The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program is growing fresh veggies and literacy skills at St Therese Catholic Primary Lakemba.
Year 5 and 6 students plant, grow, harvest, prepare, cook, serve and eat fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs. They must pass a test on safe use of knives and garden tools before alternating between a cooking and a gardening lesson each week with their teachers who have become the program’s Kitchen and Garden specialists.
Kitchen specialist Michelle Bochno said the preparation of food and shared meal also built children’s skills in mathematics, literacy and table etiquette.
“For mathematics it teaches a lot of volume and capacity, weight and measurement, all through hands on experiences,” she said.
“It’s wonderful to see the growth in the children. It’s a platform for English writing too. Last year my children had no concept of a paragraph. From reading seed packets they developed paragraphs. It’s all contextual and authentic.”
Garden specialist Neil Quirk said the children had planted crops including carrots, celery, shallots, beetroot, parsley, basil, mint, ginger, rosemary, coriander, pumpkins, beans and silver beet since July last year.
“We try to harvest seeds, and when it is raining or too cold and windy to be in the garden we have indoor lessons where we teach them how to extract the seeds and package and mark them ready for growth next time,” Mr Quirk said. “Or we make bamboo pyramids for climbing plants, like snow peas, to grow on.”
Ms Bochno said students often cooked the meals they learnt at school for their parents at home.
“We surveyed our children from one class last year and 70 per cent do not sit at the table to eat dinner, so this experience is really special,” she said.
“The essence of gratitude is there. We say grace before the meal and teach table etiquette. I tell them I could take them to any fancy restaurant these days.”
During one Term 2 cooking lesson, students prepared honey and carrot muffins, rosemary and mushroom risotto, vine leaf rolls, and a mixed tomato and basil salad.
“In the kitchen segment we look at the product that we have in the garden and what is ready for harvest and from that we decide on recipes,” Ms Bochno said.
“We don’t really talk about it being healthy food. It’s not going down the path of ‘it’s healthy you have to eat it’. It’s about tasting fresh food.”
Quyen Tran is one of four regular parent helpers who assist with the cooking lessons. Her son Nicholas is in Year 5. “It’s really been an eye opener,” she said.
“The kids get so excited about this lesson. You don’t have to tell them what to do, they just read the recipe and use their own initiative to grab the ingredients and do it. Afterwards Nicholas comes home and talks about all the things that he grows here.”
Year 6 student Adrian Nguyen, 11, said he has made pasta, salads, and vegetarian foods.
“It’s exciting being in the kitchen,” he said.
“I think gardening is my favourite because the teacher really helps you and shows you the different parts of the plants. Even doing the table setting is fun because you get to taste test the food.”
Year 5 student Nhi Nguyen, 11, said her favourite part of the lesson was eating the food prepared.
“We’ve tasted salad, muffins, pasta and Lebanese food. It was yum.”