Veggies in-focus for Victorian schoolchildren
AUSVEG VIC, the representative body for Victorian vegetable growers, has partnered with Boomaroo Nurseries and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation to create the ‘Schools on Farms Program’. The program has been created by vegetable growers for primary schools to facilitate farm access and receive a hands-on, real-life experience of working vegetable farms.
In Victoria, there is a wide variety of vegetables produced in urban and periurban areas such as Mornington Peninsula, Clyde and Werribee South; sometimes, these crops are just metres away from residents’ backyards.
Despite this, a lot of people (particularly children) do not know where their fresh produce comes from, and how it’s grown. A new pilot program is aiming to change this.
The ‘Schools on Farms Program’ is an AUSVEG VIC self-funded industry-led initiative, with support from Boomaroo Nurseries and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. The idea of the program is to be adaptable to the school’s curriculum so that the learnings on the farm can be taken back to the classroom. AUSVEG VIC conducts school excursions for grade three and four students that combine farm visits and supermarket visits, depending on what the school was looking to achieve from the day.
Aims of the pilot program include:
- Educating students by linking in with the curriculum through contextual learning.
- Introducing children to how vegetables are produced.
- Providing engagement with a new generation of home gardeners, meal preparers and shoppers.
- Promoting healthy eating with younger generations.
- Promoting community engagement with food producers.
AUSVEG VIC State Manager Tom Cohen said the excursion is a ‘paddock to plate experience’.
“Eating fresh produce out in paddocks including fresh broccoli straight off the plant; fresh cos lettuce; fresh carrots; celery straight out of the cool room – these are vegetables that the students may not necessarily eat,” Tom said.
“It’s seeing what is able to be achieved on a farm on a major scale, and they’re tasting it fresh out of the dirt.”
In early 2019, the pilot program was bolstered by the announcement that the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation will be jumping on-board.
“The Foundation has great connections with current schools that participate in its program. It’s strong-minded in what it’s trying to achieve in getting children and schools to eat healthily and understand where food comes, growing from seedlings in their school backyard and taking it through to cooking,” Tom said.
“We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to adapt this ‘Schools on Farm Program’ into what the Foundation is also doing in schools. It gives that extra depth to its program, looking at a commercial scale, and showing children where their food comes from on a day-to-day basis, including the supermarket chain.”
Along with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Victorian and Queensland-based business Boomaroo Nurseries has also thrown its support behind the initiative.
“Boomaroo is investigating other ways to support the program, including the supply of timeslot-appropriate seedling varieties to participating schools for use in their kitchen gardens, giving children a better chance at experiencing success across a broader range of crops,” Tom said.
“Boomaroo also has a new facility up in Queensland, and there’s plenty of opportunity for this program to expand once it becomes an established in Victoria. We’ve had people reaching out from Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales, expressing their interest in this program.”
Since it was launched at Hort Connections in June 2019, there have been several Schools on Farm excursions, with positive feedback received from parents, teachers and students.
“We had a parent who emailed the school saying, ‘I don’t know what you’ve done for my child on this excursion out on the farm, but they came home and asked, could we have broccoli for dinner, please?,” Tom said.
“It’s opening a brand-new world of different tastes, and a number of these students have never had those fresh vegetables before. To give them access to that, help people eat more healthy foods and also educate them on where it has come from, is a fantastic step for industry.”
Tom hopes that the pilot program will continue to be delivered successfully during the first half of 2020. However, further funding is required and AUSVEG VIC is looking for new and innovative ways to secure funding.
“We’ll look to talk to the State and Federal Governments and continue to work with other industry partners, looking at potential sponsorship for working with the program,” Tom said.
“We’ll also be looking to increase the number the farms where we are running these on-farm vegetable excursions, as well as working out a bit more of a program for the supermarket side.”
Looking even further ahead, it is hoped that the broader horticulture and agriculture industries adopt the Schools on Farm initiative.
“If we’re going to make this work for the whole industry and increase consumption of produce; increase workforce numbers as well as people’s understanding of what farming is and changing their perceptions, we need to have every single industry body and farming orgnisation on-board and involved in this,” Tom said.
“We’d love to see the program added to the curriculum for grades three and four across Victoria, with the view of establishing it across Australia.”
Find out more
Growers who would like to get involved in the ‘Schools on Farm Program’ can contact AUSVEG VIC State Manager Tom Cohen on 03 9882 0277 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information about the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, please visit kitchengardenfoundation.org.au.