Should Schools be offering Children the Benefits of a Kitchen Garden?

School kitchen gardens are WONDERFUL

and their proven benefits should be available to every child.   Fast paced life, increased sedentary screen time and junk food is taking its toll on children before they’ve even left primary school, as an ex teacher and parent, I think we should be fighting to regain a balanced childhood for them. By balanced I mean a combination of *fresh air and active fun, communing with all that Nature has to offer and developing ‘full on,’ face to face social skills.  

Gardening programmes in schools

can cater for all levels of intellect and ability by increasing self-esteem, instilling a positive work ethic, teaching patience and building classroom relationships. Kitchen gardens and their associated benefits in primary schools also provide incidental opportunities for every child to serve others through their own contributions within a family, their class, their community and ultimately, the wider working world.

Prevention is better than cure

especially when it comes to the health of the young. It’s time to ensure the wellbeing of our children by helping them to make healthier choices about what they do and what they eat. This doesn’t have to feel like a punishment or be achieved through face pulling menu changes. You know yourself - to change a behaviour pattern, the carrot needs to taste delicious and the munching needs to be fun or you just won’t do it! Let’s spend a few dollars and a little energy now (and ultimately reduce medical bills later) by setting up kitchen gardens (mini laboratories) for primary school children. Stephanie Alexander’s kitchen garden programme has proved how successful and influential this simple addition is when integrated into a school curriculum. For schools that cannot afford this programme, there is a much simpler option - an INSTANT vertical kitchen garden that be assembled in under three hours.

To support good nutrition and healthy eating habits, we need to show children how great Mother Nature is at growing yummy food and what fun it can be to plant and nurture something that flourishes and nourishes when you’re not afraid to put the ipad down and get your hands dirty.

A school kitchen garden is an exciting gift for children that ‘keeps on giving’ long after the harvest has been collected. Space is no longer an issue either. A vertical garden will fit the smallest of spaces and does not require any ground to be dug up. Children can even build the kit systems themselves. A vertical veggie garden activity can be fully integrated into the primary school curriculum, offering infinite possibilities to reinforce literacy, numeracy, science, cultural studies and all aspects of environmental sustainability and our relationship with the planet.

It’s not just about food though (and exercise is a ‘given’ here). Working in a school garden/outdoor laboratory encourages children to observe, experiment, discover, nurture, experience loss and take on responsibilities as individuals as well as in groups. Far better than a textbook, a kitchen garden lets each child use every sense to feel, smell, taste, watch and listen as they work with the natural elements of an ecosystem. Nature’s seasons and life cycles are integrated effortlessly into their ‘knowing’ as they practise their horticulture skills. All this creativity and easy learning goes on while they enjoy the delicious food they have grown and prepared themselves. Yes, children do eat what they grow.

Incidences of weight related diseases are rising. Is screen addiction responsible for the escalation of Myopia in teenagers? A virtually guaranteed antidote, why wouldn’t we integrate a low cost, fresh air and fun solution such as a kitchen garden, into our primary schools? Welcome donations of seedlings, cuttings and gardening expertise and the only effort required by parents is to enjoy the best food ever (and maybe clean under James’ fingernails!)  Substitute a trowel for a tablet and children in primary schools will discover other powers in their hands, they will join the dots when it comes to food sources and selection and by default, benefit from ‘gardening exercise’ and a daily dose of zinging vitamins and minerals. Give every child the chance to work in a kitchen garden, to gain a sense of personal achievement for a job well done, with results that can be measured with pride.  While the basketball and the swimming may stop when they leave school, gardening and healthy eating are activities they can enjoy for life.

* “Despite our reputation for a love of the outdoors, Missing Trees: The Inside Story of an Outdoor Nation, commissioned by Planet Ark in 2013, found that… a quarter of children under the age of 16 are outside for less than two hours each week. The report also found that for every hour we spend enjoying the outdoors, around seven hours are occupied on the internet or watching TV…   There are obvious impacts on our waistlines, but less obvious and perhaps more insidious effects on our mental health”…Tony Arnel