Addressing Local Needs with Two Community Projects

By Di Mant and Sue Slater, Coordinator and Treasurer, Birallee Park Neighbourhood House

With rising utility costs, escalating food prices, and food shortages due to the frequent occurrence of natural disasters Australia wide, there is a need to provide healthy locally grown food, whilst also addressing the issues of climate change.

“Our Table to Yours” is a project that commenced in 2009 to address the needs of  those in our local community who were experiencing hardship, but who could not access food outside of the regular business hours of local emergency food agencies.  Birallee has eight large garden beds that provide year round organically grown vegetables and herbs. Our menus are designed around what we grow, and what we are able to freeze without losing quality, taste and nutritional value, and volunteers cook and freeze over 120 weekly meal packs, each containing 2 serves, for distribution to people in need.  In its first twelve months, the project produced 3994 meal packs-all of which were donated to the community. Wodonga Foodshare, in conjunction with VicRelief Foodbank, provide us with meat and other ingredients and Howlong Nursery provides seedlings.

The program has now expanded to incorporate “Our Garden to Yours,” where we seek to educate the community on waterwise organic gardening, the reduction in food miles and our carbon footprint. A Grant was obtained from Sustainability Victoria, allowing us to install two 50,000 litre water tanks to ‘drought proof’ our gardens.  Gardening courses are held monthly, covering topics such as growing heirloom vegetables, cultivation of seeds/seedlings, water efficient organic gardening, artisan bread baking and more. Emphasis is placed on educating the community on sustainability issues, and a Facebook page has been constructed so that the community can follow our progress and enrol in programs and activities.

Once installed, a new propagating house will allow us to grow vegetables year round. It is imperative that we increase our present production, as the need for additional meal packs has already grown in excess of original projections. Seasonal fluctuations in produce, more financial pressures on families due to soaring living costs, and the increasing desire for “clean, green and safe” locally grown food, makes projects like ours vitally important for securing access to food for our community. Food should be safe, healthy, accessible and affordable, and as Birallee has shown with these programs, we can deliver evidence based sound nutritional messages, and everyone can adopt sustainable practises to obtain food security.