Project about so much more than growing vegetables
Conversation under mulberry tree leads to life-changing possibilities
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.
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.
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.