Then and Now: Berrima Public School

Monday, January 7, 2019

This article originally appeared in the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Highlife magazine.

On October 16, 2018 renowned food writer and restaurateur Stephanie Alexander dropped in to visit Berrima Public School, one of 1700 Australian schools and centres being supported by the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

The Foundation was established in 2004 to encourage lifelong positive food habits through enjoyable, hands-on learning, and Berrima Public School received a grant in 2009 that has had a major impact on its students.

Looking at the old and new photographs (see gallery above) one might assume that growing vegies has always been a part of education in Berrima, but that isn’t the case.

When the 1907 photograph was taken, it was common for schools to have a vegetable garden, particularly if some students weren’t well fed, says historian Linda Emery.

“The head teacher from 1904 to 1909 was Brentnall Abel Sheath (pictured above in his suit),” she says.

“He was a popular, capable teacher and must have had a green thumb. I know Exeter also had a vegie garden at the time, and both schools would have had a lot of farm kids.”

Throughout the Depression, many Australian schools had vegetable gardens out of necessity, but later in the century their popularity waned.

In 2004, when chief librarian and learning support teacher Jo Kennedy arrived at Berrima Public School, there was no vegetable garden. She and others got one started and in 2009 they received a one-off $66,000 grant.

These funds helped build a kitchen where every student participates in kitchen classes.

“It’s an incredible kitchen with four work stations – it’s nothing like what you’d expect in a primary school,” says Jo, who is also the Kitchen Garden Coordinator.

All 155 students, from kindergarten to Year 6, are involved in preparing garden beds, planting seeds, taking cuttings, nurturing plants, and using produce to prepare food.

A garden or kitchen specialist teaches them once a fortnight (45 minutes for young students and 90 minutes for Years 3 to 6). In the kitchen, students prepare their own class lunch, and occasionally cook for school events.

The extensive garden has an orchard, a greenhouse and 10 chickens, and produces most of what the children need to cook with.

The children can’t do all the gardening, so they are helped by volunteers from the parent body and local community.

“The kitchen garden program is an integral part of the school and children often come here because it exists,” says Jo.

“It’s a rare child who doesn’t like gardening or cooking – in their final speeches, the Year 6 students almost always comment on how much they’ve loved it.” 

  • To find out how your school or centre can dig into pleasurable food education like Berrima Public School, head to the Kitchen Garden Classroom membership page.
  • Any questions? Call our friendly Support Team on 13000 SAKGF (13000 72543).

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