It took a little less than two hours in one of Garden to Table’s school workshops before Al Brown was hooked. As a well-known New Zealand chef, TV presenter, writer, restauranteur and general foodie, he shares their passion for understanding where our food comes from so that we can make better food choices for our own well-being, and now he’s generously come on board as Garden to Table’s very first Ambassador.
Al’s helping Garden to Table by fronting fun and instructional videos for their new Online Programme – a way to make sure that schools all over the country can now access Garden to Table. After the steady success of their original school programme in main centres, their hope is that more of our Kiwi schools in rural areas can use this online resource to tap into the good stuff that Garden to Table has to offer.
Their programmes teach a connection to the land and the environment, the benefits of community, and raise future-focused issues around sustainability. These are all visions and values very much central to the New Zealand school curriculum too, which Garden to Table are careful to align with their learning programmes.
They aim to provide their schools with all the information they need to set up vege gardens and kitchen classrooms, which include an area for children to sit and share the food they have grown and prepared, and run regular garden and kitchen sessions. Whether that’s the all-important advice on how to get some of the more fussy veges to actually grow, friendly volunteers to muck in and help out, or delicious recipes to make the harvest flavours shine – their work has been invaluable to schools wanting to make a difference to their students’ futures.
Now, after nine months of hard graft designing and refining the online resources in collaboration with teachers, the Garden to Table online programme hopes to make their work much more widely accessible. Al Brown’s expertise and charisma have been harnessed in the form of video content, which he filmed in his Auckland test kitchen together with young volunteers Jay, Poppy, Ryan and Sonya.
With obesity rates continuing to rise in New Zealand, Al and Garden to Table believe that we desperately need to reach out to all of our young people early on, to empower them with the skills, knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm required to take part in the circle of life in their own backyard green-beds.
Their knack of making gardening fun for kids is part of what makes their work so special, and also so valuable, as it opens up a younger generation to healthy learnings that they might otherwise miss.
“It was an incredibly moving experience”, Al says of the school workshop in Owairaka School that he participated in. The common classroom set-up unfortunately does not work for everyone, and Al himself struggled to achieve in the typical academic sense, but learning through realistic hands-on experience in the garden and kitchen offers the chance for all students to take part and share in the magic.
This sharing aspect of food itself is perhaps the most crucial element of the Garden To Table programme, as through working and eating together, young people also have the opportunity to develop positive social behaviour that will impact on all other areas of their lives. There is also lots of fun to be had, whether it is competing to grow the heaviest pumpkin, cleaning out the worm farms or seeing who can make the longest fresh spaghetti!
“The reason I love this programme is that kids develop solid skills and knowledge that will help them make better food choices and widen their knowledge and awareness. It’s not a ‘you must do this’, ‘you mustn’t do that’ programme. It’s about having fun and learning along the way, and that helps to change behaviour.” “It is an absolute no brainer, it should be everywhere throughout the country” says Al Brown of Garden To Table’s programme, and we’re proud to say that we share his enthusiasm!
Garden To Table are aiming to reach 350 schools in the next year, so if you think your local school might be keen to get all muddy... let them know! More details on the online programme here. If you’d like to learn more about Garden To Table support them to connect young people through food, check ‘em out below.