Nourishing Change: Supporting food literacy and improved diets in rural Western Australia

  • Vegetable garden items
  • Group of students in a garden
Gina Sjepcevich Research Officer,
Curtin School of Medicine Rural Health Campus, Curtin University

Members of the team at the Curtin Medical School Rural Health Campus are regularly in rural and remote areas of Western Australia, especially Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields and the Kalgoorlie Rural Health Campus.  A continual feature of these trips are the poor food environments and lack of quality, fresh food available at reasonable prices, even in local supermarkets in Kalgoorlie.  For example, capsicums can be found at as much as $30 a kilo.  The predominance of cheap, high kilojoule, ultra processed food is overwhelming and disheartening.  

For those in the team who struggle with food allergies and health conditions, this is even more challenging, as it is for those in the community who also struggle with these issues. These personal experiences reinforce what the evidence says about availability, price and quality of fresh food outside urban areas and the relationship of poor nutrition to health outcomes in rural areas, primarily the high burden of non-communicable disease. 

While there is clearly a need to address these challenges at a large systemic level, the team explores the possibilities of simple, local initiatives.  Several members have experience in community gardening and similar community-based initiatives and there is a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of this type of activity.  Apart from making additional fresh produce available, these activities also provide opportunities for learning, sharing knowledge and experience, and experimentation with both growing and preparing food.

Knowing the benefits that can come from these activities has prompted them to consider ways of bringing these and similar activities to communities in rural and regional areas.  The team is developing a model based on place, community and capacity building through small scale, inexpensive, community lead initiatives such as community gardens, sharing produce amongst individual gardeners, creating healthy food environments at local events, social cooking nights or learning how to keep chickens, for example.

The model aims to provide (and highlight existing) practical opportunities to gain knowledge and practice new skills in cooking, food preparation and gardening and learning about sources of good food in the community. (For example, that frozen vegetables are a nutritious substitute for fresh ones.) Their model also makes use of existing social networks, facilities, and infrastructure, including social media, to support sharing of knowledge, ideas and successes as well as scaffold new initiatives and community involvement.

The placement of simple, contextualised, sharable, and readily available measures at the heart of the model is underpinned by the understanding that immediate, experiential, felt and social aspects of learning are most effective in supporting change and building capacity to navigate and to some extent mitigate a challenging food environment. These measures can be effective in building food literacy in a way that responds to the food environment as it is experienced by the community. 

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