By MICHELLE SLATER
WEST Gippsland and outer-east African communities have come together to create a farming collective where locals can learn more about traditional culture, food and home-grown produce.
United African Farm was established three years ago on a plot of land near Longwarry, but it recently secured a 1.2 hectare parcel of land in Cardinia to establish a cross-cultural hub.
The farm involves communities representing 12 African nations and more than 80 volunteers from west Gippsland, Latrobe Valley and Melbourne’s south eastern fringes.
It now produces a range of mixed-vegetables including the African staples okra, maize, sorghum and chilli, which is being used to teach people how to make traditional tucker.
The harvest is being distributed between volunteers and board members, with the aim to sell it commercially.
United African Farm was founded by Thuch Ajak and Queyea Tuazama, who coined the idea to help bridge cultural gaps and bring communities together.
Mr Ajak had studied a Bachelor of Agriculture before he came to Australia 10 years ago from South Sudan, and was able to apply his expertise to help set up the farm.
He said the project was engaging people from diverse cultural backgrounds, including people from the Indian and Italian communities.
“This is all about cultural infusion. We come from a communal culture where anything we harvest belongs to everyone,” Mr Ajak said.
“Back home, at harvest time people dance and share joy, we value this as food unites us. With this farm, we can sit at the table and learn from each other by sharing food together.
“We can grow culturally appropriate crops to put in cuisines, food needs to be appreciated and served with respect.”
The project recently gained a VicHealth grant to establish a food hub to increase access to locally grown and healthy produce in regional and urban fringe communities.
The farm has been holding cultural events, markets and working bees, and volunteers are in the midst of building a series of traditional huts to host schools, community groups and youth programs.
“Often when people first come to Australia, they want to belong somewhere and it takes a lot for someone to settle in, I wanted to contribute back to society and I thought how best I can help,” Mr Ajak said.
“We want to grow a healthy community and learn more about agriculture, this is the long-term vision.”