Royal Flying Doctor Service - South Eastern Section

Royal Flying Doctor Service - South Eastern Section

A program by the Royal Flying Doctor Service encouraging young people to live healthier lives by teaching them how to grow fruit and vegetables and promoting a better understanding of nature is having a real impact.

The Guiding Rural Outback Wellbeing (GROW) program is an RFDS initiative that supports rural and remote communities across Western NSW. Among its initiatives is the GROW Aquaponics Program, which focuses on early intervention to encourage young students to improve attendance and adopt healthy eating habits by growing fresh fruit and vegetables.  

At sites all across regional NSW, often located at local schools, the aquaponics setups teach children how to farm aquatic life such as fish and yabbies, and use the nutrient rich water they create to set up a sustainable hydroponic vegetable garden. 

“It’s a novel approach to connecting with kids in schools. We facilitate interest groups as well as identified groups of ‘disengaged’ students where we guide them through the production side of things where they supplement the school canteen or share fresh produce with families, but it’s the mentoring and sharing of Wellbeing education that really has an impact,” GROW Program Coordinator Matthew March said. 

GROW Program with school kids

The feedback from principals and parents involved in the program has shown the value of the program, Matt said, but in a bid to further expand such a unique and innovative program, an equally unique and innovative specialist had to be found.  

The RFDS has partnered with Dr Kate Neale PhD of Digability. Dr Neale is a researcher at the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University.  

Dr Neale has familiarised herself with the GROW program and has been impressed with what she has seen, seeing students who may have been disconnected from their schooling who have become some of the most actively involved GROW participants.  

“My background as a researcher is exploring the well-being benefit of spending time in nature gardening. So when Matt approached me and I got to learn about the GROW program, I thought, this is exactly what I spend my time waxing lyrical about. It is great for the individual from a wellbeing perspective but also from a social aspect working with peers and mentors,” Dr Neale said.  

“We know anecdotally that this program works. Now we are building the evidence base and linking it to a framework around the program.  

“What we’ve seen in other programs that I’ve worked on is when you allocate resources and build capacity within the students – suddenly the Ag Plot becomes the hub in the school for learning, wellbeing and belonging. And, often it is the kids that have been disconnected or have struggled in the classroom, that become the caretakers of what is now the pride and joy of the school. It has the capacity to change the trajectory of those students lives.” Dr Neale concluded.