More from Karalyn @ Food Plant Solutions: Think Global, Act Local

Interview by Anna White

Trainees at the community training about uses for local plants and foods in Vietnam.

Recently I chatted with Karalyn Hingston. Karalyn is the Executive Officer and only paid employee of Food Plant Solutions – a small organisation which is achieving great things on a shoestring budget both at an international level and in Australia. I found it inspiring to learn of a small Australian organisation achieving positive outcomes and punching well above its weight. Cooking Circles chatted with her last year and here she gives an update on the organisations’ international development projects.

The photos throughout this article were taken in Vietnam by Food Plant Solutions’ program partner – AOG World Relief.  The program has been greatly successful. What began as a pilot program in 2012, it has since expanded to eight Food Plant Solutions school gardens, with plans for three more in the pipeline. AOG World Relief has said “Food Plant Solutions is a useful program because it aims to empower children… to harness local food plant resources to feed themselves and their families. (This is important) in response to the emergency facing the developing world with the rise of malnutrition.”

Food Plant Solutions is based in Tasmania and was set up to end hunger, malnutrition and ensure food security.  Food Plant Solutions aims to influence people’s thinking with regards to food choices through education, by presenting scientific evidence in an accessible way. This empowers people to make change. The organisation follows the principle of “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.

The organisation has an array of guides and publications covering over 30 countries. Each focuses on plants that are suited to the country and known to grow there and are high in nutrients.

Project education uses these informative, colourful publications.  Non-government organisations also draw on the guides to educate communities on the nutrient value of their local foods.  The communities are encouraged and empowered to grow and cook these plants.

Karalyn is a born and bred Tasmanian.  She works from her home and doesn’t travel to any of the countries where Food Plant Solutions’ projects are operating.  But she is passionate about the work they are doing and the positive results they are achieving.  She is clearly highly dedicated and very hard working.

I ask Karalyn for an example of a country where Food Plant Solutions’ publications are being used.  She mentions Vietnam where one of the very successful programs has succeeded in reducing malnutrition in children in one community by 95%.  Teachers are provided with the information on local plants and their nutritional value, and  then teach children how to grow the plants by establishing gardens at the school.  Kids are given a healthy lunch each day prepared  from plants grown in the garden, and it is they who then teach their parents how to grow these plants.  The health of the whole family improves as a result.

A school garden begins, run by the school kids.

The vibrant publication on Vietnam lists plants such as sweet potato which it states is very high in Vitamin A.  Also listed is horseradish leaf which is high in Vitamin C and winged bean, high in zinc.  The publication explains where to best grow these plants and also the sort of pests and diseases which might be attracted to them.

Food Plant Solutions produces publications in English and aims to have them translated in the language of each country where they are used.  It also produces colourful publications with pictures for those who have low levels of literacy. 

One of Food Plant Solutions’ strengths is its innovative approach in that it doesn’t send people to a country, but instead works with existing aid providers.  This reduces duplication and unnecessary costs.  Food Plant Solutions has partnerships with various aid providers throughout the world who are helping communities in these countries to grow locally adapted plants.

School kids plant local crops at Dai Hung school in Vietnam.

Karalyn talks about issues surrounding healthy food which exist also in her home state.   In 2016 (the most recent data available) the rate of diabetes in Tasmania was 8.1% of the population.  The rate of people who were obese was 35.6% for that same year.

Food Plant Solutions has run workshops on plants and nutrition in Tasmania for new residents.  For example, they ran a program for 40 Nepalese people this year.  The team presented local plants, along with how to grow and use these.   They prepared Nepalese curries using these plants. 

According to Karalyn, Food Plant Solutions “runs on the smell of an oily rag”. All donations go directly to fighting malnutrition unlike most charities which must cover administration and staff costs.  She says they are grateful for the support of many volunteers.  Whilst Food Plant Solutions is an organisation based on environmental sustainability, they themselves are not yet financially sustainable and are actively looking for donations, sponsors and introductions to organisations who might like to help support Food Plant Solutions short or long-term.

Through Food Plant Solutions’ educational material and support, the organisation is empowering people to understand the nutritional value of plants.  They are achieving amazing results.  But they need support to continue.  With five children under the age of five dying of malnutrition every minute in the world, the problem must not be ignored.  To donate please go to  For further details, email Karalyn at

Yellow Ladybugs and Cooking Circles: Empowering Autistic Girls

By Jeanette Purkis

This article was originally published on Jeanette Purkis’ blog, and is available at You can read all about Jeanette and find all her musings at

I spent this afternoon at a Cooking Circles event with Yellow Ladybugs – two organisations which are in Canberra and whose work I really value.

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Food Security in Timor Leste

by Sarah Burr

What is food security? To be food secure is to always have access to sufficient, nutritious, and affordable food. Food security covers the dimensions of time, place, quantity, quality, and cost. To be food insecure is to be lacking at least one of these components. Food insecurity can lead to malnutrition, stunted growth in children, and ill-health. In Timor Leste, two-thirds of the population are food insecure.

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Women in agriculture in Timor Leste

by Sarah Burr

Women are incredibly important to agriculture all over the world. In Timor Leste, women in mountainous areas (where 70 per cent of the Timorese population lives) carry out most farm activities including taking care of animals and cultivation of rain-fed crops such as sweet potato, cassava and fruit. Timorese women increasingly took on farm work during conflict as men left towns and villages to fight. Post-conflict, women have continued this work due to men returning from war suffering physical and mental injury. This farm workload is on top of women’s other duties such as child-rearing, housework, caring for elders, and community responsibilities.

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Five minutes with Bridging Peoples’ Deb Cummins


Founder of Bridging Peoples and all-round go-getter, Deborah Cummins chats candidly with Cooking Circles about Timorese women, her passion for Timor Leste and the story behind Bridging Peoples…

It’s hard to talk about ‘Timorese women’, because of course their experiences and world views vary so much depending on what class they come from, and depending on whether they consider themselves more country women or city women…

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The Alola Foundation


Find out more about Alola Foundation, their work and how you can join the fundraising campaign.

On Saturday 19 September, local not-for-profit program Cooking Circles will be hosting a fundraiser for a women’s NGO in Timor Leste, the Alola Foundation. The aim of the night is to raise funds and awareness of the amazing work of the Alola Foundation who have been working with women and families in Timor Leste since 2001. 

Fundraise for the Alola Foundation with Kirsty Sword Gusmao

Alola was established by Australian born Kirsty Sword Gusmao. Kirsty has been an active supported of the country’s independence and has since lived in the country. She now lives in Dili, Timor Leste, with her three sons and is married to the current Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao. Kirsty will be our very special guest at the fundraiser, and if you have not heard her speak before, this is a great opportunity to meet and be inspired by Kirsty.
When: Saturday 19 September, 5pm-8pm
Where: Currie Crescent Community Centre at The Canberra Baptist Church, 11 Currie Crescent Kingston
Cost: Adults $25 and kids $15.
A light supper will be served and there will be speeches and a slideshow throughout the night. All welcome – women, men, kids!
If you cannot attend but wish to donate, you can do so through Cooking Circles supported page.
Any questions can be directed to Heidi at or 0413 404 511.
We hope to see you there!

Why Alola?

The Alola Foundation is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation that works for women’s rights in Timor Leste, and the tagline says it all: ‘Strong Women, Strong Nation’. The organisation was founded in 2001 by Kirsty Sword Gusmao, Australian born and fighting for the Timorese people since 1991. Each year, the Alola Foundation’s partner organisation, Alola Australia, organises a fundraising campaign, MILK, to acquire much needed funds to keep the Alola Foundation operating.

It was because of Kirsty that I was prompted to learn more about Timor Leste, after I read a little about her in Canberra’s Museum of Australian Democracy, housed in Old Parliament House, Canberra. I attended a MILK fundraiser breakfast in 2012 where Kirsty spoke about the strengths and struggles of Alola’s work to date. I met her for the first time at this event and was struck by Kirsty’s quiet yet charming, powerful, presence. When I travelled to Timor Leste two months later, I visited Alola and was fortunate to spend a little time with some of the staff and women through a childcare training program an Australian friend was running. I was moved by the determination of the women I met at Alola and have remained committed to helping in whatever small way I can both personally and as a community of supporters through Cooking Circles.

To support the work of the Alola Foundation, you can donate to the MILK campaign through the Cooking Circles page, join the Alola Fundraiser being held by Cooking Circles on Saturday 19th September, find out more about the amazing work of Alola, and hold your own morning tea event to raise funds for Alola. 

Disclaimer: Cooking Circles is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Alola Foundation and holds this fundraiser to support the work of the organisation only.

Recipe: Tukkir

IMG_2977How I love this dish. I’ve blogged about it during my trip. I wrote about it countless times over Facebook to Berta in between visits. I ached for the dish every day in Timor Leste, hoping one day, soon, there would be the kind of celebration that called for Tukkir to be prepared.

I’ve said before that making Tukkir is about as wonderful as eating it. For me that’s because the entire family gathers to prepare the dish, kicking back while they work methodically and slowly, telling tales and joking throughout. People appear relaxed. At their finest. Day turns into night, and the fire is lit as the sun drops out of sight. After 2 hours on the fire, the edible part of Tukkir is removed carefully from bamboo. There’s anxious silence as the Tukkir is revealed. Sudden laughter cracks in the air and seats are taken anywhere they can be to tuck into the wonderful, the very special, Tukkir.

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