School yards and back yards are seeing resurgence in urban and rural survival garden patches. Organic gardens especially are providing ‘clean’ produce low on the food chain. Students can learn where our produce actually comes from and perhaps learn a of love of nature, gardening, growing and cooking with fresh natural foods. A valuable lesson for the student’s, is to compare commercially grown strawberries (up to 40 pesticides!) to organically grown ones (more delicious, nutritious and clean).

It was Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, who started one of the first seedlings to table gardens at schools in 1995. She has long believed that cooking and eating together at the table, teaches us all compassion. An important and inspired quote from Water’s reads; “Producing, preparing and sharing food teaches us that actions have consequences, that survival requires cooperation and that people and nature are interdependent.”

Australian chef and food educator, Stephanie Alexander shares a similar food philosophy and values as Alice Waters. Stephanie initiated the Kitchen Garden Foundation across 120 schools in the Eastern States of Australia. These tasty gardens are now popping up in a plethora of places.

These two passionate creative food educators have taken up the Jamie Oliver banner to shift our kids away from junk to real foods. In point of fact, Jamie visited one of the Australian schools, cooked and shared an impressive organic meal with the students and staff.

My own food philosophy evolved over the decades, beginning with childhood experiences at my cousin’s farm in Ferndale, Washington. My cousins and I picked beans, hoed corn, and dug out carrots when we were in trouble or hungry. I mixed bread for everyone in a bowl nearly bigger than me and churned the butter after milking cows.

This and the occurrence of winning a 6th grade cake-baking contest resulted in my longstanding love of honest fresh foods. One teacher encouraged me to enter, as I was actually rather shy and my Mom had me put orange juice and fresh ginger to add moisture to the cake batter and a subtle zing. This is a good example of the influence of early positive reinforcement in our schools, from our mentor teachers and family.

All of these experiences evolved into my healthy eating message for the next 30 years. I enthusiastically keep spreading the message through cooking classes, media tours, food articles and creation cookbooks.

In Australia, I had the opportunity to consult for Buderim Ginger in Queensland and develop a whole series of recipes themed “Around the World” with Buderim Ginger. This celebrated cultural diversity and the collective thread of weaving ginger into the various ethnic cuisines. It was my first year in Australia and I was privileged to join the Sydney Fine Food Show as a guest chef. I demonstrated a number of dishes centre stage and then ran back to the booth to cook and pass out samples, hundreds of samples of each recipe using their new fresh green ginger puree. Some of you may know of the fun working in trade-shows.

The eco-view began for me in the early 1970’s when my concern for the food supply and planet first surfaced. My marine biologist professor read from, The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and said we have gone too far on polluting the planet- all was irreversible. I was deeply moved and read more on the subject and became an early eco-ethicurean.

In California in the 80’s Chino Farms started to grow organic baby vegetables. Chefs, yuppies and foodies flocked to their stand for beautiful, tasteful produce. It took me right back to my days on the farm and a renewal of my resolve to search and dine on true farmers market foods.

In nearly all of the Australia Home Economics departments, there is not one organic culinary class in theory or in practice. The recipes being cooked in lab kitchens and also served from the canteens are often appalling. The new edict by the federal government of Yellow and Red Light Foods is what any thinking nutritionist would eschew. In schools today, I see what’s being cooked and served in the classrooms and from the canteen which prompts me to shake my head sadly.

Besides the teens lack of concentration and intrinsic motivation, the suicide rate is rising, as is violence on campus. When parents think Coco Puffs or “Nutella” spread is a good breakfast what chance do these kids have? Not much, since for the first time in history our children will not outlive their parents because of the globesity epidemic.

Now droughts are upon us, food and petrol prices are soaring, and our earth is over-heated and groaning. People, even in Perth, Western Australia the most isolated city in the world, are frenzied in the fast lane. This full-throttle life-style is taking its toll on us with stress and every type of degenerative disease. The feral fast foods many are loutishly devouring are taking a toxic toll in a myriad of manners. We were supposed to be stewards of the planet, right?

We who have lost our sense and our senses—our touch, our smell, our vision of who we are, we who frantically force and press all things, without rest for body or spirit, hurting our earth and injuring ourselves: we call a halt.

We want to rest. We need to rest and allow the earth to rest. We need to reflect and to rediscover the mystery that lives in us, that is the ground of every unique expression of life, the source of the fascination that calls all things to communion.

We declare a Sabbath, a space of quiet for simply being and letting be, for recovering the great, forgotten truths, for learning how to live again.

U.N. Environmental Sabbath Program

But I am not here to be negative or alarmist but to offer my humble philosophical reflections and a case study of a delicious success. I wish to write from the heart, of my experience, strength and hope. (Actually, in the middle of this first draft I rolled off my chair and did some yoga stretches and the child’s pose. I just searched deeply, for the words to give meaning to the significance of this topic.)

With all this cooking and writing, I never had the time, space or success to garden for decades. I used to joke I had a white thumb from baking rather than a green thumb. That, of course, would be spelt organic un-bleached white flour.

However, this year I have the necessary ingredients to have an organic raised garden installed in my own little backyard. I heard of a new business in Perth regarding organic gardening. Tim Woodard, of Your Patch ( installs a raised garden bed with organic soil mix, organic seeds and seedlings, reticulation and pest control made up of organic oils and sprays. He has several designs suitable for homes and schoolyards. The raised beds are aesthetic and make all that gardening easier. I’ve long wanted to grow organic produce for myself before embracing further action and his organic garden system has helped me to do so.

Onslow, Western Australia is a case study in point. Marcelle Coakley, canteen manager of Onslow Primary School is harvesting a great victory garden of 20 raised beds of produce, for the school, canteen and the entire town.

Some of her reasons for implementing an organic garden are:

  1. Reinforces healthy eating and the development of a discerning palate
  2. Provides a holistic relationship between schools, families and local communities (good ole inclusivity)
  3. Nurtures life-long practical skills and predilection for real foods
  4. Imparts a calming environment for students with behaviour issues
  5. Fosters an environmental consciousness of stewardship
  6. Shifts toward sustainable food systems and vertical integration and synergy
  7. Revolutionizes the school lunch programs

Students that water the garden, see the varied greens grow and finally taste the nuances of flavours which may touch their hearts and palates for their own healthier future. They then make harvest soups, salmon fish cakes, vegetable frittatas, edible schoolyard tea and other healthy recipes.

Ms. Coakley shares that the kids have really been great in trying new things and when cooking new recipes such as flavoured pestos, bruschetta and learning about braising, they are much more willing to have a go.

On Fridays the students share lunch with the community that come to visit. This precious time of trying new foods from what was grown, harvested, cooked and shared also lends a note of discovery of new friends and knowledge through leisurely conversation.

Onslow Primary tries to give the students and their families a chance to experience new tastes with the simplicity of an added fresh herb or seasoning to organically grown produce. This is LIVE food.

The principal Julie Loader has totally supported the program from day one and the community has gotten involved by donating a smoker for fish. The high school students have made the three meter long tables that are used to share Friday’s lunch, and in class various groups have produced scarecrows, mobiles and chimes.

What a legacy, if we each make sustainable healthful choices on a micro and community level. As professionals, teachers (both brave and underpaid), chef instructors, cookbook authors and writers we can embody wellness and pass the message.

Lastly I end with another poem from the chief of my tribe and my town, Seattle.

Teach your children what we have taught our children—that the earth is our mother.

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.

If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know

the earth does not belong to us,

We belong to the earth

This we know

All things are connected

Like the blood which unites one family

All things are connected

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.

We did not weave the web of life,

we are merely a strand in it

Whatever we do to the web,

We do to ourselves….

Chief Seattle

Article and images courtesy Susanne E. Wilder, CFE