The Amern Mwerr Cooking Stories book was created as part of the broader PHN funded Amern Mwerr Project in Utopia. Using a Healthy Living NT grant from Bill Raby’s Diabetes Foundation the team were able to produce a colourful resource showcasing the fruit and vegetable garden, cooking and narratives from the Utopia Homelands. This project saw a successful co-authoring process between AEES and Utopia community members to produce a culturally appropriate nutrition resource and cookbook. Language workshops occurred to develop content in both English and local languages.
The cooking stories book is a collection of favourite recipes from the Amern Mwerr Project and includes stories to accompany them. The book also includes key nutritional messages from the Utopia Homelands.
On completion of the book in April 2019 a big community launch BBQ was held to celebrate and disperse the book. Community elders spoke briefly about their involvement in the project, a local band played, and three recipes form the book were cooked up on the BBQ for all to eat. The event was attended to by the local school and students, and many other organisations in Utopia.
The cookbook was a great opportunity to consolidate all of the work completed in the Amern Mwerr nutrition program and to create a lasting resource for the community and other nutrition workers.
Edible gardens are being established in eight Aboriginal communities in Alice Springs, brining a source of fresh, affordable fruit and vegetables alongside a nutrition education program.
Food security is a fundamental human right and an essential component for self-determination as it relates to health. Food insecurity for Aboriginal people is often described in terms of remote communities, where people buy food from a single community store and prices are often hiked up beyond affordability. What many people don’t realise is food security is also an issue for Aboriginal people living in urban and regional area, including in Alice Springs.
Building on the success of the Amern Mwerr Good Food Gardens approach that was developed in the Utopia Homelands, the Amern Mwerr program is expanding to build food gardens (and associated landscaping) in eight Aboriginal communities in Alice Springs, in partnership with Tangentyere Council, NT Health and PHNNT. The program will also provide support to gardens located at Red Cross, Alice Springs Women’s Shelter and other locations.
These gardens will become a site for producing home grown food, for socializing and for learning about heathy eating and hygiene practices. Crucial to the project’s success is Arid Edge’s approach of providing long term fortnightly/monthly support to gardens and gardeners, organising working bees, training gardeners, providing maintenance support and most importantly cooking up produce together in the gardens.
“The Ilperle Tyathe / Warlpiri Center community garden began to take off at the start of summer with all the young people coming in to water the plants and each other to cool down. The Centre was closed around Christmas and new year and we opened back up to see a little watermelon factory after all the rain and lightning. The plants had around a dozen watermelons at different stages of growth and everyone was pretty excited about this. We have spent the last month harvesting a watermelon at the start of every week and a couple of rockmelons now and then. There are also a few pumpkins growing that we are working out ways to cook up. It’s been really special growing, harvesting and eating the produce together with everyone at the community Centre,” says Spandana, from Tangentyere Council.
Original article published in NT PHN Primary Health Weekly e-newsletters.
There is much to be said when three generations of one family are involved in a community gardening project. Grandparents, Josie and Dinny, are proud green thumbs who insist on inviting their daughters and grandchildren to harvest the produce altogether to cook in the garden.
They are part of a dedicated community who has embraced the idea of growing and eating their own fruit and vegetables. Arid Edge’s Amern Mwerr project in the Utopia Homelands is behind the growing involvement and enthusiasm of families participating food gardens that improves peoples’ access to fresh produce.
The project started in 2009 in the Utopia Homelands; a collection of communities located 250 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs. With no central community and challenges to receive regular produce supplies, Utopia was identified as an area of need. Arid Edge Environmental Services has been working with community members since 2014 to develop the gardens, and teach local families gardening skills and simple recipes to encourage healthy eating.
The seasonal fruit and vegetables continually harvested from the gardens is testament to the hard work and commitment invested by the community members. Summer yields melons, pumpkins, broccoli and mulberries – a popular fruit with the children, while oranges have become an anticipated fruit in winter. Kale is a year- round staple that features in many of the delicious and healthy recipes that have been created as part of the program to address chronic health conditions such as anaemia.
Over the years, communities have implemented water methods to suit the climate of Central Australia. In 2014, NT PHN commissioned Arid Edge Environmental Services to install wicking beds – an efficient bottom-watering system for garden beds that channels water directly to the roots to reduce evaporation.
Stories from the homeland communities include families adding fresh herbs to their bolognaise, encouraging their children to cook, silverbeet and kale being harvested for dinner, people sourcing their own seeds to plant tomatoes and even using a kale leaf to wrap around a sausage for a healthy hot dog.
The program also offers work experience opportunities in the homelands through joint funding with My Pathway (Community Development Remote Jobs and Communities Program) where residents harvest the fruit and vegetables, maintain the gardens and re-plant for the new season.
Regular cook-ups run by Arid Edge’s nutrition worker harvest produce from the gardens to teach simple healthy meals, with a particular focus on engaging women and children. As the popularity of the project grows, more families are cooking the projects recipes and requesting gardens.
Since it was first established in 2009, the Amern Mwerr project in Utopia has grown to support 13 productive gardens across 10 homelands – having been planned, designed and built with community members on different outstations.