JUNEEN Schulz’s focus on growing and sharing food locally, improving people’s diets and fostering social interaction, led to her being named South Gippsland Shire Council’s Citizen of the Year.

The Walkerville local was stunned to receive the honour, displaying clear emotion when named at Wednesday’s Australia Day Awards ceremony.

“I was just surprised and I’m overwhelmed by why people would even want to nominate me,” she said.

Despite the initial shock, she acknowledges the honour demonstrates the regard community members have for what she contributes.

Juneen’s passion for growing and cooking food and sharing it with others was sparked when her youngest child started at Foster Primary School.

“I started as a volunteer at school 26 years ago as part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program and it was just such a pleasure to see the children growing and eating food they would never normally eat,” Juneen said.

She enjoyed the experience so much it prompted her to start a community garden in Foster a couple of years later.

While Juneen remains active in that garden, she is also heavily involved in Buckley Park Community Farm in Fish Creek, being one of its founders, and another community garden in that town.

Juneen described the transformative effect growing food can have on people’s lives.

“I remember a little girl that wouldn’t eat anything when she first came into the garden and by the time she got to year 6 she was eating broad beans raw, and she said she wanted to be a chef after that,” she said.

When the girl first arrived at the community garden, she was used to a diet of fried food and packaged goods.

“Seeing the food grow from seeds to harvest and then from harvest onto the plate,” was the inspiration that changed the girl’s thinking and lifestyle, Juneen explained.

The Citizen of the Year is just as keen on preparing fresh produce and sharing it with others as she is on the growing process.

“I do community meals once a month, so we harvest all that food locally and then I make a menu and we all sit down and eat a meal together,” Juneen said.

People enjoy the social side of the gatherings, while for some it may be the only healthy meal they eat for the month.

Food’s ability to unite people is again on show at the Fish Creek community farm, with many single men helping out there and making friends in the process.

Juneen has also observed the value of community gardens in providing a social outlet for people new to the region.

That has been particularly evident with many new faces moving to South Gippsland since COVID began.

As well as her focus on local community, Juneen is committed to reducing food miles, benefiting the environment.

In congratulating Juneen for her Citizen of the Year status, South Gippsland Shire Mayor Cr Mohya Davies spoke of her personal connection with Juneen, and knowledge of her contribution.

“I have seen Juneen at work over many years and she has inspired young people with the development of kitchen garden projects in schools, growing produce, then cooking it to create inspired meals,” Cr Davies said.

“She is a true asset to our region and deserves all the recognition for her efforts, as do all of our award nominees.”

Other nominees for South Gippsland Shire Council’s Citizen of the Year were Leongatha’s Lindsay Love, Sally Gorman of Meeniyan and Mary Baker of Mirboo North.

Mary Baker, Lindsay Love, Aiden Marshall and Sally Gorman were all nominated for awards.

Young Citizen of the Year

Above and beyond for Meeniyan

JYE Davey was honoured to be named South Gippsland Shire Council’s Young Citizen of the Year in his hometown of Meeniyan on Wednesday night.

The award recognised his volunteer work at Stony Creek Football Netball Club, as well as the contribution he makes to the community of Meeniyan and surrounds through his job at the town’s IGA.

At age 21, Jye already plays a huge part in the local community.

His role at IGA has taken on greater significance due to the challenges presented by COVID and Jye is always happy to go beyond the basic requirements of the job.

A visit to the supermarket became the social event of the day for many people during lockdown, and Jye’s bubbly personality and helpful attitude made for a bright spot during otherwise glum times.

He delivered groceries to housebound elderly people, unpacking their purchases and putting them away, while making their day with cheerful conversation and local news.

“I like seeing the thankfulness in customers when you go over and beyond to get products or help them out,” Jye said.

He paid tribute to his employer Kaelene Shervell, thanking her for the opportunity to work at Meeniyan IGA.

“It’s a great place to work and one of the best decisions I’ve made,” Jye said.

As well as his popularity with customers, Jye’s organisational efforts are crucial to the business, particularly his commitment to ensuring the store is well stocked despite the supply-chain challenges presented by COVID.

While Jye realised playing footy isn’t his thing, he was keen to stay involved with Stony Creek Football Netball Club.

He does so as social and sponsorship manager, now in his second year of managing those responsibilities.

“That involves organising sponsors for the club and running the bar at home games and functions, which is a big income (source) for the club,” Jye said.

Player dinners after Thursday night training add to Jye’s hours at the bar.

Jye appreciates the support of family who are always there for him, even after a long day at the supermarket or the football-netball club.

South Gippsland Shire Council Mayor Cr Mohya Davies congratulated Jye on being Young Citizen of the Year, also paying tribute to Citizen of the Year Juneen Schulz and the evening’s other nominees.

“Being nominated for an Australia Day Award is a real honour and each nominee should be extremely proud,” she said, noting they have all dedicated their time, skills and energy for the benefit of the local community.

Cr Davies said those honoured on Wednesday are representative of the broader community spirit on display across the region.

“According to the 2016 Census, South Gippsland has the highest volunteering rate in the country,” Cr Davies said.