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Community gardens moving the black dog to the back paddock

by John Aitken

Popular TV presenter Costa Georgiadis and Granny Skills author Rebecca Sullivan attracted a huge crowd to Warracknabeal Community Garden on the weekend.

Over 200 people visited the Scott Street plots to meet the star of Australia’s most popular gardening show “Gardening Australia” and Ms Sullivan.

Rebecca highlighted the importance of intergenerational relationships promoting healthy conversations between older and younger people. She asked the audience to discover their ‘inner granny’ and identify skills that they could share with young people.

Rebecca is particularly interested in preserving, pickling and using ingredients that are readily available to prepare healthy meals at home. Her granny skills movement has worked with schools in Yarriambiack Shire to encourage a relationship with aged care facilities in the region. The outcome of these relationships is a better understanding of health across the generations and improved communication between participants.

Georgiadis is passionate about gardening and people. He believes in embracing and celebrating mother nature’s cycles and seasons and nurturing her balance, beauty and bounty organically.

His holistic approach is all about gardening the soil and the soul, which complements the role of the Warracknabeal Community Garden as part of the Therapeutic Landscape for people in Yarriambiack Shire. Costa was particularly impressed with the location of the community garden in the middle of the town and the statement that made about community priorities in Warracknabeal.

This location bought health and well-being to the centre of the community and enrich the community by providing a space where people could get together to enjoy gardening, fresh food and getting together.

Costa spoke about the ‘elephant in the room’ and the need to get people talking together to improve mental health and, as he put it, using the community garden as a resource to: ‘move the black dog to the back paddock’. This quote beautifully summarised the aims of this project in providing new therapeutic landscapes by adding health to place.

Hopefully the community garden can move the black dog of depression to a place where community members have the capacity to deal with it. For a national media figure like Costa with a strong following for his gardening program, these comments about mental health are a significant step forward in breaking down the stigma associated with mental health issues in Yarriambiack Shire.

There have been several interventions by the Community Health team at RNH to engage people, identified as socially isolated, in activities at the community garden. Tai chi programs, gardening workshops and now Rebecca’s cooking class have all been carried out in the community garden space.

The children’s garden allows young people to get an appreciation of where fruit and vegetables come from and literally pick a fresh snow pea or bean from the plant and eat it. The integration of a pop-up library from the Warracknabeal Secondary College ‘WORDS’ literacy program encourages young people to read books in a quiet space and share that with their parents, grandparents or friends. Older community members have donated books to this collection in another example of intergenerational relationships promoting capacity in this rural community.

The old adage that it takes a community to raise a child could be rewritten in the context of this project to say it takes a community garden to nurture a child. The community garden provides an environment in which they can grow not only vegetables and fruit; but also grow healthier, with their new knowledge, more resilient in themselves, and more understanding in their relationships. If all of these goals were achieved our community would achieve better health outcomes that address the social determinants of health, particularly for the young and vulnerable in the community.

This was an important day for community health in Yarriambiack Shire. It brought together multiple stakeholders ranging from young to old community members, Wimmera Uniting Care funding for better health, Yarriambiack Shire, Rural Northwest Health, La Trobe University Rural Health School, Rotary Club of Warracknabeal, organic food producers and the Warracknabeal Community Garden committee members. Over 200 people got a message about health and well-being and the benefits of learning new skills and activities through community gardens.

This community garden began from the shared knowledge of people who attended community participation meetings at Rural Northwest Health between 2013 and 2015, it was co-designed and is continuing to be co-produced by community members. This garden is a great example of adding health to place, to promote community health and well-being by developing a new therapeutic landscape in Yarriambiack Shire.

This outcome was one of the goals of our Rural Northwest Health community participation project, engaging community members to develop new health and well-being strategies to improve rural health.


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