Old Fashioned Skills in Demand Through NDIS

10 July 2017

Denae Nimmo (above left) teaches the kind of old-fashioned skills that people used to learn in families.  A country girl who grew up on a farm, she sews, gardens, cooks, and breeds poultry.  Denae works with adults who have mild to moderate physical and intellectual disabilities.  With them, she shares her passion and knowledge from living a self-sufficient life.


Denae works for Belconnen Community Service (BCS) in Canberra which was one of the first sites in Australia for the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).   The new scheme enables people with disabilities to access the supports they need to live a more independent life.  For Denae, independence is a way of life, particularly when it comes to food.  She grows or barters nearly everything she eats.

She says, “These days there’s so much disconnect from our food, and it’s even higher for people with disability.”

Since the NDIS rollout, BCS’s social and recreational group programs have grown in response to participant interest.   In February 2017, Denae began The Edible Garden group at her plot in the Kaleen community garden in North Canberra.  She says, “The garden beds were very tired from a long, hot summer.  We began by improving the soil with compost and manure then added a generous covering of mulch. It was also a great time to start our compost bay with all the weeds we pulled out!”

Denae also takes weekly cooking and sewing groups.  Some participants told her that, in the supported group homes where they live, they have little choice in what they eat.  Carers often lack the time and skills to make meals that meet their nutritional requirements.  In some homes, they may eat home-delivered pizza three nights a week.

Denae says, “I’m trying to empower people who live in homes to say, ‘I know what I like, I want in on this.'”

So Denae has started a new group, the Art of Cooking.  This group is about how making a good meal starts before you get to the kitchen.

Denae says she’s teaching, “skills that empower them for change”

Each week, the group works to a budget.  They go shopping together for seasonal foods.  When they head back to the kitchen, they learn how to accurately measure for baking, how to safely use knives and quickly prepare stir fries.  She teaches them food hygiene, to always chop the vegetables before the meat and how to safely store food.   Each week, they take their meal home with them and their whole household finds out about their new skills and delicious food.

Meanwhile, the Edible Garden has grown a great crop.  “We prepared our autumn and winter beds in March and we’ve had continuing harvests of carrots, radishes, fennel and silverbeet .  We’ve been very lucky with mostly sunny days as winter set in and we’ve continued planting.

We talk a lot about pests and good bugs in the garden and the plants we would like to grow in the correct seasons.

We have a lovely pergola at the garden where we take refuge from the heat or gentle sprinkle of rain.  We enjoy a cuppa and taste some of the wonderful vegetables we grow.

Taking home the vegetables and showing them off is also part of the fun and we can’t wait to show off the  Romanesco cauliflowers.”

There’s a smaller kitchen garden where the Art of Cooking group meets at BCS Kippax.  Denae says, “These days people are looking for micro-nutrients; they think they can get it from a pill but they can’t.  At the Art of Cooking, everyone goes out and gathers herbs.  They’re connected with the food their making and they know where it comes from.”

three people working in a large vegetable garden

planting winter vegetables

three people working in a garden

watering in the seedlings

people with sewing machines

sewing at Belconnen Community Centre

two people measuring flour for baking

cooking at BCS Kippax

a hand picking herbs

herbs in the Kippax kitchen garden

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