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UC students sow seeds with OzHarvest

Vanessa Lam

29 August 2017: Master of Nutrition and Dietetics students from the University of Canberra have developed a gardening program, which will be delivered nationally, while undertaking a work placement with OzHarvest Canberra.

Cathy Wong, Angel Tsoi and Sherlly Dai recently designed and delivered a gardening pilot program, as an addition to OzHarvest’s Nutrition Education Sustenance Training (NEST) program.

OzHarvest is a food rescue organisation that collects quality excess food from commercial businesses and delivers it, direct and free of charge to more than 800 charities across Australia. OzHarvest Canberra currently provides food to more than 45 charities across the ACT.

The NEST program teaches people cooking skills and nutritional information, with the program modules tailored to meet the needs of charitable organisations to incorporate into training for those who access their services.

Similar to the supermarket tour created by students last year, the gardening program is designed to build on participants’ nutrition knowledge and put it into practice.

The two-hour workshop aims to increase knowledge and skills relevant to gardening activities to support health outcomes on a limited budget.  

“Gardening benefits our health, both mentally and physically. It is also a good way for participants to learn where our vegetables come from and increase their willingness to try different fruits and vegetables,” Ms Wong said.

The students, who are mentored by the OzHarvest team, delivered the program to two local organisations; Toora Women’s Group, which specialises in services for Canberra women who have experienced domestic violence, homelessness or drug and alcohol issues and Project Independence, a social housing development for people with intellectual disability. 

Participants learnt how to sow seeds and attended a cooking session that focused on using fresh produce.

“We developed the facilitator manual, participants’ handbook as well as various resources such as videos, a plant growth diary, seasonality tables and gardening fact sheets to aid the delivery of sessions,” Ms Tsoi said.

OzHarvest’s ACT NEST Coordinator, Manmeet Kaur said adding a gardening module to the NEST program made perfect sense.

Ms Kaur, who is also a University of Canberra alumna, said feedback from the program has been positive with all participants looking after their plants, which they received during the session.

“Participants who attended the session said they gained skills in sowing seeds and tending plants, which also helped increase their self-confidence and self-esteem,” she said.

The students also took part in OzHavest’s annual Think.Eat.Save event, where they gave a live cooking demonstration and served food while educating those attending on ways to reduce food waste at home. Ms Tsoi said that it was one of the highlights of the placement.

“It was my first time delivering a cooking demonstration. From designing recipes from rescued food to preparing a large meal with limited time and equipment, it was a great challenge,” she said.

Ms Wong said the work placements have given her added confidence to work in the industry.

“The Masters course has prepared me to work as a dietitian in different settings. I’ve been able to work in hospital, outpatient clinic, aged care and community settings during the course of my degree. Having completed these placements, I now feel more confident to work professionally after graduation.”

The gardening pilot program will be developed over the coming weeks/months before being rolled out nationally.