Your glass jars leftover from cooking maybe some else’s treasure. For Merryl, this was just the case. I met Merryl when she enquired about my spare glass jars that I listed on the Spare Harvest marketplace. I had several jars that were destined for the recycling bin and wondered if anyone would like to use them. After I connected with Merryl, I invited her to pick them up from my home. I wanted to know what she was using them for. This is Merryl’s story about my glass jars.
Over the past two years, Merryl’s made more than 2,000 jars of cucumber or zucchini pickles jars and counting. When I visited Merryl and her partner Ted’s place in Nambour, there’s evidence of pickling everywhere. From the big pot on the stove to the vast collection of donated jars and a big old wooden spoon. People on Spare Harvest donate the jars and cucumbers she uses for the pickles, which are made from a family recipe and vegetables are donated by her neighbour and others. “It is about community and it’s about living; it’s about being here for each other whether you’re giving or sharing. It’s about loving, basic love. A good neighbour up the road does the labels and supplies vinegar, and Care Outreach provide sugar for the pickles – it is a team effort,” she said.
Merryl is now affectionately known as Mrs Pickles by the team at Care Outreach and thinks nothing of making jars of pickles with whatever produce is available. “When you’ve got a permaculture garden, you use absolutely everything and plants are positioned to complement each other. No spray is used here and we try not to waste anything,” she said. “Scraps go into our worm farm – there’s buckets buried in the garden with holes in and the worms come in and take it out. I also use worm juice on the vegetables and worm castings for planting. Everything gets a really good start.” Merryl’s lifestyle and thriving vegetable garden are a testament to living sustainably with sensitivity to the environment and reducing the need to buy fresh produce.
For farmers near Roma, Longreach and beyond, who could be thinking about suicide, Merryl’s pickles come gift comes with love and support. “The locals out west know who are the vulnerable people and tell the Care Outreach worker and they will either pray with them, have a cuppa tea together or meet on the road for a talk,” Merryl said.
Merryl was a dressmaker and counsellor before retiring and these days provides Reiki healing, counselling and other support to many in her local community through word of mouth. Merryl said that doing this work just seems like a natural thing to do. “I just see myself at this age [an energetic 81] and ask, ‘how can I be of service?’ This isn’t about church or religion – it’s a spiritual thing for me.” Merryl’s attitude to giving and sustainability she thinks comes from growing up in rural Victoria during war times when everyone looked after each other and coupons were used for basic things like flour and sugar.
“Mum and Dad just didn’t have two pennies to rub together, but if someone was in need, mum would make a stew as it was called in those days,” she said. “You never knew if you were going to be the next one in need – it was a genuine community. People talk about the self-sufficiency today, but we really lived it.” Most of us would not think twice about throwing our glass jars into the recycling bin thinking we are doing the right thing. But if they can be re-used or re-purposed then that is what we should be doing before we recycle them. The recycling process uses lots of resources, reusing and repurposing don’t.
Ted and Merryl's Garden
Merryl will continue to make pickles and I will continue to share my cucumbers and glass jars. Care Outreach will continue to share ‘Mrs Pickles’ pickles with farmers during their care visits. But I would like to finish this story with some wise words from Merryl.
“Everyone has something to give, we mightn’t have money, but we all have a smile or something to give”.
What have you got that you can give to your community? To date, I have shared cucumbers and glass jars with Merryl which has made 92 jars of pickles. I am grateful to know that what I have spare is making a difference.