Entries Tagged 'Food for Babies and Children' ↓

Planning, Applying, Building, Sustaining – how to grow a Stephanie Alexander Foundation Kitchen Garden

My son’s school (as I have mentioned quite a few times already) is the Demonstration School for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation program in the ACT. The program is now being rolled out across Australia, funded by the Federal Departement of Health and Ageing. There’s a demonstration school in each State or territory, which gets established first, gets extra funding and then has a role encouraging and guiding more local schools to particpate.

The motto of the Program is “Growing, Harvesting, Preparing, Sharing”. But before you get to that point, you have to do all the stuff in that post header up there. It’s an absolutely massive undertaking; one I don’t think I really understood at the time, 18 months ago, when a bunch of kindergarten parents got the Principal on board, whipped up an application and crossed our fingers. The $100,000 that a Demonstration School is awarded sounds like a substantial amount of money, doesn’t it? $40,000 is for staff costs for the part time kitchen and garden specialist teachers for the first two years the program runs. Which leaves $60,000 to build a kitchen with 4 workstations, an covered outdoor area and a productive organic veggie garden. Then you have to find the money to pay the ongoing staff costs.

There’s lots of great information on the foundation site about why you’d want to participate in the program, the program goals, and the benefits for schools, children and communities. But this post is about what it’s like for community and parent volunteers trying to get this off the ground. It’s strictly my personal account and unconnected to the school, the foundation or anyone else.

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We found out our application was successful in December 2008, and we had a meeting during the Summer holidays inviting lots of community groups and members. We got off to a good start by dividing up the tasks into a few main areas, with a co-ordinator for each -

  • Project Management
  • Kitchen
  • Garden
  • Marketing/Information
  • School and community connections
  • Donations and Sponsorship

As the need was identified, we added Volunteers and Equity as separate areas.

I originally started off in the Marketing/Information role. I did a bunch of useful stuff like setting up a wiki and and a blog and trying to attract some community attention by writing an article for the The Canberra Times‘ Food & Wine section.

Part of the idea of the wiki was that we could document as we went along, so that we had a resource available for other schools implementing the program. But we were using free software that never really quite worked for some people and it fell into disuse. In my work life, my boss and I have tried (and failed) to get people to blog enough times to not take a lack of engagement personally. Despite the fact that it wasn’t that useful in the end, it does function as an accessible repository for all our application and planning documentation.

Left, the old “community room”, right, the kitchen shot from the dining room, which is three steps up. The door at the far left of the old pic is in the middle of the new pic.

I ended up taking over the Sponsorship role when another person couldn’t continue in it. Unfortunately I wasn’t very effective at all, due to a combination of lack of time, always having a rambunctious three year old with me and having no relevant skills or experience. I’m good at the talking to producers and making connections part of things, but not the more formal (and bigger $) sponsorship stuff. We’ve done some stuff I think is really great, like mostly stocking the kitchen from donations from school families (and scavenging at the tip and op shops). We wanted the kids to see that things didn’t have to be in pristine matching sets, or brand new, that cooking just happened with what you have. Despite some wins like this, I would suggest that where possible, you get volunteers playing to their strengths (and not trying to persuade anyone of anything while a toddler is holding their leg).

From the time we started trying to drum up some enthusiasm in the school, there were some people in the school community who were not pleased that the school was participating in the program and unhappy about the way things had unfolded.

The school’s initial application was rejected for insufficient kitchen and garden space, and the application period was extended. In that fortnight, a new group of parents got involved and wrote the successful application. But because all our kids were in kindy, we didn’t know some important context; for example, that parents had fought hard to create the school’s (excellent) performing arts program and were afraid it would be swallowed by the resource demands of a new, sexy program when the funding for staff ran out after the first two years.

Other threads of discontent centered around a view that there’d been a lack of consultation in the application process (true; but I don’t know how we could have conducted a meaningful consultation in that two weeks) and a concern that the school already struggled to attract enough volunteers to run the Canteen, etc. (For those non-primary parents out there, our school is unusual in having a 5 day a week Canteen; most are part time and some have shut.) Some just couldn’t see the point or relevance of the program and thought the curriculum was already overloaded.

One useful thing we did to address these feelings was co-host with the P&C a meeting inviting people to come and raise their concerns. People who couldn’t attend the meeting were invited to give us a few words on a issue they wanted considered. We made it clear that although our application had been accepted by the Department of Health and Ageing and the Foundation, nothing had been signed off. If there was sufficient opposition, we were prepared to pull the plug. There wasn’t a huge attendance, but we (in fact, mainly the Principal) covered all the matters that were causing concern or distress. It helped clarify for those of us pushing for the program that communication within the school community was vital, and reassured us that there were strategies in place to deal with the problems and difficulties as they arose.

A further event that worked well was a Harvest Festival held in late Autumn last year, inviting the broader community for lunch and a seminar about the four year old revitalisation project of the outdoor areas of the school, and how the kitchen garden continued that work. By this stage we’d got it together to feed everyone when we wanted people to turn up, and it was gratifying to see people tucking into to their frittata, soupe au pistou and home-made breads and observe the excitement building. We started to get some ideas about other ways to use the kitchen as a community resource, such as having the baker of the magnificent bread run a workshop to fundraise, inviting the new-ish Somali families at the school to teach a class, running a session on jam-making with the summer fruit glut and the like.

From a sad piece of failing lawn, to de-cooched green manure, and finally a giant veggie monster growing corn, melons, tomatoes, beans, edible flowers, pumpkins, etc, etc. Our awesome gardener, Rik Allan, tends to use heritage varieties because aside from being open-pollinated, they look cool and pique the kids’ interest.

We were successful in getting an ACT Government grant which meant we could employ the garden specialist to begin developing the garden while the kitchen was being built. It would be very hard to start as the kitchen teacher with no produce, particularly as the focus is on using what the kids have grown. Other grant applications were unsuccesful. Win some, lose some.

Those of us heavily involved have been relentless prosleytisers. The garden is at the front of the school, on a fairly busy road (for Canberra) across from the local shops. The visibility helps – a bunch of kids who’d broken into the garden and snapped a couple of trees one night were scared off by a guy in a flat over the road who roused on them and called the cops. He was visited the next day by our Principal bearing a gift of eggs from the school chickens to thank him. I was painting the kitchen one Saturday afternoon with a couple of others and a family who’d just moved to the area wandered in and asked us if they could look around, and what was going on; they stayed in the garden for about an hour. More than 250 people came through when the garden and kitchen were open as part of the Open Garden scheme.

There have been regular meetings and working bees and also times when the garden needs to be watered and cared for over the long holidays, or shorter periods when the garden teacher is away.  Like all community based and community building endeavours, you can’t build a school kitchen garden without substantial committments of time, not least from the school’s Principal.  In fact, I’ve left an crucially important thing out … fyrst catche ye Principal; you simply can not do it without their enthusiastic support.

Most people seem to be appreciating what they’re seeing, and I think once kitchen classes start next term and kids go home wanting to make dinner for their family more people will see what we’ve been on about. The kitchen and garden were launched a few weeks ago on 25 March, and there were a couple of hundred people there to celebrate with us; people from the Foundation and the Health Department, CIT (the local trade education body) and the restaurant community, parents and community members.

In her speech at the launch on 25 March, my friend Chris spoke on behalf of the community and touched on how hard the application process had been. The point was picked up by Stephanie Alexander in her speech who said she was glad to hear it said; it’s true and it’s supposed to be hard.  Because pulling it off, and keeping it going are really hard things to do.

But it’s worth it – in her speech, Stephanie Alexander read out a letter from a mother of a child in the program in country Victoria who has become a red hot veggie gardener.  Afterwards, in the kitchen, one of our teachers told her that since the school had become involved in the program, seven children in her class had started veggie gardens at home. That’s an amazing figure; roughly a third of the class.

There’s a report on the launch from the Foundation, and lots more garden pictures at the school’s site.

Takeaway on Friday

I was struck by an idea from Michael of My Aching Head in his Eat.Drink.Blog follow-up post:

I have also long had the desire to create a bit more of a shorter form of blogging, in part stepping back to the Kottke style of linking and making small and valuable comment. It is something that isn’t really done here in the Australian food blogging community and I think it might be interesting to my readers.

I think so too – quite often things I think are worth mentioning slip me by entirely because I get so caught up in the lack of time to write a considered or detailed post. Cath from The Canberra Cook has an occasional series called Internet Salmagundi, which is a link post, but not exclusively food-related. (A salmagundi is a dish of minced meat with eggs, anchovies, vinegar and seasoning, or a medley or miscellany)

So I’m going to experiment with a Friday afternoon link post of food and cookery-related writing that’s intrigued, delighted or appalled me in the last little while. This week, a delight and an invitation:

The delight is a piece by one of the granddaddies of Australian blogging, Tim Dunlop. A blog round-up article by Tim in the Fairfax press in late 2003 or early 2004 was what got me first reading blogs; in those days you could give a round-up of the Australian blogsophere in a column;) He’s blogged for The Australian in the past, and now writes Johnny’s in the Basement, Crikey’s music blog. Tim has always talked about cooking and his enjoyment of it, and my recent twittergasm about the arrival of my new knife (from Japan, in a friend’s luggage) has finally fired him up to to write Music to Sharpen Knives by. You need to register to comment, but the registration counts for all Crikey blogs.

The invitation has been extended by Neil, of At My Table, who I was fortunate to meet at last weekend’s conference. Neil has written very movingly on his blog about his beloved daughter M, who has autism. April 2 is World Autism Day, and Neil is planning to make a contribution:

At My Table will be taking part in the day by cooking a dish of one single colour, to represent the diets of some of those, especially children, on the autistic spectrum whom only eat food that is of one particular colour, something of a nightmare for parents concerned with good nutrition.

If anyone else could manage the difficult task of a one coloured dish and would like to blog it, I would be happy to link to your post. It would be a tremendous show of support for parents, who, quite frankly, often run out of ideas. You can find my contact details in the right-side column.

I’m thinking orange; probably some kind of pumpkin, sweet potato, tomato, carrot tagine. Or maybe some gnocchi.

Kirsty Presents: High-Tea Princesses

This time last week I was in the throes of preparing to cater for my niece’s 7th birthday party. Last week, right about now, in fact, I was studying the shelves at Woolworth’s Indooroopilly, hesitating between the standard packet of Dollar Sprinkles and the fairy-themed one. At that point I hadn’t fully decided on how I was going to manage to decorate the requested princess cake. I knew I was going to attempt to fashion a semblance of a princess atop a coconut cake using icing and my cheap cake decoration piping set, but as to the details of the glitter and sparkles, well, I was making those up in the supermarket.

I had offered to host my niece’s birthday party a month ago, after my family had celebrated my sister’s birthday at a garden centre cafe. While the garden centre’s cafe was perfectly fine, as we discussed Hannah’s forthcoming birthday, most of us still had memories of the over-priced outing that was my mother’s birthday a few months earlier: $45 for an average high-tea amongst some very pretty decor. The decor, while lovely, certainly wasn’t worth $15 dollars more than the usual price of a high-tea in these parts.

I’m not certain why my family has this high-tea obsession. Something to do with coming from England and wanting to play at being the Ladies we’re not, I suppose. Or perhaps it’s an excuse to eat way too many cakes, the sandwiches merely being a face-saving preliminary. Yes, the latter is more likely. Anyway, it seems the older members of this family have had a corrupting influence on the youngest member, since Hannah now associates all birthday celebrations with fancy, miniature cakes, delicate sandwiches and champagne-flutes of sparkling apple juice. When I volunteered to host her family party–her mother’s side of her family, anyway–Hannah put her own twist on the occasion and requested tiaras and sparkles. And since I’m a total push-over when it comes to my niece, I was determined to throw the best princess-themed party I could.

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Andra ponders the demise of the food fetish in children’s books

five

Kids these days just aren’t hungry enough. Wedges of fruitcake, ginger beer, fresh butter and eggs, jam sandwiches, sausages – none of these stir the reader the way they used to in the heyday of The Famous Five.

I think one of the successes of Harry Potter is the nostalgic updating of boarding school type food treats.

My children are cooking these holidays. They’ve been told that if they want to eat something, they’re going to have to cook it themselves. I used to cook sweets and puddings and pies and slices. As a child, I made jam and toffee and fudge and ices.

We’ve had a couple of experiments, some choc chip cookies, sorbet and shepherds’ pie and they’re bored. They can buy better and they’re prepared to wait me out.

I believe this trend has been reflected in modern children’s literature. Harry Potter is the only series I’ve read recently that gave me a full feeling in my stomach. Where are the endless dishes of mushrooms and cider from The Hobbit? The picnics and fry-ups from The Wind in the Willows? The tea parties of Alice and Wonderland?

potter feast


This post originally appeared at andragy.

Nigel asks: “Is this the best gelati in the world?”

nigel

In sleepy Bermagui – the last unspoilt fishing village on the south coast – for the past six years Francesca and Alberto Cementon have made the most sublime range of gelati we have encountered outside Italy. (We still remember, don’t we, a kind of creamed rice gelato we sampled on the Piazza del Campidoglio, which set an aspiration standard for tradition and innovation). Go out of your way to visit the Bermagui Gelati Clinic – you can see from the snap below that it used to be the Veterinary Clinic, but the professional tone is appropriate. It’s between the Bottle Shop and Mitre 10. Here you will find an extraordinary range of gelato experiences, all freshly made on the premises.
 
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A better kind of lemon chicken

One of the joys of Canberra is the four distinct seasons, and of all of them Autumn is my favourite. Although this summer wasn’t as bakingly hot as it has been for the last couple of years, it was still hot enough that I’m enjoying the beginnings of briskness in the mornings and snuggling in a warm bed at night.

If you try to eat seasonally, particularly if you grow some of your own food, Autumn is the best time of year. I live in a cul-de-sac of eleven houses, four of which have veggie gardens, and it’s quite common to see someone or other ambling across the road with a handful (or a box) of excess produce. It was our turn last week, when our neighbour Kev dropped in with two lovely early butternut pumpkins from his patch. I’m hoping for some figs, as our tree is tiny. It’s one of three in this street and the next grown from a cutting from No. 8′s magnificent tree.

One of the best arrivals with the cooler weather is lemons. Meyer lemons seem to be the most commonly grown variety locally because they tolerate cold fairly well, but I spotted the first fresh thin-skinned Eurekas of the year at Choku Bai Jo last week. While they’re very common and often cold-stored to sell over the summer, freshness really brings out their appetising sharpness. I love their colour too which is more “lemony” than intensely yellow.

 
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Duckie’s Mount Yum

[for meat-eaters, but can be converted to vegetarian]

In my (reasonably broad) experience of men, each likes to have their Signature Dish, a culinary piece that they’ve stumbled upon or invented (or mother used to make) and have tweaked to make it utterly Theirs. It is carried with them through the years, brought out to impress the chicks, and then served to the family proudly over the years and passed down from father to son etc etc… ok, maybe that last bit’s an exaggeration, but most of it rings true, no?

Best Beloved is a enthusiastic but slightly nervous cook. He travels widely in the foodie universe, but never without a guidebook. This following dish is one of the very few things he will cook without a recipe; it is a family favourite, and went nameless until I decided to blog it, upon which Bumblebee decided that it should be called Mount Yum. Before this, it was always know as ‘your/my chicken/nut dish’.

To celebrate the fact that it is made without a recipe on the bench, I will not be providing ingredient quantities. You need to think about how much each person can eat and provide enough of everything to divide between the number of people eating. There’s no right or wrong; substitutions are not only welcome, but encouraged. There are endless possibilities. Best Beloved rarely strays from his favourite combination, but the other day we had no pine nuts and I persuaded him to use slivered almonds rather than popping down to the shop. Lo! It worked! (Sigh.)

Please excuse the crockery, we’re waiting for it all to break. If BB had known I was doing this before he started, he would have brought out his collection of 60s Poole pottery!

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It’s Time … Dr Sista Outlaw’s annual zucchini fest

Zucchini, how I love it. There is nothing more delightfully buttery or charmingly versatile, or, for that matter, quite so easy to grow. Mine are bursting at the seams right now, pushing over the chook wire, and trying to run over the ground, fruiting in black and green stripes, with a pattern like 1960s barkcloth. Having just had a quarter of a year’s worth of rain in one weekend, they’re turning into marrows. And, as I am dead broke until the arrival of the Kevin Bucks, it’s time to get working on ways to use this luxurious, yet cheap, food.

Zucchini Muffins look so damned good the boy recanted his anti-zucchini stance and tucked in. They are also easy. Take a giant marrow or a few small ones and grate until you have 400 grammes worth. Then add: 1 cup white flour, 1 cup of polenta or some polenta and wholemeal, 1 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 lightly beaten egg and 60g of butter you’ve melted in the microwave. You can add flavourings such as a big handful of grated parmesan; a small handful of shredded herbs; six semi-sundried tomatoes sliced up; a big chunk of crumbled feta; ham, bacon, salami or smoked salmon in chunks; a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts. Or any combo. Mix it all together until it just comes together into a lumpy mess and put big spoonfuls, lumps and all, into a lightly greased muffin pan. Bake at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes in a shiny new electric fan-forced oven, if, like me, you have one (I truly love my oven), but any one will do.

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