I was lucky enough this morning to attend the launch of Garden To Table, a new initiative that will have gorgeous, vibrant vege gardens popping up around NZ schools. Very inspiring indeed.

A new primary school programme that teaches children how to grow, harvest, prepare and share food has launched in New Zealand.
The Garden to Table Programme teaches seven to 10 year olds where food comes from, how to cook with fresh, in season produce while also demonstrating the importance of sitting down together to share a meal. It is modeled on and affiliated to the highly successful Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program in Australia.
Throughout the past 12 months three Auckland schools have been taking part in a pilot scheme. Now the trust behind Garden to Table has officially launched the programme at a function today (March 23) at East Tamaki Primary School. Garden to Table Trust chair Catherine Bell says the pilots show the programme is eminently sustainable, of huge benefit to children and could help reduce the childhood obesity rate in New Zealand which currently stands at 28 percent.
“There are two unique factors about the Garden to Table Programme. The first is the intrinsic link between the garden, the kitchen and the table. The emphasis is on learning about food and about eating it. Second, the programme is embedded in the curriculum. It is a compulsory part of the school’s programme for up to four years of a child’s life.” The programme is introduced in fun, creative and fulfilling ways to ensure children get a good grounding in the life skills they will need later on. Children spend time every week in their extensive edible gardens under the guidance of a ‘garden specialist’.
“The gardens are designed by the children and they help build and maintain them according to organic principles,” Ms Bell says. “They learn to grow, harvest the produce and then prepare it in a kitchen classroom and share it with the other children and the adult volunteers and teachers at the dining table. “We stress pleasure, flavour and textures by encouraging discussion and thinking that uses all the senses. We feel it’s important not to describe the food as ‘healthy’ but rather reinforce planting, harvesting and cooking techniques so the children can replicate them at home.”
However it is well known that not all children eat well. A disturbing number go to school each day without breakfast and many others are overweight or obese Ms Bell says. Fruit and vegetable intakes of New Zealand children and adolescents fall well short of health sector recommendations.  The good news is that children are as responsive to positive food experiences and encouragement as they are to television advertising for snack foods.

“This is the public health issue of the not-too-distant future – diabetes, heart disease, strokes, joint problems, dental decay, chronic constipation, depression – to name a few consequences of an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise,” says Ms Bell. The Garden to Table Trust provides project assistance, training and web-based support as well as training and professional development to the garden and kitchen specialists within the schools.
It is also developing partnerships with organisations  to provide expertise in areas such as permaculture, garden and kitchen design and community engagement. “The connection to the local community is very important,” Ms Bell says. “Not only do we need to raise funds to support the programme but we also need to attract volunteers to commit time to Garden to Table.”
Following the success of the three Auckland pilots, the trust is now focusing on fundraising to grow the programme. In Australia the government has funded The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation to the tune of AUD12 million, enabling 138 schools to take part in the programme to date with a further 100 schools being added during the next two years.
Ms Bell says long term the aim is to provide every primary school in New Zealand with the opportunity to join the Garden to Table programme.
“Our desire is to offer all New Zealand children the means to be in control of their own nutritional health and have the skills to take them through life – in the same way as our Australian neighbours will.”

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