Eingana: Focus on the Community

Eingana: Focus on the Community

Eingana Gardens project – Focus on the Community

The Eingana Garden Project is a health and play program enhancing the well being of preschool children while promoting links between the preschool centre and the greater community.

Each community designs, builds and tends a garden with traditional bush tucker and a vegetable patch.

Lessons on good nutrition and health are woven in with community days where Aboriginal elders tell stories and all sing songs together.  In addition, children are given a plant to take and care for at home.

Coles, Junior Landcare and Masonic Lodge Sydney have given generous support to launch and enable this program.

sponsored by Coles

Focus on the Community

Focus on the Community

Vegetable and bush tucker gardens built in 30 Gunawirra preschools by pre-school families and the wider community.

The program designed around each Eingana garden helps teach the importance of nutrition, as well as being a continuing means of passing on Aboriginal culture, all while fostering a sense of community ownership in the preschool.

Norma Tracey — Founding Director of Gunawirra provides a report about the program below:

Gunawirra — “Invisible seed of all creation”

Report on Eingana Community Garden Project

We thought to make this report a series of questions and answers to make it more interesting.

Q1: When and how did Gunawirra start?

Norma Tracey – Founding Director of Gunawirra: Gunawirra began in October 2008.  It is an NGO made up of some 20 professionals. We wanted to use our professional knowledge about parents and children to link in to individual preschool and school centres. We have created models of support through: (1)  30 gardens; (2) the Marte Meo training program for nine Directors; (3) telephone mentoring for twelve centres; and (4) Boomerangs Program (State Health award for Innovative Programs), with its ten  scholarships, a film and our wonderful booklet “I go to preschool now”.

We have four Aboriginal workers training to work in Centipede before and after school and vacation care at Glebe. We are particularly excited about our new venture with six to eight families in the Glebe area, combining both home visiting and group processes.

Q2: Gunawirra has a holistic approach to supporting pre-schools, staff and pupils. When did you start to include the fruit and vegie gardens into the program, and where was the first garden?

Norma: The gardens were the very first idea we had. We had the support of Landcare Junior and one outstanding person there called Sheena Martin who really believed in the project. She negotiated the funding from Coles. We then started to think with the Directors what was needed and what would work.

Three ideas came to mind: (1) Community involvement and support for the preschool centre so that parents would see it as a safe and friendly place; (2) nutrition as many Aboriginal children are brought up on fast food and one in three have diabetes; and, (3) Aboriginal culture and links to the earth.

We grew our first garden in Murrawina Redfern before we even founded Gunawirra. The children so enjoyed the day and we were surprised to see carrots and strawberries in the first lot of plants as well as bush tucker. The idea of the two cultures meeting was such a good one.  We have continued with it. We will receive the funds of Market related activity through all the Jute bags sol in every Coles store in Australia.

Q3: Gunawirra’s Eingana Community Garden Project is the program that you support to develop food gardens through. Your website indicates there are now some 30 gardens underway in different centres, mainly at or in association with pre-schools. Can you tell us where the gardens are?

Norma: Our current preschool partners in our gardens Eingana Project are: Dalaigur Preschool, Kempsie; Girrawong Preschool, Purfleet; Griffith Wiradjuri Preschool, East Griffith; Gyndarna Preschool, Dareton; Murrin Bridge Preschool, Lake Cagellico; Little Yuin Aboriginal Preschool, Central Tilba; Murragang Preschool, Nowra; Coolibah Kids, Walgett; Kindi Mindi, Inverell; Gunnedah Preschool, Gunnedah; Quirindi Preschool, Quirindi; Werris Creek District Preschool, Werris Creek; Yongurra Playgroup, Miller; Birrelee, Tamworth; Bowraville Community Preschool, Bowraville; and Centipede, Broadway.

And, now twelve Aboriginal preschools from DET have also joined in this project.

Q4: In early August this year, you briefed these twelve Aboriginal Department of Education preschools in each of the NSW regions of NSW on the value and meaning of children and parents sharing in a community project to grow a garden in their preschool.  Can you tell us about how that went and what sort of interest there was?

Norma: These are specially designated preschools for Aboriginal in areas where deaths in custody and suicide was highest. It was amazing to brief some eight centres using video communication where we could see each centre and they could see us.

I have to tell you the Heads of Education in the area had nothing but praise for the project. Some really hard work went into gathering them by Muriel Kelly from DET. We gave them until the 28th of August to visit the community leaders and put it to them and then report back if we had their support and their interest. They are now at the stage where the grant is being given out and Muriel and I will telephone again in a month to see how each centre is faring. The Education Dept Early Childhood was most supportive, to say the least.

Q5: How are the fruit and vegies produced in the gardens generally used and shared, and by whom?

Norma: Well the children have first go of course. Here is an email from one centre.

Hi Norma

We have just recently replanted our vegetable garden. We raised some money from selling biscuits and scones and any fresh produce that we had grown to our families and received a total of $143. We changed the money into one dollar coins. The children where the bankers and they had $7 per child and with each purchase e.g. seedlings potting mix etc we had purchased the children had to buy the item with their money. It was a fabulous experience as our money ran out very quickly. We definitely have some budding accountants amongst us.”

Here is another one:

“ We have been holding parent interviews with families who would like to attend in 2010. We have set up tables and chairs down in our garden and it has been a delight the children have been able to explore while the parents can sit and talk or walk and talk.

Our worm farm is being well fed with the warmer weather and lots more fruit been eaten at preschool.”

Here are some more stories:

One centre they decided to use all the funding to grow strawberries. The dads who have been out of work came and put in the sleepers. The children were so proud to see their fathers working. They were all against the wire fence watching and pointing out, “That’s my dad!”

It was such a good experience for them. Now the whole settlement comes to pick and eat strawberries.

Gunnedah grew fruit trees and used these to teach the children the different seasons. Can you imagine the excitement when fruit comes on the tree watched each day from winter through spring blossoms and summer fruit.

Kempsey had a job to stop the children from pulling them out and growing them again they had so much fun putting them in. Vandals broke in one night and pulled up every plant. The children and parents were devastated. The families said, “Leave this to us! They went and visited the family whose children were involved and told them that garden was Aboriginal “land” and they must respect it. No one touched the garden again.

Q6: Can you tell us about how you go about setting up the gardens? It would be great to know how local Elders and community leaders, parents,  staff and pupils are involved. Who generally takes responsibility for day to day running and care of the gardens once they are underway?

Norma: A visit is paid to the community elders and permission sought not only for the gardens but to ask for their involvement. Many of the men are out of work and so they come and do the heavy work with the sleepers and the soil.

All the gardens have to be high off the ground because of animals getting to the gardens. Many need irrigation because of dry areas. The plants have to match the area.

The women and the men and everyone comes to the barbecue which in one town actually went on for three days. What was wonderful is that the town dignitaries and business people and Coles staff also came and Coles gave a plaque to put on the garden and invited the school to come and see how fruit is delivered and sold and each child received a piece of fruit.

Q7: What are the key resources you need to get a garden underway — such as financial and other resources, and perhaps technical advice and support? Can you describe the basics of what is needed to get a garden underway — and perhaps offer some tips for other groups who might like to get started?

Norma: Money is important. In no place was the money given enough ($1,000 + $100 GST for a barbecue). We had a lot of local advice from local volunteers linked with Landcare. Local nurseries where the plants were bought were particularly generous, virtually donating a whole lot more plants, local councils donated soil. There was a lot of generous giving from the local community.

Q8: Who provides financial and other resource support for the gardens? Your programs? the pre-schools? Sponsors? Government programs or others? (I’m sure other groups would value a few tips on this).

Norma: Landcare Junior did the negotiating. Coles gave the money. They will also support us through the sale of their jute carry bags because we urgently need to keep the gardens growing and extending. We have only used Coles, local community, local businesses for gardens. However Gunawirra thrives on Grants from Corporate Foundations, our women’s committee of Fundraisers luncheons, etc.

Masonicare is particularly generous.

Q9: Have you had any technical or horticultural support to help design the gardens for different sorts of locations/environments? and if so, who has provided that sort of help to Gunawirra and the pre-schools?

Norma: Landcare and local nurseries and local Government and other local businesses have all helped and each centre organises its own local support.

Q10: Can you tell us about  two or three of your favourite success stories from some of the gardens?

Norma: I have to honestly say, every garden is a success. I like this one best as I can just see the children doing this.

“Dalaigur just had their first meal from their garden. The children made spinach and bacon quiche for their lunches. Some enjoyed it, but some pulled some interesting faces, all tried the food because they made it.”

Inverell has worked so hard to create this snake that travels from the preschool centre into the town and so symbolises linking the two. The children just love it and the community has been so involved with this project.

“The rainbow snake is being created by the men’s shed. Culturally it is perfect for our beliefs in supporting our Indigenous families.  Next Monday we have the local paper doing a story about the beginning of its creation,  We must have the story of Warnayarra ready for them. Hopefully the snake will be completed soon so we can plant with children and families, and then a BBQ to top it all with another story. It is going to be talked about on our community radio thanks to the men’s shed.”

In Miller they have seats around the garden and the classes come and do work on writing and drawing and discussing plants and how they grow. Children develop a respect for the garden in this way.

Quirindi filled their empty garden of prepared soil with hands for NAIDOC week and then put in a native plant in the place of each hand.

Q11. Can you comment on spin-off benefits that you might be starting to see from the gardens? perhaps in the immediate school community and broader community (it would be great to know if some parents are starting their own home gardens etc, or if other local people are getting involved, etc.)?

Norma: I like to think the greatest spin off is the communal feeling of having done something together.