A new initiative that teaches children how to grow and cook their

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					  Kids in
                                                 A new initiative that teaches
                                                 children how to grow and
                                                 cook their own healthy food is
                                                 taking off in schools around

                                                 the country – and the head
                                                 chef is none other than
                                                 Stephanie Alexander

                                                                                                                                    ● Stephanie Alexander at
                                                                                                                                      Collingwood College in
                                                                                                                                      Victoria, one of the first
                                                                                                                                      schools to implement the
                                                                                                                                      Kitchen Garden Program.
                                                                                                                                      A further 190 schools will
                                                                                                                                      receive up to $60,000 in
                                                                                                                                      government funding to
                                                                                                                                      participate over the next
                                                                                                                                      four years.

28                                                                                                                                                                                  29
                       Story Rebecca Huntley Photography Vanessa Hunter Illustration Hennie Haworth

                       welve-year-old Tim has a black smudge on his               “Like chocolate and beetroot muffins!” Tim
                       nose. It isn’t dirt from the footy field or escaped    exclaims. “The beetroot makes them pink and
                       ink from his school pen. It’s charcoal from the        gives them a really interesting flavour.”
                       flat breads he has been grilling to go with                Tim and Georgia return to their baking,
                       the garlicky white bean dip he has just prepared.      grilling and mashing, and I am left to survey the
                       He is one of the lucky children attending              buzzing kitchen as the kids, teachers and a
                       Southmoor Primary School in the southern               parent and grandparent move from sink to oven
                       suburbs of Melbourne, one of 27 Victorian              to benchtop. As I watch them, I chat to Sarah
                       schools that participate in Stephanie Alexander’s      Warren, the kitchen specialist who runs the
                       Kitchen Garden Program, the aim of which               cooking classes. The program requires
                       is to provide a pleasurable food education             Southmoor students from Years 3 to 6 to spend
                       for primary school students.                           around 1½ hours per week in the kitchen
                           The program takes a holistic approach,             preparing and sharing meals.
                       teaching kids how to grow, harvest, prepare and            While the menus are uncomplicated, the
                       share food in a school environment, and has            types of meals participants learn to cook are not
                       been hugely successful. It is expanding in             run-of-the-mill, home economics fare – no
                       Victoria and is about to go national: the              scones or spag bol on the menu here. Rather, the
                       foundation has secured an impressive                   kids at Southmoor have learned to make such
                       $12.8 million of federal Government money to           gourmet delights as orange crostoli, rocket pesto,
                       fund garden and kitchen infrastructure for up to       quinoa risotto, and rhubarb and scented
                       190 primary schools across the country.                geranium crumble tart. They spent a whole
                           Tim needs little prompting to tell me just         term learning how to make fresh pasta, and even
                       how much he enjoys the program’s gardening             have access to a wood-fired oven at the back of
                       and cooking classes. “It’s really fun. We get to       the kitchen for pizza and bread-making.
                       see the food grow. We strive to get it to its peak         Warren explains that the aim of the kitchen
                       and then pick it. And we get to eat it.                classes is to expose kids to a wide range of foods
                       We see the finished product of all our efforts.”       and taste experiences, to expand their culinary
                           Another student, Georgia, says the program         horizons. “Initially it’s a big leap for them,” she
                       teaches her skills she will need when she grows        admits, “but once they get the hang of it,
                       up: “I love the different tastes – I’ve been getting   they are right into it.” She believes children
                       into foods I would never have looked at before.”       become more open to new tastes when they

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                                                                                                                                           ● With a little instruction
                                                                                                                                             from Alexander, students
                                                                                                                                             prepare a salad using their
                                                                                                                                             own hydroponic lettuce.


                                                                      are involved in nurturing and preparing the         a pumpkin crop. “They tend to take over if you
                                                                      food themselves. “Parents tell us that after        plant them with the other vegetables,” he says.
                                                                      being exposed to the classes, their kids request         Further on there are olive trees, an orchard
                                                                      spinach on the shopping list.”                      with 20 varieties of fruit trees, a chicken shed,
                                                                          Eleven-year-old Georgia seems to be one of      trout farm and two yabbie ponds. Numerous
                                                                      the converts. “Every week after the class I come    water tanks, a drip-irrigation system, a windmill
                                                                      home and say, ‘Mum, can we cook this?’ We did       and an extensive composting system keep the
                                                                      pasta for, like, a whole term. And so I’d come      garden green in more ways than one. A scarecrow
                                                                      home every Monday night and say, can we             (dressed, perhaps, in a father’s hand-me-downs)
                                                                      please make pasta?”                                 guards the rows of green beans and silverbeet.
                                                                          The kitchen and dining space at Southmoor       An enormous teepee stands in the centre of it
                                                                      Primary overlooks a garden Peter Cundall would      all, a handy space for post-planting debriefs.
                                                                      be proud of. Along with the kitchen classes,             When they first established the garden,
                       Southmoor                                      students spend a minimum of 40 minutes a            Horton says many of the students had no

                      Primary’S SmaShed
                                                                      week working in the gardens they have helped
                                                                      design, build and maintain according to organic
                                                                      principles. My tour guide today is Chris Horton,
                                                                                                                          experience of planting something in the ground.
                                                                                                                          “The kids grow everything from seedlings. They
                                                                                                                          know what it means to see [them] grow into

                       broad bean diP                                 the school’s business manager. His grown-up
                                                                      children once attended the school and he
                                                                                                                          something.” He’s convinced the classes have the
                                                                                                                          potential to affect children’s behaviour at home.
                                                                      remains a leader of the school community. He        “Parents tell us how the kids come home and
  SERVES 6–8                       Pod the beans into a large         is passionate about the garden aspect of the        want to start their own garden or build a chicken
  1kg freshly picked broad beans   mortar and pound them to a         Stephanie Alexander program.                        coop. They draw so much from it – literacy,
  2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil    rough mash using half the olive        Our first stop is a flourishing herb spiral     numeracy, team work – anything in the
  100g pecorino cheese,            oil. Stir in most of the cheese,   planted in a wooden barrel. “It was a class         curriculum you can apply to the garden.”
  coarsely grated                  then season to taste. Scoop        project and the whole thing kind of grew from            The next day, I am invited to the home of
  Sea salt (be careful as the      onto a flattish dish. Sprinkle     there,” Horton explains. The gardens now            the program’s founder, Stephanie Alexander.
  cheese is already salty)         with the rest of the cheese and    contain everything from broad beans to red          I ask whether she is trying to give children a
  Freshly ground black pepper      drizzle with the remaining oil.    cabbage, zucchinis and capsicums. There are         taste of what she experienced as a child growing
  1 clove garlic (for the bread)   Meanwhile, grill or oven-bake      sheds housing hydroponic lettuce of all sorts, as   up on the Mornington Peninsula, which must
  Grilled sourdough or             the bread. When ready, rub         well as different varieties of tomato. Horton       have been the perfect education for a girl who
  oven-baked triangles             lightly with the cut clove of      recently led a working bee of parents and           would become one of Australia’s best-known
  of pita bread                    garlic and serve with the dip.     volunteers on a mission to dig out a new area for   chefs and cookbook writers. “My parents had a

wish   December 2008
                                                                                                                                     concerned, they go in one ear and out the other.
                                                                                                                                     They don’t really change the way children eat.”
                                                                                                                                         More than just focusing on the joy of eating,
                                                                                                                                     Alexander feels the program’s practical and
                                                                                                                                     interactive approach to teaching is crucial to
                                                                                                                                     winning over the students, particularly those
                                                                                                                                     who struggle to learn in a conventional classroom
                                                                                                                                     environment. “The way to engage children is to
                                                                                                                                     have fun, learn as they go and take pride in what
                                                                                                                                     they do. It needs to be hands-on.” Like Horton,
                                                                                                                                     she views the program as more than just a
                                                                                                                                     preventative health strategy and says there are
                                                                                                                                     incidental educational benefits. “It’s about
                                                                                                                                     developing social skills and offering teachers
                                                                                                                                     the chance to teach in different spaces. They
                                                                                                                                     can do a lot of literacy and numeracy in the
                                                                                                                                     garden and the kitchen. It’s quite meaningful.”
                                                                                                                                         Alexander tells me Jamie Oliver has seen
                                                                                                                                     the program at work at Collingwood College
                                                                                                                                     and was “blown away”. In the same way as
                                                                                                                                     Oliver, Alexander says she’s trying to extend her
                                                                                                                                     activities and influence beyond a small clique
                                                                                                                                     and wants other food experts to do the same:
                                                                                                                                     “The food media doesn’t do enough educating
                                                                                                                                     about food. Maybe they will show some kids
                                                                                                                                     making cupcakes but that’s it.”
                                                                                                                                         She is also sceptical about the idea that
                                                                                                                                     celebrity chefs have improved our national
                                                                                                                                     eating habits. “The names and faces [of celebrity
                                                                                                                                     chefs] might be familiar to the children but I
                                                                                                                                     don’t think they have learnt anything food-wise
                                                                                                                                     from what they have seen on television. I have
                                                                                                                                     not yet seen evidence of that.” She goes on to
                                                                                                                                     say that the leaders of the “foodie phenomenon”
                                                                                                                                     (and counts herself as part of that movement)
                                                                                                                                     need to “take a deep breath and realise we are
                                                                                                                                     only talking to maybe two per cent of the
                                                                                                                                     population, if that.”
                                                                                                                                         Speaking about program’s national roll-out,
                                                                                                                                     the foundation’s EO, Ange Barry, tells me that
32                                                                                                                                   in order to secure the funding they simply
                                                                                                                                     introduced politicians to the Southmoor
                                                                                                                                     experience. “We invited politicians to come and
                                                                                                                                     have lunch with the children,” Barry explains.
                                                                                                                                     “The program speaks for itself; it’s quite
                                                                                                                                     inspiring.” She says the foundation’s role is
                                                                                                                                     primarily to support the schools that succeed in
                                                                                                                                     the grants process and that funding goes straight
  ● Alexander believes       fantasy that we would become self-sufficient,”      of eating, how few people have a balanced           to the schools. At present, only government
    creating a healthy       she says. “We had an extensive garden, an           relationship with food,” she explains. “We have     schools with primary enrolments are eligible to
    attitude to food is      orchard, a couple of cows, chickens and ducks.”     been so removed from all the pleasure that is       apply but the foundation is considering ways to
    all about making the         Alexander’s grandfather was the resident        possible, from all the ways to turn simple          create a subscription service for non-government
    process fun and,         gardener and her mother was the family cook,        ingredients into lovely food. We haven’t passed     schools. And while the program is designed for
    ultimately, delicious.   who also tended an extensive herb garden            that on to our children.”                           children from Years 3 to 6, Barry and Alexander
    Among the gourmet
                             (remarkable if you consider that Australian             Central to the foundation’s philosophy is       would love to see younger children involved in
    delights the children
    produce are orange
                             eating habits in the early 1950s rarely             that the cooking classes promote pleasure           an age-appropriate version. “It’s all about getting
    crostoli, rocket pesto   accommodated anything beyond a sprig of             through flavour and texture, and encourage          to the kids early because that’s when you create
    and quinoa risotto.      parsley). “My mother was so far ahead of her        students to talk and think about food in ways       habits for later in life,” Barry says.
                             time,” Alexander remarks. “She was very             that employ all the senses. Such an emphasis            Public-health experts are telling us that the
                             interested in food; it was so much a part of her    stands in stark contrast to much of the             life expectancy of Australian children is set to
                             creative being. She cooked something interesting    information available on healthy eating in our      drop two years if the obesity problem is left
                             every day, with very modest ingredients. She        culture, which seems to focus on what not to        unchecked. Seen in that context, the aim of
                             used to make her own butter and sometimes her       eat rather than the joy to be had in eating well.   the Kitchen Garden Foundation and its people
                             own simple cheese.” A natural spirit of adventure       Alexander believes this negative approach to    seems profound. Educating children about
                             and curiosity had her seeking out different         food may be one of the reasons why we have an       food from field to fork and, in the process,
                             ingredients and ways of cooking. She even made      obesity problem in Australia. “I cannot help but    instilling a love of good food that can’t be learnt
                             friends with the local Italian family and started   think the key to the issue of obesity is that we    from a pamphlet or fad diet book is a matter of
                             cooking with globe artichokes and broccoli,         haven’t taught the previous generation – or this    national interest, if not importance. Alexander
                             which were quite unusual foods at that time.        generation – how to celebrate food.” She also       sums it up best: “I want children to know there
                                 Yet it was more than simple nostalgia that      believes such a dour approach to eating is          is more to life than frozen peas.”
                             motivated Alexander to establish the Kitchen        ineffective when it comes to educating children     For more information or to donate to the
                             Garden Program in Victoria in 2001 – it was her     about making better food choices.                   Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program,
                             grave concerns about the eating habits of               “The dominant messages we get about food        go to
                             Australian children. “I suppose what started it     are all about dieting and which foods are           Rebecca Huntley is the author of Eating
                             all was my general unease at looking around and     bad for you. They are very negative and             Between the Lines: Food & Equality in
                             seeing how few people really get a lot of joy out   boring messages and, as far as children are         Australia (Black Inc, $24.95).

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