Grant J Everett
One of the major focuses of our organisation is sharing practical ways we can all live healthier lives. This is why we encourage good nutrition: moderating portions, eating from the five food groups in the right amounts, munching on assorted colours of vegetables, and minimising fat, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are a few of the ways we do this.
Alana Mondy from The Centre on Hunter Street, Newcastle, started up the popular Veggie Box program to encourage the people she works with to eat more fresh produce. The way it works isn’t all that complex: the staff drive the veggie box group to a local farmer’s market, bulk-buy whatever’s in season or has a good price, and divides the produce into equal amounts. As you can see in the above photo, the boxes come packed solid with a great variety of staples, as well as one or two more exotic things.
On the subject of variety, one of the big rules of the Veggie Box Program is that people can’t pick and choose what they want: every box has the same mixture of fruit and veggies in the same amounts. In addition to making things easier to run, this rule also encourages the participants to try out things they wouldn’t normally buy. After all, exploring new things is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and is something we all need to do more of for a happy life.
TIP: Only buy fruit and veggies that are in season. If they’re out of season they are more expensive, and will generally be in cold storage for ages before you buy them.
The Veggie Box program always runs on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month, and there are usually a dozen or so buyers who pay $10 a head. $120 of bulk-bought veggies is an enormous amount of food, and after months of practise the buyers can now immediately tell if something is a good deal. For instance, a box of apples will normally set them back $20, a box of cucumbers will be $15, and so on. It’s pretty common to pay as little as a third of what you’d part with for the same weight of goods at Coles or Woolies.
So, to sum up, the Veggie Box program is encouraging people to eat more fruit and vegetables, it saves them money, and they’re also trying new things a couple of times a month. They’re winning in three ways!
After hearing about the Veggie Box program I decided to check if our other centres were running similar programs. Well, it turns out that Embark Cottage at Blacktown have been doing something almost identical for a couple of years now. In fact, Sciberras farm in the Hawkesbury supports the Embark cooking program by supplying them with fresh locally-grown fruit and vegetables at a discounted price.
Also, Buckingham House at Surry Hills recently wrapped up something called the “Foodmate Cooking Skills and Nutrition Group.” Foodmate was an 8-week program that ran from late July to early September, and it taught the participants how to handle, prepare and cook a meal with fresh ingredients, as well as how to budget and shop for a whole week. There was also a lot of stuff about nutrition.
The sad truth
Having a mental health issue statistically means that we may live about two decades less than the general population, and many of the details that factor into this are preventable. When you combine cigarettes, substance abuse, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise, it’s no exaggeration to call it lethal. Our workers don’t harp about these things for the sake of their health: they do it for the sake of OURS!
Thanks heaps to Alana at Hunter Street, Narelle Robertson from Embark, and Donna Shrubsole from Buck House for their help with this story. Keep up the good work!