One of our founding members was a medical doctor in Kowanyama and she and her husband are also experienced, super-keen gardeners. They saw the need to encourage people in Kowanyama to look at improving their nutrition (which is very poor in remote communities and leads to illness and death at very young ages) through growing easy to grow super nutritious vegetables. With a donation of land from the council and support from the Kowanyama lands office, a community demonstration vegetable garden was established by our volunteers with help from the local kids and some assistance/donations from some local tradies & the store. This was done with locally acquired materials, mostly scavenged from the dump, to demonstrate how home gardens can be built with little expenditure.
A multitude of unusual varieties of vegetables have been sourced by these members who collect these things so that the garden now grows a range of Asian, Papua New Guinean and other vegetables that are very nutritious and are very easy to grow in the extreme wet/dry tropical environment of Kowanyama. The garden provides a place to learn how to grow these vegetables, a source of propagation material to distribute through the community (cuttings and seeds) and a resource for a range of health related activities. For example, there have been gardening demonstrations for adults and kids, cooking classes starting from picking the vegetables for school classes, and bush cooking lessons (teaching how to make bush stew healthier) as part of the workshops run by local tribal groups.
In June 2012 we received a small grant to enable us to improve and expand and make it easier to maintain by installing some extra garden beds and automated irrigation for the dry season. It ended being a marvellous activity with the kids as every day we had hordes of kids coming into the garden wanting to help shovel sand, spread mulch, assemble garden beds etc. Kowanyama kids were little champions at helping!
The garden is available for a range of community groups to use. It is currently being used by the current employment services provider RISE VENTURES for training and part time employment, the Justice Group has used it for community service, the school for cooking classes and as a great venue for education/teen groups etc., the Indigenous health promotion officer from Apunipima Cape York Health Council uses the veges for health promotion, Jimmy Little foundation has filmed video clips for kids health programs in there etc. There are also beds available for school classes who wish to do vegetable gardening.
Many locals drop by when our volunteers are in there and they always leave with armfuls of cuttings and seeds and advice for home. The kids regularly drop in to hang out, talk and help with the gardening, learn about gardening and they are rewarded for their help with veges to take home for mum or nanna to cook. It is also a quiet peaceful space that is available for people to just chill out and talk or relax on the garden seats and community counsellors know they are able to use the space as well. Many a special conversation or counselling session has been had there!
Materials from the garden were also used by our volunteers to establish an edible garden at the Women's shelter that has been successfully growing and being eaten for a couple of years now.
In April 2016 our volunteers also expanded the seating area installing a great 3m long aluminium bench and table for community groups to us.
Current plans revolve around RISE local workers propagating more of these hardy edible and nutritious plants to plant around the community and many have been established around the place. Locals who wish to grow these plants can come and get a pot from the garden.
The other half of this piece of land hosts the council/rangers office greenhouse where Viv Sinnamon from the cultural centre and the rangers as well as the RISE garden workers propagate local bush tucker and medicine plants. We have provided support for this by installing automatic irrigation into this greenhouse and we use a corner of it as well.