Growing positive food habits in remote schools

  • Cow sculptures in school garden
  • Plants in school garden
  • Garden freezer chest

Photos courtesy of Cranbrook Primary School, WA.

The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation believes every young person deserves to benefit from a fun, hands-on approach to food education – in every part of the country. This is especially important for kids growing up in remote cities and towns, which form the backbone of the nation’s food system.

Our goal for 2022 is to support more schools and early childhood services in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia to set up kitchen gardens. We’ve already seen the positive impact the program can have in these areas, where health and wellbeing benefits spill out beyond the school gate.

At Jingili Primary School just outside of Darwin, the garden is supported by local families and businesses, who participate in working bees, donate seedlings and produce, and bring their food scraps in to feed the compost. They even pitch in to take care of the chooks over the holiday season.

Students learn about the entire life cycle of the plants they grow, from taking care of seedlings and fertilising the soil with compost and worm tea, right through to harvesting fresh produce and creating a delicious meal to share around the table. According to the Kitchen Garden Teacher, Jodi Peters, ‘This program is a great way for students to learn broadly about healthy eating, our environment, sustainability, and personal and social capabilities.’

The garden is also used as a space for students to find focus, connect with nature and form strong social connections. ‘One of the beautiful things about our garden here at Jingili is it’s an open space, which means students have access to it through their play time at recess and lunch,’ says Jodi.

Across the Gibson Desert, 550 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie, Willuna Remote Community School is revitalising their kitchen garden and striving to create connections to country. ‘We want to use the garden to bring Aboriginal cultural learning into the school,’ explains teacher, Scott Olsen. ‘We already grow a native bush banana, a silky pear, and are having conversations with local elders about food native to the area.’

Teaching students how to grow food is a practical way to gain access to fresh produce. ‘Because we are a remote place, fresh food and vegies can be expensive and hard to find,’ says Scott. ‘One thing we grew last year was peas – the kids absolutely loved picking the peas and eating them fresh in the garden. If they had to go to the shops to buy that big bowl of peas, they might have cost $50. Or they might not even stock them.’

Educators at Cranbrook Primary School, 320 kilometres from Perth, take a similar approach. The school purchased a dehydrator last year and has been turning excess produce into healthy snacks such as fruit leather for the students.

The garden also plays a role in Cranbrook’s behavioural management strategies, where it is used to incentivise good behaviour. ‘They all really like using the tools and equipment like wheelbarrows, which builds a sense of confidence,’ says Program Coordinator, Maureen Adams. ‘It’s also good for teamwork and, at the same time, encouraging individual responsibility.’

The remote location means the Cranbrook community has needed to be resourceful and, at times, imaginative. They’ve repurposed an old fridge into a worm farm, built wicking beds to conserve water, sourced manure and hay from local families, and involved students in creative art projects such as decorating old benches with mosaic tiles. There are also plans to build a bush tucker garden. ‘We intend to increase the cultural significance of the garden space to build better connections with Indigenous people,’ says Maureen. ‘I think it’s culturally appropriate when we are doing Aboriginal studies to be doing it outside and getting elders to come in and explain to the students about different types of bush tucker and what it’s used for.’

To find out more about the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, visit www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au

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