Government funding for Stephanie Alexander's school gardening program dries up

Paul Bangay is opening his home and garden for Stephanie Alexander's school kitchen garden foundation.
Paul Bangay is opening his home and garden for Stephanie Alexander's school kitchen garden foundation. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

Educating children on the importance of nutritious food, as opposed to sugary snacks and takeaway meals, is a positive way to fight obesity, a problem affecting many Australians, according to cook, restaurateur, writer and champion of home-grown produce Stephanie Alexander.

"We all have to eat and if every kid was given the understanding that they could grow and cook beautiful stuff themselves, you'd have a different generation growing up," she said.

Alexander's friend, veteran garden designer Paul Bangay, is also passionate about teaching children how to create a potager, which is why he is opening the garden at his property Stonefields this weekend (April 16 and 17) to raise money for Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation.

"For me this is a very worthy cause. Being able to raise much-needed funds means more children can learn how to grow and cook their own fresh, seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs, which is so important," he said.

Established in 2004, the Australia-wide program involves 830 schools and teaches students in years 3-6 how to grow their own produce, then cook the harvest as part of the school curriculum.

But federal and state government funding has dried up even though there is a heightened awareness of the increase in obesity.

"Since 2015 we have relied on corporate (Medibank is an important partner otherwise we couldn't continue) and philanthropic support and are attempting to develop funding streams through the use of online training, consultancy services and fundraising such as Paul's open garden weekend," Alexander said.

"Recently in The Age, two public health professors spoke on obesity, both saying it requires funding from government on a level that hasn't been contemplated. That's the thing that perplexes me. On one hand experts tell us we have this major public health issue and here we have a program that is planned and modelled and in situ but politicians don't connect the dots. It's tragic. Some of those things are as obvious as the nose on your face but it doesn't pass into policy."

A foundation board member, Bangay has chosen autumn to open Stonefields to show off the garden's dramatic autumn palette from the oaks, maples and ornamental grapes to the perennials ablaze in brilliant reds and scarlets.

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Bangay's former property, St Ambrose Farm at Woodend, is also open this weekend, to raise money for local organisations including the CFA.

The garden has not been open to the public since Bangay sold it in 2006 so this is a great opportunity to see the difference between his two gardening styles with St Ambrose featuring an enchanted garden of sculptured topiary, hedges and pleached trees in the European tradition, compared with Stonefields which shows a more relaxed Bangay with lush perennial plantings and softer landscaping.

The owner of St Ambrose, Carolyn-Michelle Stawiczny, is thrilled to be opening her property to coincide with the Stonefields opening. "Beauty abounds in this European-style garden. It is simply stunning."

Stonefields, Lot 4 10 Belty Drive, Denver. 10am-4pm. Tickets $25 online at www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au or $30 at the gate.

St Ambrose Farm, 7 Wood Street, Woodend, open today and tomorrow

10am-4pm $20. Details stambrosefarm@bigpond.com