Girls leading the way

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Zara Byron is a trail-blazing year 11 student at Hastings Secondary College. She is also a proud Birpai woman, leading the way in her school’s Kitchen Garden Program and championing the importance of cultural identity for Aboriginal youth in her community.

We spoke to Zara in the lead up to  International Day of the Girl on 11 October, a chance to foreground some of the amazing contributions girls are making to build a stronger, more equitable world.

Zara explained how she has helped transform a bland corner of her school into a vibrant kitchen garden with the support of funding from our program partner, AstraZeneca. She has also joined with other Aboriginal girls to form their own catering business utilising bush tucker ingredients.

Read on to hear Zara explain how she has showcased her incredible entrepreneurial and leadership skills, harnessing the power of growing, harvesting, preparing, and sharing food through the Kitchen Garden Program.

Wiyabu, I'm Zara Byron, a year 11 student at Hastings Secondary College. I am a proud Birpai woman, and I am honoured to be chosen to speak about my involvement in the Kitchen Garden Program at our school and the importance of cultural identity for Aboriginal youth in their community.

I am also part of our Sista Connections program at Hastings Secondary College. Sista Connections is a program that empowers Aboriginal girls to be leaders and future role models.

The program provides academic support, empowerment through entrepreneurism and employment, wellbeing, and community connections. The program's objectives emphasise building friendships, resilience, connection to community, connection to self, connection to culture, increase in school attendance, academic and personal achievement, and facilitation of post-school transitions.

The Kitchen Garden Program has allowed our school to beautify an ugly, bland corner of the school, outside our home economics classrooms, into a vibrant space where students are happy to be.

Two young people either side of a scarecrow

In the garden at Hastings Secondary College

This space has been turned into a dynamic space full of colour and excellent produce used in our home economics practical lessons. Not only have we been able to choose the plants, but we have also grown the produce and then can understand the true impact of 'paddock to plate', where we can then create beautiful meals using our own grown produce. This means we also learn to pass that onto our families through cooking and growing produce in our own backyards.

Our garden showcases the importance of what healthy eating looks like and has been a catalyst to our Shop Sista Catering Program. This term, we prepared for our first external catering job for Essential Energy.

Our catering menu prepared by Sista Connections is inspired by bush tucker ingredients. Our menu included: Bush Chook Sliders slow-roasted in coriander with lemon marinade, tossed bush dukkah, avocado mayonnaise coleslaw on damper rolls, Quiche Lorraine with bush thyme served with roasted vine bush tomatoes cooked with garlic, bush pepper and bush thyme, and for dessert, Lemon Myrtle Cheesecake!

Prepared food

Sista Connections’ bush tucker inspired catering menu

The garden program has inspired our Aboriginal girls to develop a list of produce they would like planted to use in our catering business. This has provided us with a sense of belonging and confidence and showcased our entrepreneurial skills.

Since receiving our grant, the College contracted a local artist who developed a garden concept to brighten up a drab wall.

We have also worked with our woodwork and metalwork teachers and students who have constructed twelve garden beds and turned them into wicker beds. This type of garden bed provides less evaporation during watering and allows the plants to grow deeper roots. It also lowers water usage because the garden draws up water only when needed. Whilst this took us a bit more time to install, I really think this will be great for the ongoing sustainability of our plants and holiday time when we are not on campus to water the plants.

We are excited to be planting an incredible selection of plants and have integrated selections of indigenous plants and herbs.

I am currently undertaking a Certificate III in Hospitality and have had work experience at Group Therapy Café. I also participated in the Lost Plot community garden celebration. I learned about customer service, greeting, and serving customers and experienced local chefs cook a fantastic fresh meal from the lost plot garden.

Zara waiting at catering event

Zara Byron hard at work catering a kitchen garden event

I also work part-time at Kmart, where I have taken on those communication skills and used them when serving customers or hosting events at school for the teachers – it's not just about the cooking. I had the opportunity to meet and connect with other people, sit down, and talk to get to know one another and their inspirations and have a good time while enjoying some delicious food. You also have the possibility of sharing those precious memories with the future generation passing down stories and even recipes.

After graduating from Hastings Secondary College, I want to be more involved with my community, maybe helping with fundraisers or creating my own to be one with the community. I have not decided yet on what I wish to do because there are so many opportunities out there, and honestly, I wish I could explore them all but have such little time. But the one thing that I want to do is live because, like I just mentioned, time is short, and it's best to make the most of it.

The Kitchen Garden Program for Secondary Years was launched in 2020, with support from AstraZeneca Australia under their global Young Health Programme.

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