Growing for the Future

Friday, April 17, 2020

As the world churns, much is revealed. What has become clear to us here at the Kitchen Garden Foundation, and among our large global community, is that the need for our work is more fundamental than ever.

Our response to Covid-19 sheds a shining light and what is most important to us, our families, our happiness and our survival. We need to be resilient and self-sufficient – individually, within families, in and across intersecting layers of social and physical circles.

We need to bring the best of ourselves to support the greater good. We need to prioritise frontline, essential services: health, education, food. We need to prioritise community.

The kitchen garden community focuses on educating and engaging children and families (i.e. people) in Growing, Harvesting, Preparing and Sharing. This mantra underpins the food production cycle just as it underpins the formation and sharing of learning, personal growth, life and social skills, familial and intergenerational connections, how knowledge is born, evolves and sustains our lives and societies … the very nature of community.

We reflect on this as we reflect on a moment of deep humility and pride, as Agrobiodiversity, School Gardens and Healthy Diets is shared with the world.

With serendipitous timing, this book reveals the depth and extent of the worldwide school garden network. It includes examples from remote Indigenous Australian communities to Morocco, the Philippines, Kenya, Brazil and beyond. The initiatives are born from different priorities – preventing childhood obesity, addressing malnutrition, contributing to urban agriculture, enhancing wellbeing, preserving local culture – but they are united in getting back to basics, applying a little elbow grease and working together to treat the cause, not the symptoms.

In line with current health thinking, the examples demonstrate the great ability of schools to become health platforms and influencers of change. In line with current education thinking, the stories show how hands-on, sensory learning engages students and enhances curriculum delivery. In line with what hundreds of thousands of us know and experience every day, school garden programs engage children, families and the wider community – they are catalysts for positive change not just in food culture but in deep, invested learning and sustained social cohesion.

Reading through these examples of challenge, success, innovation and determination, we also see the common thread of deep and sustained programming. These initiatives aren’t built for fly-in-fly out, one-off or extra-curricular learning. They are integrated with education, homes and communities. They enhance all aspects of the school’s curriculum and the health and wellbeing of students, staff, volunteers and families. They open horizons for kids and their learning and work pathways. They provide joy. And above all they offer opportunity.

And they aren’t easy. Like anything of value these programs require work, cooperation, partnerships and a shared vision. They require us to dig deep, not just financially or metaphorically. We dig deep into our hearts, into our values, into our connections with our friends and family members and into the earth, which we hope is rich and fertile. The positive impact is infinite. 

Kitchen garden kids are resourceful, resilient and adaptable. Kitchen garden kids know how not to waste, how to use every root, leaf and stem of a plant, how to make a delicious dish from whatever is at hand (which is of course the true essence of knowing how to cook). They know we rely on the natural world to provide sustenance, and that we need to look after it in return. They also know that sometimes you make mistakes (forgot the salt, burnt a finger, didn’t get to those aphids in time), but that you simply learn and try again. Building resilience is at the heart of every school garden.

We encourage anyone with an interest in teaching children and communities about food and where it comes from to take a long look at this book. The stories within respond to so many issues we face as a society, on so many levels. If we’re serious about wanting change, this shows how we can do it, from the ground up.

The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program is a long-term, proactive and cost-effective public health program, which will reap enormous dividends in the future. The challenges are real but worth every ounce of energy. The opportunities are limitless. We’re looking forward to continued work towards a happy, healthy, resilient and global kitchen garden community.

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