The concept of a kitchen garden has long appealed to me. I grew up in a family home which was like a suburban South-East Asian paradise filled with sugarcane, guava plants, kaffir lime trees, mango plants, bac ha (Alocasia odora) and more. But having moved out of home over a year ago, my concrete courtyard and my track record of killing plants hasn't quite cut it.
Thankfully I'm surrounded by plenty of farmers markets. However, it isn't quite the same as harvesting something from the real plant. Little did I know that there were community kitchen gardens sprouting up around The GPT Group shopping centres and schools, thanks to the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.
It all started when I was invited by DEC Public Relations to attend the launch of the inaugural Kitchen Garden Week which coincided with the official opening of the Rouse Hill Town Centre Community Kitchen Garden. I took up on the offer of green transport (I'm still not a fan of driving long distance) and was pleasantly surprised when I was picked up by greentomatocars in a Prius! What a great concept!
Joined by a group of media and fellow blogger, Sneh, we watched Stephanie Alexander and some kids from Hebersham Public School demonstrate the Foundation's principles of growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing fresh seasonal produce.
I loved what Stephanie said about being able to step into a kitchen garden and letting it dictate what you were going to have for dinner that night.
The Kitchen Garden program for schools is funded through a number of national and state government funding opportunities. There are currently 193 schools implementing the Kitchen Garden Program across Australia.
Not only does the program encourage healthy eating behaviour and provide food education, there are also a multitude of benefits that go beyond the obvious. For example, children gain confidence and practical cooking skills through using real ovens and knives, they practice their literacy skills through writing out menus, they use their numeracy skills in working out measurements and then increase their social and presentation skills when sharing their learnings and meals with students and teachers.
I think it's so incredible that children are able to learn to build and maintain a productive garden and then prepare a range of delicious dishes from the seasonal produce they've grown. I would've loved school if this program existed back in my primary school days!
The good news is, that even if you don't have kids attending one of the 193 schools that have implemented the program (or if you don't have kids at all), you don't have to miss out!
Over the last 12 months, The GPT Group have partnered with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation to provide a taste of the foundation's program to the general public.
The Rouse Hill Town Centre Community Kitchen Garden is the seventh GPT Centre to feature a community kitchen garden.
Other GPT Centres with kitchen gardens in NSW include Carlingford Court, Forestway Shopping Centre and Norton Plaza (Leichhardt). Victorian Centres include Melbourne Central, Parkmore Shopping Centre and Chirnside Park Shopping Centre. And there will be others developing in Newcastle, Wollongong and Darwin.
I've been to Norton Plaza so many times, I can't believe I didn't know there was a kitchen garden there!
Now let me whet your appetite with the abundance and variety of seasonal produce at the Rouse Hill Community Kitchen Garden!
There's rosemary, carrots, beetroot, silverbeet, cauliflower, leek, baby spinach, mints, beans, thyme and lemons. I'd love to come back in the warmer months and see some summer fruits! Yum!
I also had the pleasure of sitting at a gorgeous table that was set by the children. We ate a light lunch of beautiful spring foods.
So hopefully instead of playing games on computers or iPads, these kids played with their new pasta machines during this school holiday!
The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation believes early intervention is essential if children are to build the values, skills and understandings to develop life-long joyful and healthy eating habits. I couldn't agree with that more - except I think the community kitchen gardens are as beneficial for children as they are for adults, particularly those living in the inner-city and lacking some exposure to nature.
This was such an inspirational trip. I left feeling the need to be a bit more self-sustainable. I might even try reinvigorate my urban veggie patch.
And for you? I highly recommend you checking out one of these community kitchen gardens! It beats supermarket shopping any day!