Green thumbed George gets island gardens growing
Thursday, 17 May 2012
You could say George Ernst is living the dream - he has a job which allows him to combine his two great loves; growing fruit and vegetables and teaching his students how to revegetate Thursday Island.
As if that is not enough to keep the smile on his face, the green thumbed Tropical North Queensland TAFE teacher's gardening project on Thursday Island will touch the lives of many for generations to come.
Mr Ernst is an engineering and horticulture teacher at TNQT's Thursday Island campus at Tagai State College.
And when he is not standing in front of a class, he is in his yard growing crops or on the street tending to community and council owned gardens.
Mr Ernst, who moved to the Island as an engineering teacher four years ago, began teaching horticulture programs in 2010. Since then the island has literally bloomed.
Students enrolled in this year's horticulture programs, which include a Certificate II course, are engaged in greening up the island through a joint project with Torres Shire Council, the Torres Shire Regional Authority, Tagai State College and Queensland Health.
During the first year the program received support from local businesses and individuals with a variety of donations to keep the program alive and viable.
By the end of the year he plans to have created 80 garden beds on road reserves and verges - planting each with either mango or citrus trees and other edible crops including water melons, pumpkins, chillies, cucumbers, pineapples, lemon grass and paw paws.
"I am thoroughly enjoying working with the students and I think the community appreciates what we are doing too because they are always tooting and waving and giving us the thumbs up when we are out there working," Mr Ernst said.
The green thumbed teacher and the students have already planted out 44 areas across the island, with a further 20 to be completed mid year. By year's end about 80 areas will have been greened up with edible crops and fruit trees.
Mr Ernst, who set up a "farm" with crops and livestock at Bamaga while working as a teacher in the 90s, said the greening up the island project was born after he noticed the island's verges and reserves were in need of some TLC and also the community needed access to fresh fruit and vegetables
The program also has the aim of stimulating and rekindling an interest in gardening among the local residents.
Through firsthand experience of living on the island, he also understood the need for fresh fruit and vegetables to be grown locally.
"The project has gone from strength to strength. Not only do the gardens look great but they serve a practical purpose too. They will be servicing the community for decades to come," Mr Ernst said.
The community gardens will continue to be cared for by Mr Ernst's students, with input from TSC.
The project has also been commended by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as it gives biosecurity plant health officers new sites to inspect for introduced diseases and pests.
For Mr Ernst, 57, the "job" of greening up Thursday Island with edible crops and passing on his knowledge and passion for gardening was more than just enjoyable.
"This is the pinnacle of 30 years of teaching," he said.
TNQT Institute Director Joann Pyne said Mr Ernst's commitment and passion was infectious and had renewed interest in the hobby of gardening, particularly edible crops, on the Island.
"There are so many benefits of this project - the students are gaining skills, the town is being beautified and the community has access to fresh fruit and vegetables," Ms Pyne said.
"The initiative has also spilled over into people's backyards, with residents approaching George for advice and cuttings for their own gardens."
Mr Ernst is available by telephoning 04 27 96 79 63.
For more information about enrolling in the horticulture programs offered by TNQT in the Torres Strait please telephone 4212 1500.