Kids dig in for garden task
A SO-CALLED 'pot to plate' vegetable growing trial program is proving a success in remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
The program from Charles Darwin University is designed to promote the growing of fresh produce and educating children about nutrition through a vegetable garden project at the Belyuen School on the Cox Peninsular.
Located about 120km west of Darwin, Belyuen is the first indigenous community to trial growing the tropical spinach- like vegetable aibika as part of the scheme known as the PNG Veggie Project.
Charles Darwin University horticulture lecturer Emily Hinds said the project promoted the nutritional, social and economic benefits of traditional vegetables in Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.
"People in remote communities have limited access to nutritious fresh vegetables and fruit,” Ms Hinds said.
"They are increasingly eating more energy-dense, store-bought food and less traditional foods due to reduced contact with homelands and bush tucker.”
Ms Hinds said the project aimed to understand and increase the role of traditional vegetables for smallholder growers in isolated parts of PNG and how this information could be transferred into remote school and community gardens in the NT.
"We not only teach children how to plant aibika, but also how to cook it,” she said.
"A pot-to-plate education is vital when encouraging families to incorporate a new food in their diets.”
Ms Hinds said aibika had been chosen for the Territory trial because of its adaptability.
"It is a PNG traditional vegetable that grows as a medium to large shrub and produces big leaves,” Ms Hinds said.
"Essentially it is a spinach alternative that is an easy-to-grow perennial. It really is as tough as nails.
"All you really need is a bit of soil and some water and it produces a highly nutritious green leaf.”
The program, which has been running for about three years, trialled other PNG plants such as rungia, which is similar to a mushroom.
Ms Hinds said she hoped to expand the program further to encourage healthy eating in communities in the Territory.
"We are looking at producing a cookbook using a range of PNG traditional vegetables and then hopefully we will be able to develop a number of YouTube videos showing people how to cook them.
"The focus is really about showing kids how to grow and cook foods that are good for them.”
Ms Hinds said using traditional vegetables from PNG for the project made sense because in most areas of the country the foods that people ate were all grown in their own backyards.
"There is very little money around in the PNG economy, so if you don't grow it yourself, it is pretty much the case that you don't eat.”
Ms Hinds said the program could also have applications on pastoral properties across the NT.
"Remote cattle stations could really benefit from this.
"In places where food is often flown in, having the ability to grow and pick your own greens such as aibika provides people with healthy options for their plate.”
Project leader and CDU horticulture lecturer Tania Paul said a successful trial at Belyuen could result in expansion into other remote indigenous communities across the Top End.
Darwin and rural primary schools including Anula, Girraween, Berry Springs and Middle Point have also been involved in the $1.2 million project, which was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.