Skip to content

From Little Things, Big Things Grow

2009 November 12
by rachel

From Little Things, Big Things Grow: Investigating Remote Aboriginal Community Gardens

Rachel Green, 2009


Remote Aboriginal community gardens, while they are no panacea, have the potential to create a range of benefits including improved nutrition through greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables. This has the potential to generate health benefits and contribute to closing the 17 year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. This study used participatory research and observation to create a narrative of the benefits, challenges and potential for long term endurance of food gardens in remote Aboriginal Communities.

Seven remote Aboriginal communities and one outstation were visited in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. During two months of fieldwork, 44 people were consulted for this study, 22 of whom were Indigenous participants in community gardens. Fieldwork involved semi-structured and unstructured interviews, yarning groups and observation to gain a qualitative understanding of the benefits and challenges of community gardens. Through these methods including participation by the researcher in gardening activities, collection of quantitative data and shared experiences it was found that the practice of community gardening builds trust, relationships and networking, improves access to resources and promotes survival and self-determination in the remote Aboriginal communities in this study. These are some of the many benefits of remote Aboriginal community gardens which were uncovered by this research.

This study also determined that remote Aboriginal community gardeners have access to and consume between one to two meals per day, five to seven days per week that contain fruits and vegetables grown in community gardens. For this to translate into health outcomes and contribute to closing the gap, the significant multiple and compound challenges identified in this study need to be overcome. Some of these challenges include poor relationships between gardens and other community organisations such as stores. In one community, significant amounts of locally grown vegetables were left to rot because there was no system of distribution in place to deliver the food to the community through the store.

This research examined the role of the trainer or garden manager in advocating for Indigenous community gardeners and the garden, finding them to be in a critical role.

The relationships developed between Indigenous participants and the trainer were found to be strong and of paramount importance as they formed the base for the trainer’s role as  advocates for and on behalf of the garden and garden participants, facilitating access to necessary resources such as equipment and funding.

However, short CDEP funding cycles continue to shut down these projects and remove the trainer with whom a strong relationship has been built through the garden, after only one or two years. This is well before Indigenous participants have had the time to learn the skills required to be able to manage the garden independently. In this way the short term CDEP funding is setting up these projects (which have such great health potential) for failure. For example, gardens are established using equipment and infrastructure provided as part of a CDEP program. When that program ceases, gardens can fail if the equipment is removed and participants do not have the funds to purchase them independently.

Many remote Aboriginal community gardens are currently financially supported by short term CDEP funding cycles. As gardens both provide and increase consumption of healthy food, CDEP is in effect acting as a health subsidy to communities, but is short sighted and inadequate. Another major problem of the short term CDEP funding cycle is that it has no relationship to the seasonal growing cycle. Food is produced in communities through the dry season from Feb/Mar to Sep/Oct. CDEP funding follows the financial year which means that many projects become uncertain and may shut down for a period during the middle of the growing season. This presents a major problem – at a critical point in the growing season, training may cease which causes monitoring of irrigation to cease, for example. This not only impacts motivation among participants, because it makes no sense, but on a very practical level, causes the food plants to die.

There are many important potential benefits of remote Aboriginal community gardens, identified by this study, but also significant challenges. However these challenges are not insurmountable, and many of them can be overcome through knowledge transfer and sharing; improved planning; dedicated training not only in horticulture but also garden management; long term support and dedicated long term funding.


You can contact me by emailing  rachel at however at this time I am not widely distributing the full thesis.

17 Responses Post a comment
  1. anita peerson permalink
    May 5, 2010

    dear Rachel

    I was very pleased to learn by chance of your thesis on community gardens in remote indigenous communities. sounds delightful.

    I would be pleased to have the full reference details of your thesis and a copy of any related publications if available . many thanks

    as I enjoy gardening myself and have also worked out bush in a few communities it was good to learn more about these initiatives, which could also help improve food security and health status for indigenous people.



  2. michelle permalink
    May 24, 2010

    hi rachel

    im doing a university assignment and would like a copy of your thesis for some information if you could please send it though to me via, or the email provided with this message.

    many thanks

  3. Niaomi Stevens permalink
    May 31, 2010


    I am very interested to hear more about your thesis and to read some of your findings.

    May you please email me at

    I am currently studying post graduate in public health with an interest in Indigenous health and nutrition.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    0415 857 878

  4. Niaomi Stevens permalink
    May 31, 2010


    I am interested to obtain a copy of your thesis. I am currently studying a post graduate in public health with a focus of Indigenous commnunities remotely (I live in Alice Springs) and nutrition.

    Please contact me at

    Many thanks,

  5. Susan Lightfoot permalink
    June 25, 2010

    Dear Rachel,

    I have come across your ‘Abstract’ to your thesis through the Remote Indigenous Gardens Network site …

    I have recently visited Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory through a uni prac primary school placement … and was devastated but the lack of nutrition … upon return to Sydney I beagn thinking about a ‘Community Garden’ and have started some basic research into this online … which has lead to me read your Abstract.

    It would be greatly appreciated if I would be able to recieve a copy of your full thesis to read.

    Email –


    Kind Regards,

    Susan Lightfoot.

  6. Rachael Appleby permalink
    July 6, 2010

    Hi Rachael,

    I am doing a final year university project on what value Nutritionists add to community gardens in a variety of settings and I was wondering if you would be kind enough to send me a copy of your thesis?



  7. August 9, 2010

    Hi Rachel,
    I’d love to read your full thesis if you have a pdf copy and are happy to send. I am a landscape architect from Sydney and wrote my thesis in 2004 on community participation in public space projects. Your topic sounds very interesting.

  8. Maria Bakas permalink
    September 9, 2010

    I am co-ordinating Ottey Family Centre at South Lake in Perth and we are interested in community gardens and bush tucker. We have strong Indigenous presence at the Centre. Can we please access a copy of your thesis? Thanks for wonderful work and all the best.

  9. Sophie Hutchinson permalink
    September 29, 2010

    Hi Rachel,

    I am very interested in your thesis, and it sounds very relevant to my current Internship paper on Food Security in Remote Indigenous Communities and the role that good Community Development can play. I am going to focus on the utilisation of community gardens.

    I would be very interested in receiving a copy of your thesis, or at least relevant sources that could help shape my research,
    My email is

    Hope to hear from you soon,

    Kind regards,


  10. Bridgett toner permalink
    October 5, 2010

    Hi Rachel,

    I am interested in reading your thesis. I currently study Social planning with a focus on community development. I have previously worked for Community Supported Agriculture groups and am interested in food security for remote communities. I am also in contact with an Indigenous community in NT who are wanting to start producing food and thought your thesis may contain some valuable information for their community.



  11. JoanneB permalink*
    October 26, 2010


    I work in the SA Government in the Division of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation. We are looking at some fresh food strategies for our remote communities – particularly on the very dry APY Lands. We have trialled bush gardens in two of the communities with some degree of success but these were not sustainable in the longterm.
    I was interested to read your summary of your study and would really appreciate the full version to hear more about the factors that determine success. We experienced not only the funding issues, but vandalism and lack of commitment too. Water is always an issue there which is not common to a lot of more northern RIG sites.
    Would appreciate your feedback – and a copy of your thesis – to
    Joanne Bell

  12. Stacey Colelough permalink
    April 12, 2011

    Hi Rachel,

    I am an undergrad uni student training to be a geography teacher, studying sustainability. I was very interested in reading your thesis as i would really like to learn more and write my major paper on permaculture endeavors in indigenous communities but am struggling so far to find much information, any help here would be greatly appreciated, and great to see some positive initiatives being explored.

    Kind Regards


  13. Alex Hardy permalink
    May 21, 2011

    Hi Rachel,

    I am currently completing a Bachelor degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. I would like very much to read your thesis to gain some insight into the effectiveness of community gardens in addressing food security. If you wouldn’t mind sending me a copy, my email is


  14. Kirra Tully permalink
    October 19, 2011

    Hi Rachel
    I’m doing my masters in environmental policy and economics, currently writing a paper on improving education for sustainable communities and particularly interested in incorporating community gardens into national government community sport and recreation program policy. I believe it fundamentally essential to re-think and re-link our whole food lifecycle for more sustainable communities starting with grassroots action. To shifting our globalise multinational ideological reliance to more resilient built communities based on education, understanding, practical skills solutions and I was wondering if you could send me a copy of your thesis I would love a read?

  15. liza pezzano permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Hi Rachel,

    I was wondering if it would be possible to get a copy of your thesis. I’m currently doing an MA in Food Security and I’m particularly interested in remote Aboriginal community gardens (and urban/community gardens in general). Like Stacey, I’ve also been trying to find out about permaculture projects run with or by communities but there is very little information. If anyone has any contacts/links, that would be great!
    Anyway, I’d really appreciate a chance to have a chance to look at your thesis Rachel (or an update on what you have been doing since then).
    Thanks very much.

  16. christine Lewis permalink
    May 29, 2013

    Hi Rachel, very interested in you comments and would love to have a look at your Thesis, couple of us are trying to create a community garden at the moment. Thanks Chrissy

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS