The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture, and Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) have partnered to try and make a difference in the battle against obesity in the Cook Islands.
Two weeks ago, Te Ipukarea Society received a request for assistance from Rebecca Maurangi Iles, the manager of the kitchen at Rarotonga Hospital.
She was looking for a small team of people who wanted to provide healthier meals for hospital patients, particularly those who are overweight. To get the project off the ground, assistance was sought from the Ministry of Agriculture and Te Ipukarea Society to set up a healthy food garden on the hospital grounds. The idea was that produce from this garden would be used to help promote healthy eating among the hospital patients.
“No doubt Rebecca had heard of the success of our schools project which supplied worm farms, composters, and training to all the schools in the Cook Islands,” says TIS project officer, Liam Kokaua.
Te Ipukarea Society agreed to donate a compost bin and a worm farm to the project, and provide training in their use and maintenance. Brian Tairea, extension officer from the Ministry of Agriculture, also provided seedlings and advice on setting up the garden, and both he and Kokaua from TIS provided tools and manpower to start the garden.
Kokaua and Tairea also provided some cuttings from their own organic vegetable gardens. These included two varieties of rukau viti (bele) plants, some climbing spinach, and a tray of Chinese cabbage.
“All these plants are fast-growing, high-producing leafy green vegetables which will give a healthy nutrient boost to future meals which the hospital kitchen plans on creating,” says Kokaua.
“They are low-impact crops, requiring no tilling of soil, or chemical fertilizing in order to grow abundantly. The fertilizers which have been used so far for these plants are chicken manure and organic plant plasma.
“This is the first stage of the hospital garden, which is now awaiting more vegetable seedlings from the Ministry of Agriculture. The seedlings will be planted in rows within the boundaries set by the rukau viti and climbing spinach plants.”
Next week, Kokaua will conduct training with Rarotonga Hospital kitchen staff about how to get the most of their worm farm, focusing what you can and cannot feed the worms.
“With the amount of vegetable and fruit scraps being produced by the hospital kitchen each day, the worms will surely be well fed,” says Kokaua.
“The worm farm is situated next to the hospital herb garden, which is also thriving and will benefit from additional fertilizing with worm tea or worm compost.
Some months ago TIS prepared a “keyhole garden” in the back yard of their office, in which they are growing a number of organic vegetables. These include cherry tomatoes, egg plants, and chilli. Based on this experience, TIS is also providing guidance on how to establish a keyhole garden to use organic waste produced at the hospital.
“We look forward to working with the Rarotonga Hospital and the Ministry of Agriculture and helping to provide healthy, local, and environmentally friendly meals for our hospital patients,” says Kokaua.
“We are also looking forward to helping to combat the spread of non-communicable diseases associated with poor diet such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.”