School gardens plant seed of healthy living

Esther Han
Staging a coop: Bondi Public School students from left, Ellen, Hugo, Victoria and Pinky with the school chickens.
Staging a coop: Bondi Public School students from left, Ellen, Hugo, Victoria and Pinky with the school chickens. Photo: Wolter Peeters

The coolest joke among the kindergarten children at Bondi Public School this week went like this: "Why did the mushroom go to the party? Because he's a fun-guy!"

While the school's kitchen garden program is aimed at children from years 3 to 6, the kindergarten pupils joined in the fun, cooking with mushrooms grown in their classrooms.

"The kindys got dough and we made pizza ai funghi," kitchen teacher Melissa Moore said.

"There's mushrooms growing everywhere in boxes. Three weeks ago the students made mushroom risotto, cream of mushroom soup and raw mushroom salad."

More than 90 schools in NSW are running the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program, which aims to encourage appreciation of good food and healthy eating habits in children.

That is nearly double the number in the program a year ago, with the sign-ups driven by the growing focus on food education.

Bondi Public School, the first in the state to adopt the program, has 30 different vegetables plus strawberries and tomatoes growing in a dozen large planter boxes, as well as five chickens running around in a new coop.

Children learn to sow, harvest and cook the produce every day.

"Kids are now asking parents to grow herbs and plants on their balconies and windowsills," principal Michael Jones said. "They bring seedlings for show and tell, and ask for help if the plants don't grow."


Ms Alexander, a celebrated cook, said the program was tweaked to make it more affordable and flexible for schools, especially ones with smaller budgets. "We encourage schools to start small and use what they have, rather than exhaust their precious budgets with costly equipment and building,'' she said.

Kitchen gardens could play a role in reducing weight problems, she said. "Childhood obesity leads to adult obesity, and it's taking a huge toll on our society. Intervening at a young age and giving children the skills they need to look after their own wellbeing can help change."

More than 80 Sydney public schools, primary and secondary, run a kitchen garden, data from the Department of Education shows.

Schools are also trying to reduce their waste.

Mid-last year, Narrabeen North Public School introduced a scheme called Waste Free Wednesdays.

"We conducted a waste audit and realised the enormous amount of waste we had and knew we had to reduce it," assistant principal Kim Mulkeen said. ''The great thing is some students now do this every day.''

And several schools in the Tweed Shire region have snapped up the council's Litter Free Lunch program, which began three years ago.

Australian Organics will launch a school curriculum next month.

The Department of Education said vegetable gardens and waste programs provided the opportunity for group work and catered to a range of student learning styles.

Cooking classses

If your children are better at making a mess in the kitchen than cooking up a storm, send them to a class during the school holidays. Lilies on the Park cafe at Sydney Olympic Park is offering children as young as two years of age the chance to make mini pizzas. Urban Graze in Kellyville are holding three cooking classes, including one for parents and children.

Good Food Month has bulked up the activities calendar. In October, budding cooks can descend on Casa Barilla in Annandale, Casula Powerhouse and Jamie's Italian in the city, to create Italian meals.

Children with a sweet tooth, can bake cupcakes at Sparkle Cupcakery in Surry Hills and make vanilla shortbread at Sweetness the Patisserie in Epping.

For a more historical approach, sign up your children for a cooking class at Vaucluse House. After exploring the sprawling kitchen garden, they will learn to bake damper, churn butter and make lemonade in the colonial-style kitchen.

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