What’s the most exciting meal of the week? For children from Auckland’s Wesley Primary School, it’s lunch on Monday. Now that they've started their programme with charity Garden to Table, Monday is the day they get to dig around in the vegetable garden and eat delicious dishes made from goodies they’ve grown and prepared themselves.
The Wesley youngsters are getting their hands dirty in the garden and the kitchen thanks to the Garden to Table programme, which helps primary schools teach their students how to grow, harvest and cook fresh seasonal food.
Wesley, a decile one school in Mount Roskill, already had a garden when it introduced the programme in early March 2017. It had been encouraging parents to help themselves to fruit and veggies, but it was mainly only the children and families involved in the school’s working bees who had anything to do with growing produce.
Principal Brenda Martin says joining the Garden to Table programme has made gardening and cooking part of classroom learning, shown children how much fun it is to cook and eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, and given them valuable life skills to pass on to other family members.
“Some of our students are very hands-on and creative. They love getting to cook and eat the things they’ve grown,” she says.
“I always say that if you want your children to like vegetables, grow them yourself.”
The school launched Garden to Table with two of its seven classes, with plans to build up the programme to include more children in the future. On alternate weeks, each class spends an hour in the garden before going into the kitchen to start cooking up a storm.
The children sit down together to eat at 2.30pm, so family members arriving to pick them up can see what they’ve made — tasty dishes such as salads, coleslaw and tomato bruschetta.
Wesley teacher Ana Tonga is in charge of both the gardening and the cooking parts of the programme, assisted by parent volunteers.
She hopes Garden to Table will encourage more parents to include fresh fruit and vegetables in their children’s lunchboxes. “We’re only a small school, but we’re trying to do the right thing for all our families,” she says.
The school has a high population of Pacific children and aims to be culturally responsive when it chooses what to grow. Basil, for example, wasn’t popular with families because it is rarely used in Pacific cooking, but kale was a success once the school explained it could be cooked in similar ways to silverbeet.
Garden to Table Trust Programme Manager Joanne Harland says about 4000 Kiwi kids have taken part in the programme since its launch in 2009.
“The kids absolutely love it. It’s great for improving behaviour, especially for kids with special needs and for kids who don’t like sitting still,” she says.
“Teachers say it’s good for confidence and teamwork because kids have to work together to get food on the table. It also helps their writing skills by giving them something authentic and real to write about. Parents often tell us it completely changes their children’s attitude to veggies.”
Ana says Garden to Table is about bringing children back to basics.
“We’ve been taking our children on farm visits in recent years because we realised they didn’t know where their food came from. We’d say, ‘Where does milk come from?’ and they’d say, ‘The shop’. We’d say, ‘Where do eggs come from?’ and they’d say, ‘The shop’.
“Thanks to Garden to Table, our children will learn that fruit and vegetables come from the ground.”
Garden to Table help kids build skills for life by learning how to to grow and cook their own food. Discover how your 1% can empower them to instill healthy eating habits in the next generation of young Kiwis.