• Harvest of Hope Community Garden volunteers with their fresh, seasonal produce. (Photo by Kate Quin)
"Having access to fresh and nutritious food should not be an optional extra just because you are a person seeking asylum."
By
Yasmin Noone

21 May 2018 - 12:21 PM  UPDATED 22 May 2018 - 3:15 PM

Most people living in the 'lucky country', Australia, are afforded an opportunity to eat fresh fruit and vegetables and reap the nutritious benefits if they so choose. It's a gift that most of us, with the means to go to the supermarket and buy food at will, may even take for granted. 

But for some refugees and asylum seekers living in Melbourne, fresh fruit and vegetables are luxuries they can't afford to buy on their own.

Unable to work and lacking income support as they wait for their visas to be processed, many have no choice but to rely on the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) to provide them with weekly groceries.

“No one's health should be compromised by not having access to fruit and vegetables."

Karen Williams, ASRC food and goods donations coordinator, believes that "having access to fresh and nutritious food should not be an optional extra just because you are a person seeking asylum".

“People seeking asylum are living with incredible trauma and anxiety waiting for an outcome of their visa applications. Healthy food options are vital to improve and maintain [good] health and wellbeing during such stressful times.

“Food is also a basic human right and in a wealthy country such as Australia. No one's health should be compromised by not having access to fruit and vegetables."

According to the results of a 2015 Deakin University study of ASRC clients, most of the asylum seekers were food insecure and consumed less than the minimum amount of recommended vegetables and legumes.

That was until 2017, when circumstances started to change for both the ASRC and its 700 members.

Last spring, the Melbourne farmer Les Baguley generously donated land access and infrastructure to his urban farm in Clayton South to the ASRC. The non-profit used the charitable gift to allocate 16 large ready-to-plant beds. FareShare – a charity that operates gardens on the same farm – also donated some seedlings.

The Harvest of Hope Gommunity Garden was established.

“Fresh veggies are vital for everyone's health and wellbeing and through the Harvest of Hope we are now able to offer more good quality, nutritious food that our members have asked for.”

A few months in and the garden is currently producing up to 40 crates of fresh vegetables for refugees and asylum seekers to eat every week.

The estimated retail value of the Harvest of Hope Community Garden crop at the end of the 2018 summer was about $30,000.

“Fresh veggies are vital for everyone's health and wellbeing and through the Harvest of Hope we are now able to offer more good quality, nutritious food that our members have asked for.”

People from many different countries access the services at ASRC, however the largest populations are currently from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma. 

Williams explains that although the organisation always provided fruit and vegetables for refugees and asylum seekers, there was never enough fresh food to go around. 

“So by growing our own, the Foodbank is now not just reliant on rescued food which is not able to provide all that we need for over 700 people per week,” she says.

“Plus, when collecting rescued food we do not have a choice as to what is supplied. Much is unfamiliar to people and they do not know how to cook it. Bok xhoy for example, lots rescued, but not a lot taken. We surveyed our members prior to planting and asked them what vegetables they would like more of. 

“This was to ensure we were able to meet some of their cultural preferences for cooking too.  Being able to provide access to more veggies, much better quality that lasted for the week, and they were familiar with, has made a big difference.” 

“It is important for people to feel connected to a community and to get to know people in their new home."

The garden, which is tended by volunteers and members of the ASRC on Tuesdays, plays an important role in the wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees who participate.

“It is important for people to feel connected to a community and to get to know people in their new home."

As part of the garden program, asylum seekers and refugees can tell the organisation the vegetables they would like to eat and grow.

“From a community development perspective, the contribution the garden can make to wellbeing through connection and building a community is just as important as the produce we are growing.”

The ASRC is also hoping to reduce food waste at its Footscray centre by turning the waste into compost to use at the farm.

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