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Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. SAKGP.

Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. SAKGP.

And so begins a journey of volunteering each week in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, at our local primary school.IMG_3843

It’s all new to me… I’m no trained teacher. It means getting a blue card, committing to a chunk of my precious time away from everyday business. It means dealing with all level of personalities & not being in control. My role is not to discipline or touch the children. My role is to guide & support their efforts, hopefully to encourage & foster their new-found interest in what they put in their mouths & where it comes from.

This pushes my buttons as I feel stimulated by being able to help expose our little people, our next generation, to make more knowledgeable food choices for the rest of their lives. And the ongoing spin-off, the ripple effect, of perhaps making a substantial contribution to their data banks.

As the tale unfolds, I imagine many challenges & much learning will be present.

The teacher brings a group of around 16-20 children into the kitchen. They sit, & Miss Tania tells them what they will be making this morning. Among many other things, Miss Tania does a remarkable job of coordinating what’s available from the school garden & designing a healthy, do-able menu with in the time constraints. We think she deserves many thanks & high praise indeed.

Today it is Middle Eastern theme…flat bread, hummus, tabouleh & falafel. Impressive!

Miss Tania informs us of what we are able to get from the garden to make this menu, & maybe a little information about where a particular food item comes from. The teacher announces who will be in which group & what they will be making, groups with names like lemons, or mandarins or cracked wheat.

And then chaos reigns! There begins a flurry of washing hands, donning aprons & excited chatter while they get some-sort-of organized & find their allocated stations.

Amidst all this we try to read the recipe, & evenly delegate the chores necessary to complete this particular dish. A couple of the kids might run up to the garden & snip our desired herbs, some go to the pantry & gather our ingredients & others get cutting boards, put wet cloths underneath, & a knife each. These are kept in a separate knife box & they are aware that care is to be taken at all times when handling them. Sometimes a little reminder is necessary when (particularly) boyish exuberance finds one a little casually waved around.

On our station we pop all our peels into the compost bin, & perhaps wipe our boards, before we start chopping. This is in order to keep a clean space for our veggie prep, maybe to keep dirt or moulds away from our food, & to establish good hygiene habits.

It’s madness, but we get it done. My role, as far as I can ascertain, is to guide when needed, to watch for safety issues & generally supervise. We encourage reasonable delegation & problem-solving. I might show them a safer way to chop onions, remind them when they’ve touched their faces, ( they already know to re-wash), or help them correctly operate equipment, like a processor for example.

I would also handle any shallow frying with hot oil. But I do encourage the kids to have a go, & I show them how to delicately lay one piece of food at a time into sizzling pans, rather than just dropping bits in. And to be aware of leaning across the edge, of splatters, of what happens if they have wet hands above the hot oil, & of gentle handling of metal spatulas on non-stick surfaces.

We learn to take a little care in shaping patties, to think about the end result, & we learn to make our food look appealing on the serving platters. We treat it like a picture, we try to have a frame around our efforts, & a garnish to decorate it. The kids notice pretty presentation….& they take great pride in delivering their platters to the dining table outside.

The tables have already been set by one of the groups. With tablecloths, & flowers, & water distributed along the length of our shared table.

We supervising adults are encouraged to sit & eat with the children. We chat together, we praise the efforts & the results, we rejoice in our accomplishments, we try new flavours, we pass things to each other & remember our table manners 🙂

It is such a delight!

And when we are done, we all clear our own plates, scrape, rinse & stack the dishwasher in turn. We sweep floors, we wipe benches, we wash & dry pots & pans. We pop our aprons into the washing machine & leave it all spic & span for the next class to come & create. There’s even a comments book for the kids to write how they felt about the class activities & the food. That is so cool!

They learn so much, so many social skills, so many life skills. So many new culinary horizons to explore, to take with them & to share at home. Seeds are planted. I personally am excited to watch them grow, & I revel in their anticipated future harvest.

  1. I’m so excited to see you joining this program!!! That is my kids’ school and they all LOVE “kitchen” as they call it.
    I have been surprised so many times by what they know how to do, and their confidence at home.
    Truly, because of the school kitchen program our children know some basic kitchen skills.
    Oe of our children has some challenges which means that his learning is at a different pace. And I probably don’t challenge him enough because of that.
    I have been making bacon and eggs and he has asked me if he can cook the bacon. I didn’t think he could do it, but there he was confidently flipping the bacon and checking with me about whether or not it was cooked.
    It’s an amazing program that inspires us to talk differently about food and ingredients at home.
    Go for it!!! Share your passion and inspire another generation of healthy eaters who consciously grow, prepare and eat. What it’s all about, hey??
    K x

    • Thank you Kathryn….yes it is awesome! Like they say “growing a food revolution from the ground up!” The Kitchen Garden Program is a winner! “… by setting good examples and engaging children’s curiosity, as well as their energy and their taste buds, we can provide positive and memorable food experiences. And it’s that ripple effect exactly, that excites the heck out of me!! :))

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