Gomeroi woman finds connection to land through horticulture

One small decision has changed the life of a Moree woman who has been able to build a career from a new-found passion.

Gomeroi woman Kerrie Saunders credits TAFE NSW for helping her reconnect with country and find a new sense of belonging.

The 47-year-old was working part-time at Woolaway Wines, tending the vegetable garden for owner Andrew Amos, when she enrolled in a Certificate II in Horticulture to learn more about plants.

When Kerrie met Tafe horticulture teacher Paul Moxon, a former bushfood nursery owner, it sparked a passion for bushfoods and launched a whole new career.

"When Paul took me out on country to learn more about bush tucker, that's when the connection happened - I felt like I was home. It was instant," Kerrie said.

"The Amos family were good mentors to me, encouraging me and treating me like family, but learning about my country gave me a different sense of belonging. Being Aboriginal and finding that connection to the land, it changes you completely."

Mr Moxon said he knew Kerrie was a natural. "She has a really good eye for identifying plants. If you're going to be using bush tucker for eating and medicine you need to be really sure about what your plants are," Mr Moxon said. "Kerrie took the subject to heart and now she's living it 24/7. She is an extraordinary person and it's been amazing to see her transformation. As a teacher, it's wonderful to have a student who has that passion."

Having found an affinity with bushfoods, Kerrie established her own business Yinarr-ma - meaning 'women of known information' - to offer bushwalking and bushfood tours as well as treating tourists to bushfood cooking.

Kerrie capitalises on the tourist trade and is constantly adapting her business based on their feedback. She is also getting interest from local groups and services.

"I did tea and damper for Anzac Day. I'm working with the health service doing bushfood tours for mums and bubs, and I've got interest from the schools," Kerrie said.

Mr Moxon said Kerrie was now working three days a week at the University of Sydney's Plant Breeding Institute in Narrabri on a research project called Indigenous Grasslands for Grain.

"Kerrie is harvesting the grasses, processing them, milling the grain, turning it into flour and cooking with it. It's the full process. She recently held a bush tucker pizza day in Moree and she made the dough from local native seed, then put native fruits and herbs on top. It's extraordinary - she's become very accomplished."

Kerrie has also completed a Statement of Attainment in Aboriginal Site Work at Tafe and now undertakes work identifying Aboriginal sites for the Local Aboriginal Land Council.

She is also a founding member of the Moree Urban Landcare Group, which is planting trees and restoring the banks of the Mehi River.

Kerrie's vision is to have a piece of land she can regenerate and build a native bushfood garden to run her business, create a shop and café, and train local Aboriginal young people.

"To understand bushfoods and to cook with them... it's good for your mind and good for your mental wellbeing. And I want other people to feel that too," she said.

"Now I understand my own landscape and people are interested in the knowledge I have to share. I feel proud to be Aboriginal and proud be to be connected to my country. I finally feel like I belong."