From Little Things, Big Things Grow
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 remoteindigenousgardens.net however at this time I am not widely distributing the full thesis.