Werribee Park's kitchen garden feeds community well-being

Monday 1 March, 2021

Parks Victoria Rangers transformed the historic mansion’s parterre from floral display to edible crop  with the help of community volunteers.

Parks Victoria Rangers transformed the historic mansion’s parterre from floral display to edible crop.

Werribee Park’s heritage-listed mansion and sprawling gardens usually feature as an opulent backdrop for a packed calendar of festivals and weddings. It boasts immaculate lawns and the stunning Victoria State Rose Garden, but it’s the humble kitchen garden that has become a jewel in the crown for the community of Western Melbourne.

The rapidly growing area is home to more than 150 culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Werribee Park’s rangers wanted to increase their own cultural competence and create greater connection between the community and parks, so working in partnership with AMES Australia (formerly Australian Multicultural Employment Service) the Working Beyond the Boundaries program was established in 2012.

Initially aimed at addressing impacts of isolation among women from new and emerging communities in Wyndham, the program expanded to create pathways to employment, improve workplace English and networking opportunities, and to address the declining number of volunteers in existing park friend groups.

Members of the recently arrived Karen community from camps along the border of Burma and Thailand worked to establish the garden, which quickly became an important community hub and meeting place for socialising and learning, attracting people from a range of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Karen community volunteers in the kitchen garden at Werribee Park

Karen community volunteers in the kitchen garden

The kitchen garden’s success led to the development of a Parks Victoria pathways program for young adults interested in a career in horticulture or conservation and land management.

In 2018 the program was awarded the Australian Human Resource Institute’s Fons Trompenaars Cross Cultural Management Award and was recommended by the United Nations to be included in settlement programs in other countries.

In 2019 the program was awarded Premier’s Sustainability Awards in the Environmental Justice Category, noting more than 500 refugees had benefited from their involvement in the Program.

Case workers reported lower levels of mental health issues among refugees since the garden’s inception and many younger members of the communities secured employment in local market gardens as a result of their volunteer work experience.

The Tarneit Sikh Temple group joined the team of community volunteers in Werribee Park's kitchen garden

The Tarneit Sikh Temple group joined the team of community volunteers in the kitchen garden

In 2020, members from the local Sikh community became the latest volunteers to till the soil at Werribee Park, but this time the community engagement started in response to COVID-19.

At the height of COVID-19 restrictions and in the absence of park visitors, the park’s rangers decided to ‘rest’ the soil in the parterre (formal garden bed) by planting silverbeet instead of the usual vibrant flowering annuals, with the aim of donating the harvest to local community kitchens.

Werribee Park Rangers planted 1,500 seedlings in the parterre

Through the City of Wyndham Neighbourhood Hubs, members of the local Sikh Temple were cooking and packaging more than 1000 meals a week for families in need. The opportunity to assist with the harvest was a perfect fit with the Sikh philosophy of sharing and caring for others

The collaboration was huge a success with almost 4,000 kilograms of silverbeet harvested, and the silverbeet planting of the parterre will now be an annual feature of the formal gardens, sponsored by the community for the community.

Seikh volunteers harvest silverbeet planted in Werribee Park's Parterre

The Werribee Park team hope the 2021 harvest from the parterre and community kitchen garden will reach more families as they continue the collaboration with the City of Wyndham Neighbourhood Hubs.

Entry to Werribee Park Gardens and Victoria State Rose Garden is free.

For more information about Werribee Park, visit our website: https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/places-to-see/parks/werribee-park

 

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