Walgett community garden set to thrive
For the past three years, the town of Walgett (population: 2400) in Western NSW has been dealing with the effects of reduced flows in the Namoi and Barwon rivers, which feed the town’s drinking water treatment plant.
After months of attempts to conserve supplies through increasingly stringent water restrictions, the town began to access water from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). The combination of water restrictions and elevated sodium levels in the GAB water have presented the community with significant challenges including the loss of lawns and gardens—notably the community vegetable garden operated by the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS).
In addition, the high sodium levels decrease the palatability of the drinking water and, more significantly, increase health risks for members of the community with renal problems and high blood pressure that need to maintain low-salt diets. In response, the community, led by the Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG), WAMS and Yuwaya Ngarra-li—UNSW’spartnership with the DEG—have launched the Walgett Food and Water for Life project. The project is supported by Prof Jacqui Webster of the George Institute, who provides critical advice on the need to reduce sodium levels in the town’s water supply and the importance of a low-salt diet with daily serves of fruit and vegetables to maintain overall health. After consultation with the community at the Walgett Food Forum earlier this year, one of the first priorities for the project was to make the WAMS garden more water-efficient and improve access to nutritious, locally grown food.
Through the Food and Water for Life project, members of UNSW water community have been privileged to work with the DEG and WAMS to reconfigure the garden beds to become more water efficient and operate effectively on GAB water. After trialing different designs for water efficient wicking beds over the winter, a set of four food cubes manufactured by Melbourne-based Biofilta Pty Ltd, were installed in September to evaluate different variables on vegetable yield and water efficiency. Ten weeks later, WAMS have reported that, with the right soil, it is possible to grow a 12 kilogram mix of spinach, spring onions and carrots per cube on a single fill of water (approximately 120 litres) in a one square metre cube (the equivalent of two litres per day!) The results are very promising and the system will be scaled up in 2020 to help the WAMS garden achieve its goal of providing clients and their families with a box of fresh vegetables each week.
Picture approved by DEG, taken at Garden with acknowledgment and identification of people in photo.