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Young Indigenous entrepreneurs to tackle food inequity in remote NT

Imogen Kars -

An urgent food crisis is threatening remote Aboriginal communities across the country.

It is estimated that approximately 1.2 million Australians cannot regularly access culturally appropriate, safe and nutritious food from a non-emergency source.

Kere to Country, a new First Nations-led social enterprise, hopes they can make a difference, starting in Alice Springs/Mparntwe. Kere means 'food from animals' in Arrernte.

Three young Indigenous entrepreneursâ€"Jessica Wishart, 31, Jordan Wishart, 25, and Tommy Hicks, 24â€"were inspired to do something about the crisis after visiting Alice Springs/Mparntwe.

The trio saw Aboriginal communities couldn't afford essential products that were necessary to keep their families healthy and safe.

"It's an urgent crisisâ€"one that has been going on for a really long time, but it's gotten worse since the pandemic," CEO Jessica Wishart said.

The concept is simple: Kere to Country will provide remote communities with access to meat through bulk purchases or smaller packs.

Aiming to eventually expand to all of central Australia, the team will distribute packs to Alice Springs/Mparntwe, both in and out of town, and the Tennant Creek region.

Wishart said they aim to make the meat affordable and available year-round, which will in turn deliver better health outcomes to communities.

Kere to Country has proudly partnered with their friend Robyn Verrall of Bully's Meats, a renowned farm-to-door butcher service that focuses on community, accessibility and quality products.

"Basically, in Adelaide we get all of our meat delivered to our door through Bully's Meats. We get whole lambs, roasts and everything. If we can get this option, why can't Aboriginal people access options like this in their communities?" Wishart said.

The CEO said meat is one of the most expensive products in remote communities, with some families paying over $85 for one kilogram of poor-quality mince.

"The quality of meat is a big issueâ€"you and I wouldn't buy it from our local shop, yet they're expected to buy it and live off it. It's just not fair."

Barriers to food equity in remote areas exist because of factors including cost of living, lack of jobs and the unreliability of freight services.

"Food that you pay for in remote areas is nearly twice the price that you pay in the city," she said.

With many remote families living off support from Centrelink, Wishart said it's absurd remote families are expected to pay higher prices for basic goods than other Australians, when they are already battling a low income.

"The deliveries will also help free up money so they can spend it on other things like utilities and other items from the shop," she said.

Originally from Adelaide, the team shifted to Alice Springs just three weeks ago to begin talking with communities to find out ways they can make the deliveries more suitable and appropriate, and gaining expressions of interest from potential customers.

"We're getting an idea of what they'd like in their packs, how many people would like one, how many people need deep freezers and how often they need meat delivered for example," Wishart said.

They also aim to set up flexible interest-free payment methods that include paying fortnightly with their Centrelink income.

Aiming to sell products from early 2021, Kere to Country already has plans to work with store owners and other industry partners.

"We're working with stores in Alice Springs to try and put meat on shelves, and we're also working with a bakery to make pastry products available to the community," Wishart said.

She said it's important that more Australians know about the food crisis facing remote Aboriginal communities, as it's the first step to making a difference.

"When you know of something, you know that you can do better and you can contribute at a grassroots level," Wishart said.

"The more Australians that know what is happening, the more people can jump on board and help us make sure we get this company up and runningâ€"it's really needed right now."

Kere to Country is currently seeking donations and support to help with start-up costs.

"Donations would go to trucks, facilities, fuel wages, employment and everything to make sure we can get meat delivered to these communities as soon as possible," Wishart said.

The team is also looking for sponsors and partners to assist in meat distribution. For more details, head to their website here.

By Imogen Kars

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