Aboriginal bush foods garden: Growing culture from the ROOTS up A bush foods garden cultivated in the heart of Barngala Country is hoping to grow cultural connectedness among young Aboriginal people in a move to positively affect their health and life trajectories. Initiated and driven by members of the Aboriginal community in Whyalla, University of South Australia researchers – along with the South Australian Department for Education – have been invited to co-design, deliver, and evaluate the education and connection program.
Now, this initiative has been awarded a $500K Indigenous Health Research Grant to advance the work, announced today by the Medical Research Future Fund. The bush foods program – part of the Aboriginal led ‘ROOTS’ initiative – aims to highlight the health benefits of connecting to culture and cultural practices, using garden-based activities to educate and build knowledge.
Chief Investigator and UniSA Aboriginal allied health and nutrition expert, Michael Watkins, says cultural connectedness is a protective factor for Aboriginal children and young teenagers. “While bush foods and cultural food knowledges are widely promoted as having a positive impact on Aboriginal health, there is a lack of evidence to support outcomes and feasibility in an urban setting,” Watkins says. “The bush foods garden uses food-based activities to encourage cultural exchanges, nurture traditional knowledge of bush foods, cooking and medicines, and revitalise Aboriginal culture and cultural practices. “By supporting Aboriginal young people to learn more about traditional practices, we hope to extend their life trajectory by building cultural identity, wellbeing and resilience, and strengthen their sense of empowerment, connectedness, and engagement with learning.”
The program incorporates sharing bush food cultural knowledges in the garden and on Country; exchange between young people, families, Elders, and cultural and language groups; cooking with bush foods; social events, preparing bush medicine; identifying, propagating, planting, and harvesting bush foods; nutrition activities; artworks; and educational resources.
The local early childhood and family centre Gabmididi Manoo and the Aboriginal Women’s Yarning Group are current custodians and hosts of the bush foods garden and the ROOTS program. “It’s vital that we draw upon the strengths and capacity of the Aboriginal community, Elders, and leaders – they are the experts, they know the answers, and they understand how the project needs to be done,” Watkins says. “By weaving together Aboriginal and Western ways of research we’re hoping for impactful outcomes which will not only benefit Aboriginal people but the community as a whole.”
The team is now working with Aboriginal partners and the Hincks Ave Primary School to embed the bush foods garden program into the school curriculum, where it will be delivered by local community members and Elders.