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Cultivating community – home gardens, Peta Christensen, RIG News, June 2013

2014 January 3
by anthea

A home garden grown at someones home as part of the program

A home garden grown at someones home as part of the program

Peta Christensen is the Food Systems Projects and Partnerships Leader with Melbourne based NGO Cultivating Community.

Peta has recently joined the RIG Advisory Group and I’m really looking forward working with her to expand RIG Network’s connections with innovative urban and regional food projects and people. Peta kindly provided the following story that illustrates how garden based programs can foster social inclusion and create connections to enhance wellbeing.

Cultivating Community is a Melbourne based NGO who has been working on urban agriculture and community food projects including community gardens, school gardens, food waste and composting programs, community kitchens and a range of other sustainable food and social justice initiatives for over a decade.

We’ve been part of many inspiring projects over the years however last year we got to work on a small but powerful initiative that really made us remember the deep rooted benefits of growing your own food.  Cultivating Community teamed up with the Red Cross and CERES Environment Park to deliver Putting Down Roots, a wonderful pilot program dreamed up by two passionate young Red Cross Case Managers who could see the enormous potential of gardening and food growing to assist Asylum Seekers and other vulnerable migrants.

Putting Down Roots aimed to increase the social and emotional well-being of participants and provide the means for people to have additional access to fresh and nutritious food.

About 30 people took part in the program which involved attending an eight week horticulture course at CERES.  The gardeners were then either connected with a plot in a community garden or a small garden was installed at the participant’s accommodation.  Participants came from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya which made for a very diverse, delicious end of program feast and celebration!

Quite a few of the participants were highly experienced gardeners with one man from Sudan being an agronomist however even the very experienced gardeners came along each week to socialize with other gardeners, learn about access to affordable or free food across the city and to find out about gardening practices in Australia.  A Sri Lankan woman who had been self-sufficient in her homeland talked about having goats and chickens for her manure so the very idea of going to the nursery and buying a bag of poo was completely new to her!

Each participant had a Red Cross Volunteer Mentor that supported them in their garden endeavor for the duration of the 6-month pilot, meeting regularly at the participant’s home or community garden to help establish and maintain their gardens. Volunteer Mentors also attended the CERES training course to provide additional support and encouragement.

The program resulted in a number of unanticipated benefits for participants. Some gained a little employment or work experience with Lucas our garden builder; one participant volunteers a morning a week at Ceres Fair Food, and another participant who was a bee keeper in Iran now has a bee hive at his place and has been fully kitted out courtesy of local bee keeping suppliers.

Cultivating Community is hopeful additional funding can be secured in order to run this wonderful program again.

For more information on the program including participants stories and profiles visit:  http://blog.redcross.org.au/category/program-blogs/putting-down-roots/.

For more information about Cultivating Community visit:  www.cultivatingcommunity.org.au

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