i. SCHOOL KITCHEN GARDENS
The growth in school kitchen gardens has reached phenomenal levels, though it is tinged with struggles to create and sustain gardens. Many teachers are actively teaching children how to grow their own food and cook meals out of it, learning vital links between food and the environment at the same time. Garden teachers that were interviewed in this research were unanimous in support for this role of the kitchen garden.
Gardening Australia’s Jane Edmunson exclaimed that “schoolkids don’t know where their food comes from. They think it comes from the supermarket” , and called for the community to “make the kids the gardeners of the future.”
Rachel Sands, garden program co-ordinator with Yarra Primary School Kitchen Garden explained that the garden’s role is “to encourage children, especially city children to have some connection with their food and where it is coming from.”
Yarra’s garden organiser, Jude Sullivan commented that “it has a made a difference to how children view the food they eat. They eat fresh food from the garden, and you can make amazing recipes from the most simplest foods.”
Natasha Van Velzen, garden teacher at Thornbury Primary School, saw the garden “as an outdoor space and outdoor classroom with no wall or doors. It is a respite, a refuge, a place of discovery, a place for secrecy. There is a strong importance on play in schools and schoolyards and it offers a nature connection with loose, natural materials.
It is a natural place for learning and this stimulates their imagination and motor skills. It provides a place for them to play, dramatise or role play. Most of the schools don’t have trees or shade, so it is a real respite, it’s shady, and offers a place to play other than ball play.”
Most organisers that responded believed that school kitchen gardens helped build the local community and was helping the community to embrace self sufficiency gardens. One dissenting view saw the gardens main focus was the kids, above broader concerns.
This focus however, represents what is primarily driving these gardens. Children now are growing up with climate change and need to know how to provide for themselves in the future by growing their own food. Growth in school kitchen garden education may suggest a shift of focus toward educating the younger generation about the environment.
Christine Joy, co-ordinator of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (RBGM) Education Service, assessed that “teachers are generally aware of and involve their students in topical issues and empower them to take action.” While not always a way, respondents painted a picture of strong will amongst teachers.
Carolina Cordeiro, the co-ordinator of the showcase kitchen garden at Collingwood College, suggested that the garden “makes it realistic. People think they would never be able to do it. It makes it easy for someone from the broader community to think that if kids can do it, so can I.”
Jude Sullivan garden teacher at Yarra Primary School suggested it had “a very big impact. Many people are coming in…families come in and look at the garden…many people come and ask me how to start a garden.”
Linda , a volunteer at Collingwood College Kitchen Garden, explained that “it has a flow on effect. Kids take it home and we are hoping it has an impact, especially if they haven’t prepared food at home before.” Rose Cellisten explained the keen interest of younger students: “Every food scrap they have comes into our worm farms and composts.”
School kitchen gardens range in their make up. Toni Phillips from Collingwood Children’s Farm explained “that a lot of schools are just doing it themselves with their teacher”, highlighting Burnley West Primary School as an example.
Natasha Van Velzen explains that “Cultivating Community has always been about grassroots, helping school do it on their own.” Cultivating Community offers invaluable support and advice to schools setting up a kitchen garden. Thornbury Primary School and the Banyule Community Health, with the Pavilion School in West Heidelberg were examples of their work visited.
Olympic Village Primary School Community Garden also provides garden programs for students with behavioural problems from various schools. Garden co-ordinator Rose Cellestin described how the children “have their own beds. Its hands on, not stuck in the classroom. It’s amazing how well they do their homework when they’re in the garden and not confined inside.”
The Stephanie Kitchen Garden Foundation has risen in community stature, and has spread from a partnership with Cultivating Community at Collingwood College, to now include over 20 schools. The foundation had a week of Open Days across their 20 urban and country school gardens during the study period.
Collingwood and Yarra Primary School Kitchen Gardens in the inner city were both visited. Perhaps showing they’re in the right profession, garden teachers at the open days offered to answer my questions in spite of being a little run off their feet.
Stephanie Alexander spoke at the Collingwood College which was filled with a healthy, interacting school community. She claimed “other schools have been inspired by the work of this particular school. Children, teachers and parents of this school should pat themselves on the back. It has paid off and gone from strength to strength…….. These gardens can change a whole generation.”
There is also vital support and advice offered from a range of outside garden venues. Some of the notable ones teaching children how to grow their own food include CERES; the Collingwood Children’s Farm; the Royal Botanic Gardens; and Heide Heritage Kitchen Garden. On site visits, CERES and the Collingwood Children’s Farm were full of school classes of different ages. Like children at the school gardens visited, the kid’s enthusiasm for being outside in the garden was clearly visible.
The cross-disciplinary applications offered by a kitchen garden is fuelling teacher interest. RBGM’s Christine Joy stated that “school gardening is a rapidly growing phenomenon, with teachers seeing broad spectrum benefits to student learning.”
These sentiments were shared by Adam, who conducts garden workshop with various schools at CERES, and explained that within schools, teachers “are becoming more aware of it and including it, making it part of, and also a curriculum issue, as it is relevant across a broad area, from literacy to science and is also about developing environmental education.”
While primary schools are the largest stakeholder in kitchen gardens, many were identified at high schools, as well as childcare centres. Karen Dalley from CPS Family Services is in the process of setting up a vegetable garden for the playgroup at Banyule Community Health Centre in West Heidelberg, across the road from the community garden at Olympic Village Primary School.
The garden will have “an interactive role for kid’s participation and teach kids how to grow food. It is particularly for the educational aspect. Hopefully we can use it as a living resource or a living garden, and use it in the kitchen.”
While money can’t grow on trees, it is a significant issue across school kitchen gardens. Sometimes bureaucratic logistics and funding leave needed support for gardens in limbo.
Rose Cellisten, garden co-ordinator at Olympic Village Primary School Community Garden explained that there was a plan to develop school kitchen gardens at schools across Preston and West Heidelberg, through the Banyule and Darebin Council’s Good Food Alliance.
Gardens were established at two high schools, four primary schools and a kindergarten. Unfortunately, the plan failed. Rose commented that “there was no interest from the community itself and no one to keep watering over school breaks. There was funding for it, but only to build the vegie patch, there was no funding for a garden co-ordinator. It is hard for teachers who have other curriculum responsibilities, though they need to have that garden interest.”
In spite of the success of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation in gaining government support, a need for more volunteers and secure, long term funding still leaves room for healthier growth in these areas across the board. Perhaps some of those concerned in the community about the environment and wanting to make a contribution at home could translate some of their concern to helping schools develop and sustain kitchen gardens.
As for funding, governments should reward the strong resolve of teachers teaching children how to grow their own food, and dedicate more funding to schools and supporting organisations. There is little ethical line to not make this a priority.