A couple of days ago Joe Garita passed away, he was 89 years old. You might know Joe from the broad bean seeds we gave out last year. Joe has been growing those broad beans in his Coburg market garden since 1945. On that small piece of land on the banks of the Merri Creek Joe and Jean Garita raised seven children and saw the city grow around them. One by one the neighbouring market gardens and dairies that had fed the first European settlers turned into houses until finally Joe’s hectare of vegetables was the last market garden in inner-Melbourne; an island of beans, chicory, tomatoes and rapa surrounded by a sea of tin and tile roofs. A free-way was proposed and fought off, supermarkets grew, corner grocers began to disappear and soon many small farmers went with them. But the Merri, as always, continued to flood, Joe patiently replanted ruined crops, continued to harvest and took his old flat-bed Toyota to Footscray wholesale market.
In 2003 with an eye on retirement Joe began handing over his market garden to CERES. He gave it a couple of rows at a time and it took three years until he had passed on the whole property. I didn’t get it at the time but came to realise that he was giving us an apprenticeship of sorts, making sure we’d know how to take care of the land he’d stewarded for 60 years. When that was done he kept helping, leading the way, gently pointing out what he saw then leaving it up to us to either learn from his advice or repeat our mistakes.
I learned many things from Joe about being a good farmer but I think I learned more from him about being a good person. He was a forgiving man and despite the many hard things that had happened in his life he just got on with what was in front of him. When I got mad at people stealing our zucchinis or broad beans he would brush it off with a story and an infectious giggle that I could not help being buoyed by.
Joe was a big tree in our community he sheltered and nurtured many. Now he has fallen it is plain to see the space he filled in our lives. In the last few weeks a stream of family and friends have come to say goodbye, to hold his hand, hug him and hear him say “Hey…” in the special welcoming way he had. I can’t think of the Merri Creek market garden without thinking of the man and even though CERES has been farming there for 12 years I will always think of this place as Joe’s garden.
Our thoughts go out to Jean and the Garita family.
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