Grant Allen: Future feasts in their hands (+recipes)

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Grant Allen finds kids are bursting with excitement about their school garden

Grant Allen is introduced to pupils at East Tamaki School, where pupils have their own garden, where they grow their own vegetables. Photo / Jason Burgess
Grant Allen is introduced to pupils at East Tamaki School, where pupils have their own garden, where they grow their own vegetables. Photo / Jason Burgess

When Jiuan Jiuan Kok claps her hands sharply to get a bunch of energetic 8-year-olds to gather in front of the blackboard, there's no mucking around. The kids are getting their instructions for the morning about what they are going to be cooking, what vegetables they will be using and how to use the equipment they will be working with. Today, we have broccoli, Chinese cabbage, fennel, rocket, spinach, silverbeet, parsley, coriander, carrots and lots of lemons.

The vegetables will be familiar to the children as they have taken part in growing them, working in an impressive garden, part of which was once the school swimming pool, now filled-in and productive in a different way.

A straw-filled scarecrow, dressed brightly in an Island-style shirt and leis, reflects the heritage of most of these children at East Tamaki School in Otara.

Jiuan Jiuan divides the group into three and sets them off to their work tables, manned by parent helpers and Garden to Table volunteers. The parents and volunteers have been setting up the stations, washing the vegetables and supporting Jiuan Jiuan in her kitchen organisation.

Today we are making Crunchy Lemon Muffins, a stir fry of vegetables, lemonade and "a salad of your imagination". Another gaggle of 8-year-olds will be working in the garden and coming in to eat the results of the cook-off in an hour or so.

East Tamaki School is one of a small number of schools around the country commited to the Garden to Table Programme, run by the Garden to Table Trust, founded by Catherine Bell in 2009.

Catherine founded the trust after seeing the results of Stephanie Alexander's work in Australia. Catherine has many years' experience as a food professional, writer and businesswoman.

The trust's aim is to establish a programme to train and educate children in the practices of creating gardens growing fruit and vegetables, harvesting the bounty of the gardens and cooking the produce, using kitchen equipment they have been shown how to use safely to produce delicious food.

The children share the food they have prepared with classmates, teachers and volunteer helpers and also share their accomplishments through writing and images. The trust works hard to seek financial supporters for the programme, working closely with schools to establish gardens and kitchens. It also recruits the volunteer base and liaises with Government to lobby for support.

To be able to expand this scheme, big dollars are required and the onus of fundraising falls back to the trust. Money is needed to pay part-time kitchen tutors, such as Jiuan Jiuan, and a part time garden tutor for each school involved in the programme. (The trust provides the wages for the first two years, then it is up to the school to find ways to cover these costs). Various schemes to raise money for this and pay a small staff to professionally administer the trust have been initiated. Feast for the Future is one of these schemes.

On September 21, approximately 40 restaurants and cafes will donate a portion of their profit to the trust. To help, all you have to do is eat at one of these restaurants and let them know you are "feasting for the future". It's not that much to ask, is it?

Apart from that, you may be interested in donating to or sponsoring the trust or becoming a kitchen or garden volunteer.

You can find all the information to do so on the Garden to Table Trust website.

After spending a buzzy morning with these highly active, inquiring, exuberant and delightful bunch of pupils, tutors and "kitchen boss" Jiuan Jiuan, I am full of admiration for the work of this trust. It's a no-brainer that needs to be properly funded and, to my mind, it should be government-funded. Imagine the benefit of having every child learning how to grow food and cook at school? That really would be a great investment of taxpayers' money and bode well for future feasts.


Recipes

Camilla's carrot cake
Crunchy lemon muffins
Steamed greens

- Herald on Sunday

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