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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A 'Garden to Table' lesson for Camilla

An unusual engagement for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during her current visit to New Zealand with Prince Charles - she ended up donning an apron in the kitchen of East Tamaki primary school in south Auckland.  It was part of her introduction to the school’s 'Garden to Table' project, where pupils have a hands-on opportunity to learn about food. They grow fruit and vegetables in the school grounds, devise menus, then cook and serve what they’ve harvested.
Camilla watched the youngsters at work and was invited to try the feast of beetroot and fennel salad, vegetable bread cases and carrot cake laid out for her. She homed in on the carrot cake, which she said she loves, slicing it up and offering it round before trying some herself.  The school's principal said the pupils had been very excited about the duchess's visit.

The royal visit - and the carrot cake - featured on local TV news :

In an amazing coincidence, last year I was actually at East Tamaki school myself, seeing what the project involved.
I found part of the school grounds transformed into a highly productive organic garden, along with a specially-adapted kitchen for the pupils to use. ‘Garden to Table’ is run by volunteers, working alongside one kitchen and one garden specialist. Students are split into two groups, taking turns to garden and cook, but all coming together to savour the fruits of their labours.

When I arrived, the morning session was just ending. The kitchen was bustling, as youngsters and volunteers cleaned and tidied after a delicious meal of potatoes mamoosa, with three different salads (above).
Outside, Jenny Villiger, Judy Newhook, garden specialist Karolyn Cooper and Robin Barclay (above, from left) were working on the compost heap. Nearby were beds of tomatoes, sweetcorn, spinach, courgettes, aubergines, peas, potatoes and pumpkins while just around the corner were strawberries, citrus fruit, a herb garden (below) and an orchard.
The emphasis is on growing from seed, often saved from the previous year. Seedlings are nurtured in a small greenhouse, and pupils encouraged to take surplus seeds to grow at home, thus involving the whole family. It certainly seemed to be working - surrounding gardens were overflowing with produce.

The initiative is based on the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Programme founded in Melbourne, Australia, in 2001. When I was there it was being trialled in three Auckland schools, funded by donations and the Garden to Table Trust. The maths, science, reading and writing students were learning are all part of the compulsory curriculum, but a useful bonus comes from the social skills being developed, from how to lay a table to working as a team, alongside a knowledge of nutrition and appreciation of good food. The hope is that all this will stay with the youngsters for the rest of their lives, and be passed on to future generations.

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