For refugees who have a traditional and deep connection to land, growing your own food can provide both therapeutic and financial benefits that can contribute to good settlement outcomes.
That is one of the findings of a review of CatholicCare's Green Patch Melton Refugee Project released this month.
'Seeds of Hope' is a report on the project which was established in 2012 when landowner John Little offered 2.5 acres of unused river flats in Melbourne's west, to enable refugee families to grow their own vegetables. In the last four years, over 30 refugees from Sudan and Myanmar have prepared land, planted, watered and harvested crops at Green Patch.
It is mostly the growers from the Burmese community who have stayed with the project. Some of them have fled not only their country but also the farms that had provided a livelihood for many generations.
"It reminds me of home," said one of the growers interviewed as part of the review. Another espoused the therapeutic benefits of Green Patch by saying, "If not fresh in the mind … [I] can come here and feel fresh, less stress."
Green Patch has also delivered on some of their material needs: providing fresh vegetables for the family table with the surplus shared with friends or sold locally. One year several families took up a suggestion to plant and sell snow peas. Their crop was sold at local parishes and raised nearly $1000 in just two weekends. Though this exercise has not been repeated since, it demonstrates how the farm could transition to a social enterprise.
The farm has experienced a number of challenges in its first years such as the watering system that continues to frustrate the growers and the language barriers that prevent more effective coordination. One grower unwittingly lit a small bonfire on a day of Total Fire Ban, which resulted in a visit by two fire trucks and a police car. Since then, the CFA have presented to the growers about fire danger.
The report recommends some immediate actions including enhancing the watering system and improving coordination. The longer-term recommendations would see Green Patch become a self-managed, sustainable social enterprise.
CatholicCare is grateful for the tremendous support that Green Patch has received to date, including financial, in-kind, and volunteering support from a number of individuals, businesses, groups, parishes and organisations. We are especially grateful to landowner John Little, who prepared the 'Seeds of Hope' report for CatholicCare.
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Green Patch Melton Refugee Project