Veggies and fruit the ‘Pick of the Crop’ in pilot program
A pilot program that has been rolled out across three Queensland regions is proving a hit with students, teachers and parents. The ‘Pick of the Crop’ program is focused on creating a love of nutritious vegetables and fruit in schools across Queensland and was established as a Health and Wellbeing Queensland signature program to tackle the ongoing and persistent low intake of vegetables among children. Vegetables Australia reports.
In July 2019, Health and Wellbeing Queensland was created by the Queensland Government to increase the focus and emphasis on health promotion in Queensland, particularly around healthy weight through nutrition, physical activity and wellbeing, as well as addressing health inequities across the state.
Although it is an independent organisation, Health and Wellbeing Queensland works in partnership with government and the broader community to reduce risk factors that lead to chronic diseases. It has been given a mandate to develop a new way of working that requires innovation, partnerships and an element of risk taking that government is not well-placed to deliver.
The organisation is also one of 12 key partners of the Fruit & Vegetable Consortium, which exists to provide the strategic direction and collaborative action required to achieve a significant and sustained increase of Australian consumers’ fruit and vegetable intake.
One of Health and Wellbeing Queensland’s programs is ‘Pick of the Crop’, a primary school-based, whole-of-school healthy eating program that focuses on improving children’s vegetable and fruit intake.
The original idea for Pick of the Crop was to provide opportunities for children to be exposed to vegetables and fruit, particularly throughout the school day.
It then progressed to connecting schools and students to local producers, as Health and Wellbeing Queensland Principal Lead – Public Health Nutritionist Mathew Dick explained.
“Growers in Queensland were having a difficult time because of the drought, so it was a way for us to bring together a number of different portfolio areas – health, education and agriculture – and centre that around what’s happening in the school grounds,” Mathew said.
“We consulted with bodies such as Growcom and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to work out where we’d deliver Pick of the Crop. From those consultations, we identified growing areas of Bowen and Bundaberg, but we also needed to implement the program in a dense, urban environment.
“The Logan area was an obvious choice for us – a high population, lots of schools and a culturally diverse food scene.”
While fruit intake is important, vegetables are seen as a more crucial component of this program. Consumption figures are critically low – with just six per cent of Australian primary school-aged children meeting the recommended daily intake of vegetables.
Pick of the Crop is a locally designed program, and each school sets its strategic direction with positive results.
“Each school is very individual, and it’s based on what they’re doing at the moment – what’s in their capability and capacity,” Health and Wellbeing Queensland Senior Public Health Nutritionist Charlotte Morrison said.
Education and sustainability are key to program activities.
“The stories that are coming back to us now are diverse, and it’s great to see the actions. We have Gardening Grannies, where a local community member comes in to one Bundaberg school and helps support the garden. She talks to the students and helps to make sure they are planting the right crops,” Charlotte said.
“We’ve also linking in with local community groups; in Logan, there’s community centres that may be based on-site at the schools working with the parents to host cooking or education sessions.”
Participating community groups also take on other programs that may be run by different organisations.
“We didn’t want to just come in as another program – it’s identifying what schools can use that’s already out there,” Charlotte said.
“For example, there’s the CSIRO Taste & Learn program and the OzHarvest FEAST program. The schools may contact a local nutritionist who comes in and hosts parent sessions or classroom work. It’s looking at what’s out there, and we at Health and Wellbeing Queensland support schools to find those initiatives and organisations that fit with their current activities.”
Children on farms
Matthew, Charlotte and the Pick of the Crop team have been working with Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers and Bowen State School to organise farm excursions for school children, which has proven successful when integrated with the teaching and learning components.
“When the kids visit the farm, it’s not all about fruit and veg – it’s also showcasing how it is produced and the process, including packing and transportation,” Charlotte said.
“The kids really valued that, and some of those schools that we’re working with have children who will enter the agriculture sector. It’s integrating the healthy eating with giving children the skills, confidence and knowledge of what agriculture is all about.”
Anecdotally, program feedback has been extremely positive.
“A lot of the teachers have reported that children have asked if they could go to the garden to pick some lettuce for their sandwich, or they’re bringing in better packed lunches with more fruit and vegetables,” Charlotte said.
“Kids are willing now to try the different vegetables. Teachers are seeing the kids engaged and those are the stories that really help us who are planning and working on this program – know that it’s doing its job.”
What’s in store
The Pick of the Crop program is expanding within Bundaberg, Bowen and Logan in 2022.
“We’ve expanded from the original set of schools that we had. We started with 60 that were eligible, and we’re increasing that to 100 this year,” Charlotte explained.
“We’ll continue to work with the schools that have been with us in 2021, and we’ve got knowledge from 12 months of implementation that we can bring into this year.”
Vegetable growers interested in hosting students in one of the Pick of the Crop regions can contact Mathew Dick on 07 3234 9929 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pick of the Crop
Health and Wellbeing Queensland has developed the Pick of the Crop program based on five priority components:
- Establishing farmer and food connections.
- Teaching and learning about vegetables and fruit
- Introducing fruit and vegetable snacks in schools – for example, through Munch & Crunch/Brain Breaks during the day.
- Identifying and involving the whole school environment – for example, canteens or tuckshops and school gardens.
- Establishing parent connections.
Find out more
For further information or to check out school resources, please click here.