In 2014, the Watarrka Foundation engaged the skills and expertise of Slow Food Hunter Valley to assist in bringing the Watarrka school vegetable garden back to life. Five years on, the veggie garden and fruit orchard have been fully set up and are thriving.
Without the assistance and organisation of Slow Food Hunter Valley (SFHV) , this project would not have been successful. A huge thank you to the SFHV team, in particular Andrew Dempster who completed many visits to the Watarrka Primary School over the past few years to build the gardens and monitor the project up close, in person.
Over the past 5 years the Slow Food Hunter Valley team have also the set-up and assisted in the maintenance of vegetable gardens and fruit orchards within two other communities in the Watarrka region. The Ulpanyali and Wanmara community are now enjoying the benefits of home grown produce and healthy eating each week thanks to SFHV.
Healthy foods, 5 years in the making
When the Foundation approached the SFHV team in 2014, the project was set out to be a long term commitment, and was expected to take between 3-5 years. The aim of the project was to apply the SFHV philosophy of delivering good, clean and fair food to the remote indigenous communities in Lilla, Ulpuanyali and Wanmara.
The deliverables of the Lilla project included:
- A fresh food garden for the Watarrka Primary School
- A procedure for ongoing maintenance of growing food and the gardens
- A program to transfer knowledge on use of fresh garden produce for daily consumption
There was an old, disused structure already standing near the Watarrka Primary School which was previously used as a garden but had not been maintained. This same site was used, and the structure was completely re-worked and re-fenced to facilitate the new and improved fresh food garden.
Above: Before and after photos of the Foundation Garden
Support from the local community and volunteers
In 2015, the Foundation received a grant from Australia Post which was used towards the gardens and fruit orchards at all three communities. Andrew Dempster spent time in the Watarrka region organising and assisting with the construction of the Watarrka community orchard, which included new fences, gates, shadecloth, plants and use of natural fertilisers.
In 2016, Andrew was accompanied back to the Watarrka Primary School with colleague and chef, Aman Dosanyj. The team worked closely with Watarrka Primary School teacher Christine Munro to develop a detailed program of harvesting the food, preparing it and consuming it.
Later in the same year Andrew returned with volunteers from Cranbrook School and Braemar College who helped him completely re-structure the school garden and orchard, and the Foundation garden which was then opened for use as a community garden.
In 2017, 9 volunteers from SFHV travelled to the Watarrka Community to finalise the project. During this visit, new fencing was erected around the fruit orchard, the wicking beds were irrigated, and the community garden was replanted.
Above: Volunteers from Cranbrook School working on the gardens.
"The team from Slow Food Hunter Valley have brought one of the Foundation’s most important projects to life. Now the gardens and orchard are successfully up and running, the whole community benefits from fresh healthy produce every week. The team have been an amazing support in delivering this project, as well as supporting our second classroom build by making a very generous donation to the construction. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Andrew and his team over the past few years.”
- Paul Jensen, Chairman of the Watarrka Foundation
Full details and next steps
Full details on the fantastic work completed by the SFHV team in the Watarrka region can be found through their project summary report here.
After the great success of this project, and seeing first-hand the positive impacts on the community, Andrew and his team will be embarking on their next major build of a veggie and fruit garden for the nearby Utju Areyonga School.