped in to visit Costa at his home that he shares with his father Stan in Sydney’s Bondi. We caught up on his new verge community garden, his views on the importance of Australia’s regional towns, and his love for poo.

On his family

Costa traces his green thumb back to his Greek grandfather, who passed on his passion for growing food.

“He was just so into it, like nothing else. He and my grandmother started a garden and my grandmother had a little shop. I clearly remember just sitting in the garden with him talking to me and he’d say the Greek name [for a plant] and not have to repeat it in English. If you talk about where the actual seed was sown, I don’t think I could take it past him and his crazy passion. I remember as a kid going into gardens and the Greeks would just go ‘snap’ and take some of this, ‘snap’ take some of that... and they just shared. Food was just so important. So my grandfather was growing it and my grandmother was cooking it. And they just did it. That was the destination, they were worried about what you ate.

“Dad didn’t have the same garden enthusiasm as my grandfather, but he loves eating all the bitter stuff, the endives and the chicory. He loves amaranth. He’s big on his greens.”

On regional Australia

Spending a lot of his time zipping around to various events and engagements across Australia, Costa is a
big advocate for getting to regional areas as much as possible.

“I’ve just been in Tamworth for four days doing a sustainable living event. I did some talks, we worked on a kindergarten and built an earthbag snake in the playground, and also filled some earth bags and planted new beds at the local high school, took the deputy mayor out to a new community hub site, and in the evening had a 100-mile dinner – it was a busy few days.

“The regional stuff… I just think it’s important. Because in terms of the big picture – our whole food sovereignty and food supply, and the questions around our food system – it all stems from the importance of the regions and if we don’t recognise and support that, then that kind of connection is lost.

“I put in the opener [of my first episode with Gardening Australia] that the whole world’s a garden. So I’ve got to go to the regions – that’s the kitchen garden of the city. That’s why you’ll see me in Tamworth, Moruya, Gloucester… there’s a lot rising in these towns at the moment.

“I always talk about it like it’s a matrix joining up and the stuff that’s going on in Moruya is mirroring the stuff that’s rising up in Tamworth, and somewhere like Bellingen is doing its thing, and the Gold Coast and Townsville and Gladstone and Cairns... I just love it.

“People are waking to these connections and these realities that have been conveniently shelved due to convenience, and now we are realising we’ve handed a certain amount of quality and integrity over for the sake of convenience. So when health starts to decline and problems start to arise, you only need to take it back to where you handed it all over to an industrial system – which is based on bottom lines, not actually hearts and souls. So that’s what I really like to bring back to the verge, and say look, as you walk past to walk or school, look, this is how food grows.”

On the verge

Costa’s new verge garden outside his Bondi home has been a prominent feature on the new season of his show as he works tirelessly to promote growing food, community and good health.

“I think some neighbours were a bit shocked when I first covered it all with straw because we did a no-dig system. But then all of a sudden it’s growing up as a beautiful thing. We’re going to work our way down the street and turn it into a mix of natives and beneficial plants, and then there’s going to be a little orchard at one point with fruit trees and things, and another section we’ll have a big mint garden… It’s kind of just about putting it in front of people.

“There’s a lot of little benefits developing out of it. There’s no chemicals being sprayed on this side, the verge is just another space now. People are interested in it, there’s families down the street that walk
up after dinner with their kids to have a look, so they have some family time just because of that. There are other families where the kids are now getting responsibility to carry the scraps up and put them in the bin for the chickens.

“And it’s free land! Imagine asking any organisation, ‘could you give me 150 square metres of free land in Bondi?’ They’d go, ‘tripper, who are you kidding?!’ I suppose that’s the thing I like about it, there’s land everywhere, it’s right in front of you.

“I want to move on later and build gardens around the fire station, and incorporate it into the local churches, and connect with the school, and look at the local laneways, and plant lots of edible useful things.

“People shouldn’t be paying money to buy a sprig of rosemary when the thing is a mongrel plant that grows on the sides of hills. This is sandy and dry here and just ideal, the nature strip should be filled with it… and so you want some rosemary you just go out and pick some.

“It all ties into the big picture, because we’re not locking up farm land, or using energy to grow stuff
that should just be growing off sunlight. So even though we’ve got all these issues, you can actually
solve them.

“I’m not there handing out brochures on the verge as they stop. I’m just there planting stuff – people are like, ‘wow, I can’t believe it’s four weeks, what have you got them on?’ And I say, ‘it’s just poo. Poo, sunlight, straw and a bit of love.’ All these people are coming past, and that’s probably the most exciting part, that I’m handing out the proof.

"What motivates me is that a little example like this ties in to the very fabric of the big picture issues – you can have a position on stuff, but the best position to have is to position the world in order around your own house and your immediate world. And then those ripples are going to go phwoar!"

On community

One of the huge benefits of the verge garden is the power it has for community engagement, creating a space
for neighbours to meet.

“When I put the chicken tractor on the street it’s like a magnet. Within literally any hour there’d be someone there just looking. The adults would be stunned, the kids would be ecstatic and it’d just draw them all out.

“Then suddenly they’re going, ‘oh where are you from?’ ‘oh you’re in number 7, that’s interesting’. So the chickens were doing all the community building just by pooing and eating up the nature strip, eating all the seeds and doing all the good things they do.

“I think a simple way to engage more with community would be to just look up, look people in the eye and say hello. And share stuff. Put a sign up on the street saying ‘old thing needs new home’. Or when you actually grow stuff, you get an abundance and you can’t use it all. Just give a cucumber to someone and say ‘I’ve grown this with love and no chemicals, and it’s grown right here and it’s a very special cucumber, and I want to give it to you’. It’s that human element. There’s peoples lives unfolding around you everywhere and we just get caught up in our own. What we really need is just a smile and contact and acknowledgement that people are there.”

Stan (Costa's father), on community:
"We come from the country and when you see people you say good morning and you make eye contact. Here in the city, you say good morning and their face goes down. Now, they’re more friendly. It’s brought the community together. It’s achieved a good result. It’s a community result, whereas before it was every
man for himself."

On kids

Costa is a big believer that we ultimately need to get kids the most engaged to build a momentum of change.

“We need to engage everyone on this process, but I look at it and go, well if I get the kids, then the kids pull in their parents. So I might be talking about it in terms of rolling around rubbing poo on me and doing cartwheels and backward somersaults and all these sorts of crazy things for fun with the kids, but it’s going in even deeper with the adults. The kids are like the little agents of change.

“People ask me, ‘why do you have so much energy with kids’, and I say because that’s pure – they don’t have baggage. It’s such a wonderful energy to harness and share and revert back to. So that’s why I love to just be in the now, and by being it with kids it rubs off with the other stuff that I do. You can’t be totally out with the pixies, but that’s the energy that we need to change. Because science wise, there’s people doing great stuff, but for me, I think if we’re really going to make a change we’re going to need more of the kid and the soul side.”

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