19 June 2020

Our next environmental champions tuck into bush foods

| Communities@Work
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Toddler digging soil with plastic shovel at Richardson Child Care and Education Centre.

A new bush tucker garden is teaching children at Richardson Child Care & Education Centre about Ngunnawal culture and environmental sustainability. Photo: Supplied.

Growing in a bush tucker garden in the heart of the Canberra suburb of Richardson, the humble mint and hibiscus plants are connecting the community and sowing seeds for children’s greater cultural and environmental awareness.

A desire to raise awareness of Reconciliation Week, Aboriginal culture and sustainable land practices led Communities@Work’s Richardson Child Care & Education Centre to successfully apply for a Woolworths Junior Landcare Grant to establish a bush foods garden.

“We already held activities to teach our children about Aboriginal culture, customs and history, but we wanted to do more,” says centre manager Cherie Fensom. “We thought a bush tucker garden would be ideal as it would allow our children to learn another aspect of Ngunnawal culture in a fun and enjoyable way.”

The bush tucker garden complements the Richardson Child Care & Education Centre’s other sustainability activities, including growing a vegetable garden, feeding chickens with food scraps, cooking meals with the chickens’ eggs, installing water tanks, and collecting cans and bottles to be cashed in to help fund other sustainability projects.

The centre is one of Communities@Work’s 12 child care and education services, and received the $1000 Woolworths Junior Landcare Grant to help grow the next generation of environmental champions.

“Throughout the project, we involved as many sectors of our local community as possible,” says Cherie. “We strongly believe in building community connections. It’s valuable for the children to know their local community.

“We involved the children and their families in the research and design of the garden, and incorporated their ideas and feedback. We visited the nearby preschool to see what plants they had in their own bush foods garden and we worked with a local community Indigenous officer to gain advice, ideas and recipes, and to learn how Indigenous people use the plants we would be growing.

“We even took the children on two Woolworths Fresh Food Kids Discovery Tours at our local store to help get them excited about fruit and vegetables and learn the importance of food to their health.”

Children on a behind-the-scenes tour of Woolworths.

Children on a behind-the-scenes tour of a Woolworths store, where they learned about the importance of healthy food. Photo: Supplied.

The children planted rosella hibiscus, native guava, native river mint, midgen berry and mat rush, and all the plants are edible. River mint is also good for tea and fragrant oils, and mat rush leaves can be used for weaving into mats and baskets or wrapping around aching limbs to relieve pain.

“Since the children don’t drink tea yet, we used the mint to flavour water for our morning tea,” says Cherie. “Some children even picked the mint leaves to eat and they loved it. They can’t wait to start using more of the plants in our morning and afternoon tea recipes.

“We still need to set up a table and chairs to create a reflective space, and we have to replant more hibiscus because our chickens ate the first lot. Then we’ll be ready to officially launch the garden.”

Children watering bush food garden.

Planting and maintaining the garden is an important part of learning to be socially and environmentally responsible. Photo: Supplied.

While being a fun and enjoyable activity for the children, the project has an important educational impact. Communities@Work director of children’s services, Kellie Stewart, says the garden has provided an opportunity to develop the children’s sustainability awareness.

“This is a great way to teach them how to care for plants, and insect and bird habitats, and how to divert waste to recycling and composting,” says Kellie.

“By establishing a bush tucker garden, the children have learned about diversity and how to respect and acknowledge the difference between cultures. This complements the centre’s other cultural awareness activities, such as the children’s recent Reconciliation Day Bridge Walk.

“Just as importantly, this project is also helping children to become socially responsible by teaching them that we all have rights, but we also have responsibilities – caring for the environment around them is one of those responsibilities – now and into the future.”

Bush tucker garden at Richardson Child Care and Education Centre.

The completed bush tucker garden at Richardson Child Care & Education Centre. Photo: Supplied.

Communities@Work is Canberra’s largest community organisation and provider of children’s services, with approximately 4500 children enrolled throughout its 12 child care centres, 15 before- and after-school care services, 10 school holiday programs, and 100 family day care educators.

For more information about Communities@Work’s extensive range of education, care and community services around Canberra, please visit commsatwork.org, email admin@commsatwork.org or phone 02 6293 6500.

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