If you were to walk into the only supermarket in the remote community of Doomadgee, Queensland, you would pay at least three times the average price for groceries.
“I pay $600 for my big shop at the Doomadgee store, compared to about $200 if I go all the way to Mount Isa,” Doomadgee councilman Elijah Douglas said.
“Here we live paycheque to paycheque, and we share a lot between families because sometimes people just don’t have enough.”
But among the city’s dusty, red plains, an oasis of green has sprung up, offering hope for a more sustainable future.
John McCracken spent a year building the city’s first greenhouse. This month was the first community market where residents could buy boxes of fresh produce for a donation of gold coins.
While the first market was “a little slow”, Mr McCracken expects momentum to build when the news gets out.
“We sold about eight boxes of product and made about $54,” he said.
“This money goes back into the community for the children’s Christmas pageant. So all proceeds go back into the community.”
Mr McCracken admitted he was surprised at how well the garden was doing.
“People were saying I wouldn’t be able to grow spinach. Now I can’t control things, they’re meters tall,” he said.
“The basilisk is out of control.”
The bounty of the garden also includes seven different types of lettuce as well as eggplant, celery, parsley, tomatoes, silver beet, chilies, peppers and beans.
“We are also building beds of land so that we can grow root vegetables, because the locals want to have onions, carrots and potatoes.”
McCracken says the garden’s aquaponics setup is perfect for the waterproof community.
“It’s three tanks filled with about 160 jade poles,” he said.
“Fish droppings are collected in whirlpool tanks which are then drained into a bubbling tank where they are cleaned for three weeks before being pumped into the vegetable bins in the greenhouse.
“It’s a closed system, all the water then drains from the vegetable beds into the aquariums, so there’s minimal water wastage and the fish do all the work,” he said. .
Meeting demand, creating opportunities
The high cost of groceries has long had disastrous ripple effects on the level of nutrition and health in communities like Doomadgee, McCracken said.
“Locals won’t buy fresh vegetables because it’s cheaper to buy a pie from the store than to buy groceries to make a decent meal.
“You can’t blame them because the cost is phenomenal.
“But that’s the main idea behind it all – if we can provide cheap, nutritious products, you hope that will improve the lives and health of people in the community.”
McCracken also hopes the project will provide residents with a small business opportunity and knowledge about growing their own gardens.
“The whole concept was that once it was up and running, we would train locals to take over as a continuing business for themselves. That’s a bit further down the track.
“What we also want to do is use it as a training exercise to teach local residents how to grow their own vegetables and stuff and create miniature installations,” McCracken said.
As for the near future, Mr McCracken flirted with the idea of inviting ABC garden guru Costa Georgiadis for a visit.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have him come here for a little demonstration with all these amazing products that we are growing.”