Sweet potato harvest a win for food supply

A cultivation project between the University of Melbourne’s Burney campus and food charity organization FareShare has produced Australia’s biggest harvest of sweet potato.

Sweet potato is a staple for hundreds of millions of people across the world but is rarely planted in Australian gardens. Foodshare, Australia’s largest charity kitchen, provides 5000 meals every day for disadvantaged people, and grows more than one third of the vegetables needed across its three kitchen gardens in Melbourne. These are tended by volunteers under the direction of garden manager, Susie Scott, a Burnley graduate.   

The Novel Crops Project, based at the Burnley campus, is investigating about 30 new food plants and varieties for Melbourne. Its aim is to broaden crop choice for home and community gardeners, local councils and nurseries with plants such as sweet potato, taro and ginger.

“This is the first time sweet potato has ever been planted on this scale in Melbourne,” Dr Chris Williams, who runs the project, said. “Some of the varieties we are trialing at FareShare don’t even have a name yet.”

Kellie Watson, FareShare’s general manager, said that sweet potato is a low GI, versatile and easy-to-prepare ingredient.

“It will enable to us better support migrant groups and develop more culturally-appropriate recipes. The sweet potatoes will be used in a variety of FareShare dishes including curries and soups,” she said.

Urban horticulture students from Burnley propagated the plants, and were supported by refugees and migrants doing English language courses at the Carlton Neighbourhood Centre, who also received basic horticultural training.

As a result, 1000 tubes of five different sweet potato varieties were provided to FareShare in December.

Sweet potato is now planted at FareShare’s kitchen gardens at Abbotsford, Moorabbin Airport and Clayton South. The results of the first harvest will help determine which varieties grow best in Melbourne’s climate and could spark renewed interest in the popular food crop.