Thyme for change: Schools plant local bush food gardens
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;
Story

Thyme for change: Schools plant local bush food gardens

Stories/499 , Issues/Youth , Issues/Sustainability , Issues/First Nations
Perth WA, Australia
22nd May 2019
Thyme for change: Schools plant local bush food gardens
The Tucker Bush for Schools program teaches students about Aboriginal culture and the importance of a sustainable food supply.

If you were to take a look inside the lunchboxes of students in schools across Perth, you might be surprised to find Sandpaper Figs and Burdekin Plums in place of your usual apples and oranges. You might also find home economic teachers plucking Native River Mint from the school garden instead of purchasing peppermint from the supermarket. This is the result of a recent initiative launched by Tucker Bush founder Mark Tucek and Aboriginal educator Marissa Verma, who are both bringing the unique flavours of Australia back into the mainstream.

The Tucker Bush for Schools Program, established in 2018, educates students about native edible plants to strengthen their connection to nature and produce a sustainable food supply. First Nations people have used native bush plants for their foods, health and healing for generations. Nowadays, our disconnection from the land impacts upon the wellbeing of our bodies and our environment. Tucker Bush encourages a connection to country from an early age as students plant their own bushfood garden and participate in an Aboriginal cultural workshop. Teachers also receive a learning resource kit to expand on the concepts further in class.

"We have two phases. We teach the students how to plant plants and how plants are grown. We teach them about the different qualities of the bushfood plants that we've got in the range. But more importantly, they also learn about the Aboriginal cultural side," Tucek said.

Verma established her cultural tour business Bindi Bindi Dreaming in 2000 to fill the gap of people wanting to gain a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture. Verma since joined forced with Tucek in launching the Tucker Bush for Schools Program to help the next generation of leaders become more aware of their connection to country, understand biodiversity and develop their teamwork and critical thinking skills.

"I think there is a real big disconnection of kids getting out and having playtime. When you deliver the culture and share it, the kids become caretakers as well and get to know and understand country and they love it. They love getting dirty," she said.

"It's a way to understand the Noongar six seasons and the plants: when they grow, when they flower, when they fruit. Kids are growing them at an early age and then watching the plant grow and seeing the seeds and the fruits and the nuts. That's the quality that we're looking for."

According to Tucker, the native edible plants that have sustained generations of Aboriginal people have lost their popularity. We no longer appreciate what's growing in our own backyard. Most plants we eat originate from overseas but these introduced species are unable to thrive in the unique Australian environment. In fact, the only mainstream bush tucker in Australia is the Macadamia nut. The remainder of mainstream fruit and vegetables are foreign, which has the potential to cause a scarce food supply and disrupt natural ecosystems.

"Most plants from overseas have had generations of breeding. They are nothing like the original forms. We have developed apples to be sweet and juicy when originally, they were small, bitter, tiny things. But because of breeding and selection, the modern apple is completely different from the apple in the past," Tucek said.

"The Macadamia was actually taken by Americans to Hawaii. They turned it into a commercial enterprise and called it the Hawaiian nut. It was only 40 years after the Americans commercialised the Macadamia that the Australians got onto it, figured out it was growing in their own backyard and started their own industry."

Verma said the nutrient rich Wattle Seed was one of the first seeds used to make bread. "You crush the seeds, then you add a bit of water and make a doughy texture. Then, you cook that on the fire and the coals. You are eating stuff that's actually fresh and live from the bush," she explained.

Verma's favourite bush tucker, Lemon Myrtle, has an array of cosmetic and medicinal properties. The citrus compound that gives lemon its distinct smell and flavour is called citral. A regular lemon has only three to seven percent citral, while Lemon Myrtle has 95 to 97 percent citral. Lemon Myrtle can be used to flavour foods or perfume cosmetics, as well as help to relieve cold and flu symptoms. Verma considers River Mint the most versatile plant, as it grows around waterways and has a distinct, fresh smell and taste.

"It has a minty flavour that can freshen your breath. We use it in a lot of desserts such as chocolate cakes, as well as dips. We pick the leaves raw and fresh and the kids get to crush it and put it through what they're cooking. We've taken plants in to the cooking class and the kids pick from it and put it straight in to their chocolate cake," she said.

Tucek said it makes sense to be growing and eating plants that have adapted to our country's climate conditions. Native plants are more potent, naturally beneficial to our ecosystem and improve our wellbeing.

Testament to the increasing demand for bush tucker is the fact that Tucek started off with only six plants in the range but now has over 60,.Tucker Bush has developed a arge network of growers in every state across Australia. Each state has different conditions which means local plants differ between regions.

We live at a time where our climate is unpredictable, our biodiversity is at risk and our food supplies are on the verge of scarcity. Teaching Aboriginal culture and bringing bush tucker species into the mainstream is a way to restore harmony within our ecosystem.

As Verma said: "We are all caretakers of this land. We should be able to know and understand country to look after country. If you look after country, country will look after you."

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