Late last year our partner charity Garden to Table reached a massive milestone. The programme, in which primary school children grow, harvest and cook seasonal food, is now in over one hundred schools in New Zealand.
With a bit of number-crunching, that means there are now around 240,000 vegetable-based meals grown and cooked by these children each year. But they believe this is just the beginning, and have just set themselves an ambitious target to make that ten million meals per year.
To bring that number back down to earth, we went out to Meadowbank Primary, one of the very first schools to pick up the programme, as well as a more recent addition, Randwick Primary, to get a feel for where and why it all started.
“We are immensely proud of this achievement,” says Linda Taylor, Executive Officer of Garden to Table. “Our sense of pride comes from knowing that this knowledge and experience transfers on to important life skills based around healthy eating, nutrition and even reducing poverty.”
Garden to Table (GTT) began in New Zealand in 2009 in three Auckland schools. It was developed with the support of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Program in Australia and has now become firmly established in over one hundred schools here in New Zealand.
The success of the programme has been astounding. Those schools who are involved almost universally say it is one of the most popular activities among their children.
Meadowbank Primary, one of the three Auckland-based pilot schools who took on Garden to Table back in 2009, was blown away by how the programme was received in their school.
“Everyone loves it! The teachers, the kids, the parents are all huge supporters of the programme.” says Meadowbank Primary Principal Peter Ayson. “We do an exit survey of every Year 6 child as they leave the school and most of them say that Garden to Table was one of their favourite activities in school, even though they haven’t done it since Years 4 and 5. In fact, it rates up there with Year 6 camp as one of the best school memories.”
As one of the most established GTT schools it’s easy to see how entrenched it has become in the school culture. Walking through the grounds, every spare piece of land that isn’t used for sports fields has vegetable garden beds. Garden beds have spread under trees, beside pathways and stairways; fruit trees are everywhere laden with fruit. These garden beds are a perfect demonstration that you don’t necessarily need much space to grow vegetables.
“The kids benefit enormously because the learning from GTT integrates into subjects within the curriculum such as health and science. But the thing I love most about it is the fact that parents say ‘my child is eating food they’ve never eaten before – artichokes, beetroot and mushrooms.' If you grow it, harvest it and cook this food you have ownership of it and you’re more likely to eat it than if a parent just presents it on a plate at dinner” says Ayson.
One of the more recent schools to take up the programme is Randwick Primary in Lower Hutt, Wellington. Randwick is a lower decile school with 160 pupils from Years 1 to 8. Mike Tamepo, Randwick classroom teacher and kitchen specialist for the GTT class there, believes the programme has been awesome for the students because they are introduced to a number of different styles of food at the same time as being exposed to growing vegetables. “Our saying is that to be part of this, you have to try it, you don’t have to like it!”
He says the students have really bought into this and mostly they like the new experience of eating different vegetables and spices and are happy to eat these foods at home too. “I think the real success of Garden to Table is seeing it replicated at home,” he says.
Randwick Primary has also incorporated their Karakia and Tikanga into GTT. For instance, they teach the children not to sit on food preparation areas and why this is important and why their ancestors/Tipuna had this rule. “The Tikanga and Karakia were already a part of our daily programme, where school is a Whare Wānanga, a house of learning that we all own. It fits in really well with the values of Garden to Table,” says Tamepo.
Linda Taylor from GTT explains that they are thrilled to see so many schools and such a variety of students having enthusiasm for the programme. “The growth of this programme in New Zealand primary schools will have long-term benefits in terms of life skills for our children. We are hoping that by working alongside programmes such as Life Education Trust we can really help to improve learning outcomes for children and even reduce poor health and poverty in this generation.”
Garden to Table launched its online platform last year and has already seen a growth in schools signing up to the programme. “We aim to work smarter and use technology to spread our resources, particularly to rural and provincial schools,” says Taylor.
Reaching one hundred schools was a major milestone for GTT. But if anything, this has just spurred on the next even more ambitious goal. In 2018, GTT is launching its five-year plan, the Ten Million Meals Project.
It aims for every primary school in New Zealand to have at least one year level taking part in Garden to Table. The result would be students growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing 10 million garden-inspired meals each and every year.
“We know that those schools involved with Garden to Table never look back. They seem to embrace everything about it. If we can replicate this in primary schools throughout New Zealand, we strongly believe that Garden to Table can be part of a sustainable, exciting future focused on the health and wellbeing of our young people,” says Taylor.
Words by Philippa Harknett.
Photography by Pat Shepherd.
Garden to Table run food education programmes in schools across NZ. If you're interested in supporting them towards the dream of operating in every school here, learn more about their work and give your 1%!