Sharing the seeds

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The long term health of food systems is a critical indicator of community vitality and sustainability. A sensible way to support and revitalise community is to raise awareness of importance of local food economy and basic practices of sustainability.

Queen Street Riches and Textures 2015 – Sharing the Seeds project combines community cultural development, contemporary art practises and sustainability education strategies.

The project merges partnership expertise across distinctive fields of practice - art, mentorship and community engagement aiming to create an innovative social network around St Marys Seed Bank as a symbolic and real vehicle for community and cultural dialogue and integration.

Project partners

Penrith City Council - Community and Cultural Development Department (Cultural Development and Multicultural Liaison Officers) and Operational Planning and Development Department (Sustainability Team)

TAFE Western Sydney Institute – Nepean Arts and Design Centre

Mamre House - Mamre is a project of the Catholic Care with a vision to be ‘A place of promise where individuals are enabled to realise their potential and contribute to the community. Mamre is registered as a charity.

Project outline

Sharing the Seeds brings into the play relationships between the culture of urban food production and the creation of beauty, through the utilisation of the urban yard and that of the farm plots where refugee’s families grow some of their native products.

Australians have grown their own food in suburban backyards over many years: as you enter these established gardens you would find fruit and citrus trees, vegetable patches, the passionfruit vines and the chook shed; embracing this way of life for a variety of reasons, including thrift, leisure, beauty, enjoyment and food quality. The culturing and the gathering of food is part of everyday life and through the centuries of immigration to Australia, each community group bring their own food culture; which today forms the Australian cuisine as we know it today. As we embrace many different foods it becomes important to continue to share the seeds, the knowledge and the stories, through the increasingly commonplace language of food.

Mamre House

The 80-hectare Mamre House property in Western Sydney encourages refugee families from Liberia and Burma to adapt their considerable agricultural skills to the Australian environment. These farm plots are where refugee’s families grow some of their native products as well as seeking opportunity for social enterprise.

Mamre House fills a necessary gap for those who have been through trauma, marrying the therapeutic reward of working the land with the financial benefits of enterprise. Mamre House hope to expand to become a training farm for new arrivals, a place where families can learn about Australian soil, native fauna and environmental challenges so they can one day move on and make a contribution in other rural communities.

Crop farming can be is incredibly emotional process, on both individual and collective level. In positive terms of physically nurturing plants and seeing a direct outcome of engagement with seeds and soil and negative in terms of losing crops due to weather, pest species and other calamities.

These experiences create a common language that can be shared through stories and conversations that can impart knowledge and sometime a little wisdom or a smile about the different gardening traditions, styles and cultures - from the different style of crops, seeds, gardens, farming techniques, to harvesting and preservation of food.

One of the outcomes that Sharing the Seeds project is hoping to achieve is to break down barriers by introducing and connecting St Marys Mamre House refugee families’ small garden plots to the St Marys urban gardeners. By creating interaction directly with each other and the opportunity to hear each other stories, trade and swap seed varieties, share knowledge and propagating techniques with provide opportunity to building a vibrant and sustainable community.

Ultimately, forming the St Marys Seed Bank would be one of the great achievements of this process. Forming a project-related garden would be a natural extension of this process. On both symbolic and practical level, St Marys Seed Bank would serve as powerful and unifying growers’ network and cultural hub for local farmers and gardeners that can gain greater recognition in the wider community. The culture of collecting seeds and gardening enriches broader custom and tradition of conversations, exchange of ideas and communal sustainability. 

Sustainability Team

Council’s Sustainability Team brings expertise in translating the community ideas relevant to the topic, introduces contemporary issues and provides solutions through practical information via education programs aiming greatest communities understanding of gardening and sustainability.

Strong highlights on consulting, campaigning and educating the community about sustainability issues will be equivalent to the growth of the St Marys Seed Bank and promotion of artistic achievements of Sharing the Seeds project. These education and artistic campaigns will be placed in the public arena of St Marys’ community through creating a permanent link between farming the rural sites of Mamre House and urban location of Queen Street, St Marys. The expected outcomes would be series of dynamic temporary exhibitions, artist’ installations, screen based digital exposures as well as artistic blogs and interactive resources that would complement the project’s main objective – innovation, education and community engagement.

Sharing the Seeds project is expected to develop and expand network that consists of friends and neighbours who will work together to exchange their locally adapted seeds and other planting materials at Mamre House. There is a great opportunity to involve local historical societies in research and through contemporary art practise capture the story telling of the older growers about the history of farming and gardening in St Marys. Equally important would be to engage new migrant communities into sharing their stories and introducing their native growing traditions and seeds.

Cultural Development Team

The Cultural Development Team brings an innovative aspect to this community engagement - shared and congregated community knowledge providing great opportunities for an applied artistic approach.  Digitally documented conversations, creatively infused inventive gardening, educational workshops and presentations can bring valuable material for a creative production to be presented back to the community in an inventive and edifying way.

Project outcomes; Artists residences (daily on-site residences) at Mamre House, production of a short film, on site artists’ interventions, site specific installations, creative and interactive virtual networks, digitally published education resource material on gardening/or garden styles be that of beauty and/or food and sustainability, photographic exhibitions, celebration events and the establishment of a St Marys seed bank.

Given the complex interplay between gardening, everyday life and sustainability, these engagement processes, artistic and mentorship outcomes are expected to articulate unique knowledge and connections the community of St Marys have with gardening, revealing at the same time the individual, social and cultural context in which the local gardens are used and sustained.

Back to QSRT 2015 - Sharing the Seeds Project