Project about so much more than grow­ing veg­eta­bles

Con­ver­sa­tion un­der mul­berry tree leads to life-chang­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page - ME­GAN MAS­TERS me­gan.mas­ters@thechron­i­cle.com.au To find out more, search for The Mul­berry Project on Face­book or email themul­ber­rypro­ject4360@gmail.com.

IF YOU moved to a for­eign coun­try and were un­able to get any of your usual or favourite foods, it would be bound to have an ef­fect on both your di­ges­tion and your hap­pi­ness.

It’s of­ten the case when refugees move to our re­gion from African coun­tries.

Buy­ing spe­cialty pro­duce is dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive, so par­ents are of­ten left to feed their fam­ily on what’s cheap­est.

They also tend to live in rental ac­com­mo­da­tion, so dig­ging up the back­yard to plant okra or cas­sava is rarely pos­si­ble.

Th­ese were all things Louise Noble had never thought of the day she stood un­der her mul­berry tree talk­ing to one such refugee.

The man asked her what she was do­ing with all the un­used cul­tivable land on her prop­erty at Nobby and whether he could use it to grow his own veg­eta­bles.

She read­ily agreed and the idea for The Mul­berry Project was born.

The idea was to take tracts of un­used farm land so refugees could cul­ti­vate foods fa­mil­iar to them.

It seemed pretty straight­for­ward at first that Ms Noble would pro­vide a lit­tle as­sis­tance, the refugees would get fresh food and every­one would be happy.

She had no idea how im­por­tant the project would be­come, but as it all un­folded, fur­ther ben­e­fits came to light.

“We de­cided to give up the side of our block and started out with a Dingo Dig­ger and the farmer down the road saw us and said, ‘that’s ridicu­lous’ and came and dug it up for us,” Ms Noble said.

“We had quite a lot of in­volve­ment from the Con­golese com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly one fam­ily that had been here only six weeks.

“It has been sort of in­ter­est­ing. We’ve got dif­fer­ent peo­ple from dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and dif­fer­ent stages of their set­tle­ment jour­ney.

“The feed­back is it has been very ben­e­fi­cial for th­ese fam­i­lies and mak­ing them feel at home and giv­ing them a sense of pur­pose.”

Ms Noble said they all had favourite veg­eta­bles they were un­able to find or af­ford in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing some sur­pris­ingly healthy op­tions like leaf ama­ranth, which has 20% pro­tein and also con­tains a lot of cal­cium.

The lit­tle patch was soon burst­ing with white maize, chill­ies, toma­toes, ama­ranth and plenty of other in­ter­est­ing veg­eta­bles.

“One of the fam­i­lies was say­ing the kids were telling them, ‘Mum I feel sick. Where can we get our own food?’,” Ms Noble said.

“And the feed­back we’ve been get­ting from some of the peo­ple work­ing with them in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor is it’s of­ten a re­ally big is­sue for fam­i­lies that mi­grate here.

“Not only to find the foods they are fa­mil­iar with, but be­cause they can’t af­ford it.

“But their tra­di­tional di­ets are healthy and re­ally high in leafy veg­eta­bles, lots of pulses and some meat.”

The cul­tural value was also easy to un­der­es­ti­mate.

Ms Noble said many of the chil­dren were born in refugee camps and par­ents who had lived in such camps for more than a decade were never able to pass on knowl­edge about how to grow veg­eta­bles and eat a healthy diet.

The Mul­berry Project was able to change all that.

It also helped them de­velop skills that might prove use­ful in the work­force.

Ms Noble said the first year

feed­back The is it has been very ben­e­fi­cial — Louise Noble

had gone by in a blur, with more than a tonne of veg­eta­bles har­vested from a 500sq m patch, equiv­a­lent to $8000 in re­tail value.

So while it may have started out as a sim­ple kind­ness, the flow-on ef­fects were so great that Ms Noble said there were plans afoot to ex­pand the pro­gram, though it re­lied on a num­ber of fac­tors.

The first was the avail­abil­ity of un­der­utilised land with bore wa­ter.

Ide­ally that would in­clude a small plot close to Toowoomba.

The next was trans­port, given that the ex­ist­ing plot was in Nobby, while most of the pro­gram par­tic­i­pants lived in Toowoomba and few had ac­cess to a re­li­able car.

Ms Noble said even vol­un­teers who could spare the time to drive par­tic­i­pants out to the plot once or twice a week would be an ex­cel­lent start.

The end goal was to raise enough funds to buy a mini bus, but in the meantime any as­sis­tance was wel­come.

That would en­able them to take ad­van­tage of plots fur­ther from Toowoomba.

The hum­ble lit­tle 500sq m patch that is the home of The Mul­berry Project pro­duced more than a tonne of veg­eta­bles worth about $8000 last sum­mer.

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

The Mul­berry Project wouldn’t be where it is without help and equip­ment from the com­mu­nity.

Miriam Mangaza and Schadrach Ms­abah spent 16 years in refugee camps be­fore mov­ing here.

PHOTO: BEN TUPAS

FRESH HOPE: Found­ing mem­ber Miriam Mangaza proudly stands in the vegie patch of The Mul­berry Project.

Seedlings nearly ready for plant­ing as part of The Mul­berry Project.

The Mul­berry Project has given di­rec­tion and healthy food to many mem­bers of the Toowoomba refugee com­mu­nity.

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