Cultivating Well-being: Young People and Food Gardens in Tanna, Vanuatu

  • Jean Mitchell University of Prince Edward Island
  • Joan Niras National University Vanuatu
  • Lesbeth Niefeu
Keywords: Vanuatu; Tanna; youth; traditional knowledge; gardening; food; wellbeing; relationality; care


Gardens in Vanuatu, an archipelago in the SW Pacific, materialize the multiple relationships between land, humans, and the more-than-human world that facilitate self-reliance, and wellbeing. This paper analyzes a collaborative project (2016-18) undertaken on the Island of Tanna in Vanuatu. A project for and with youth and their communities, it aimed to train young people to do basic research on customary food gardens and to document Indigenous customary knowledge, practices, and customary stories about food and gardens. The project started after a catastrophic cyclone destroyed gardens and infrastructure, rendering the self-sufficient islanders dependent on food aid at a time of rising rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). There is also concern about the declining interest in traditional knowledge among youth. With about 60% of the population under 30 years of age, this paper argues that youth are critical actors in ensuring the continuity of customary knowledge and practices that are essential for food sovereignty, the maintenance of social relations and wellbeing, all of which are embedded in relational ecologies of care. 


Author Biographies

Jean Mitchell, University of Prince Edward Island

is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Prince Edward Island. She worked with UNICEF in India and conducts research in the South Pacific. Her current collaborative project with youth in Vanuatu focuses on the environment, food gardens and customary knowledge and practices. Email: 

Joan Niras, National University Vanuatu

who is from the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, is an accomplished musician, singer, and songwriter who researched with the Ecologies of Care Project in Tanna. She is currently a full-time university student in social sciences in the capital of Port Vila. 


Lesbeth Niefeu

is from a village in Southwest Tanna, Vanuatu, and conducted research with the Ecologies of Care Project in Tanna. She is interested in community-based action research, music, and videography. She is currently pursuing those interests in Tanna. 

How to Cite
Mitchell, J., Niras, J., & Niefeu, L. (2020). Cultivating Well-being: Young People and Food Gardens in Tanna, Vanuatu. Engaged Scholar Journal: Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Learning, 6(1), 1-17.