A love of food, gardening and children inspired renowned cook Stephanie Alexander to attempt to change the future health of a generation one child at a time.
It is late Wednesday morning and the smell of freshly turned soil fills the air at Stanmore Public School. The front entrance has been overtaken by busy GPT volunteers as they work hard to create the start of a thriving kitchen garden.
It is a sight that fills Stephanie Alexander – one of Australia’s best known cooks – with joy. Since 2004 she has been on a mission to revolutionise the way children learn about food by taking them on a journey from the garden to the kitchen.
Since establishing the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation (SAKGF) she has seen 265 schools participate in the program that she hopes will inspire a lifetime of love and respect for food and a healthier approach to eating in children.
Not one to mince words, Stephanie speaks with conviction as she shares her motivation for starting the program.
“I really felt that a lot of kids were just so distant from anything that was being grown, they really didn’t understand that everything wasn’t available all the time and I believe that the key to cooking well and eating well is to respect the seasons and respect the fact that everything has its day,” she says.
Stanmore Public School Principal, Fran Larkin couldn’t agree more, insisting that the project is generating a lot of interest and support from parents and the wider community.
“Most of our parents live in relatively small blocks and they see this as an opportunity for the children to have an experience that they perhaps can’t provide at home. There are also a lot of members from the local community that are heavily into green issues so they are very supportive of the program from that point of view as well,” she says.
At the completion of the project the older students will spend time working the garden and cooking in the kitchen every week, giving them the opportunity to learn curriculum-based skills in a practical and engaging way.
Stanmore school captains, Molly Weston and Harry Boyd are keen to embrace everything the program has to offer. Joined by their classmates, Ava Kalinauskas and Ruth Snelling they eagerly explore the garden beds that have appeared beside the basketball court and pour over the plans for hints on how the final product will look.
After lamenting the fact he can’t have chickens at home 12-year-old Harry is particularly excited about the prospect of seeing them at school.
“I’m excited about the garden because there looks like there is going to be a pond and some chickens,” he says, “I love chickens!”
While 11-year-old Ruth is more interested in making some magic in the kitchen.
“I really want to make carrot cake because I love carrots and I love cake so you put them together and it’s magical,” she says.
But giving children such as Harry and Ruth these experiences comes as a hefty cost and that is where the GPT group has made all the difference.
Since partnering with the SAKGF in 2010 they have provided enthusiastic volunteers from within their company to do the hard labour on the ground and much needed financial support to get the programs into more schools.
The GPT Group's National Director, Vanessa Orth expresses the company’s belief that they could use their presence in the community to generate greater interest in program.
“With so many people coming through our shopping centres we actually thought it was a great idea to create awareness to the broader community not just to the schools. It just allows everyone who comes through our doors to hear about the great work that the foundation is doing and to push to get this into their schools,” she says.
And the local community have definitely heard them with many people dropping off much needed kitchen appliances and garden tools at the school.
While Principal Larkin is hoping to have the garden and kitchen up and running by term four, she is for the moment amazed at the amount of work that’s been accomplished in a few short hours. “It’s amazing what you can achieve with a bit of hard labour, some horse poo and mulch,” she says incredulously.
Until then the students of Stanmore Public School will be waiting in eager expectation.
If you would like to know more about the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation or how you can get your school involved in the program you can visit the website for more information.
Most of our parents live in relatively small blocks and they see this as an opportunity for the children to have an experience that they perhaps can’t provide at home.