Christmas feast for young gardeners

HANNAH MCKEE
Last updated 05:00 18/12/2013
xmas
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

FESTIVE FOOD: Rachel Priestley tucks into a meal with sisters Jasmine Tahaih, 5, and Galaxy, 7. Ms Priestley teamed up with Julia Milne to put on a Christmas lunch for the children at Epuni School.

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Christmas lunch came early for the children at Lower Hutt's Epuni School yesterday, and it was all thanks to two women who don't like to keep generosity just for Christmas.

When Rachel Priestley was looking for a good home for the quality left-overs from her Italian specialties business, she was introduced to Julia Milne, who runs the Community Unity Project.

Milne has converted an old football field at Epuni School into a vegetable garden, teaching the pupils and their families how to grow produce and feeding all 108 children once a week.

The two women decided to organise a Christmas lunch for the pupils to reward them for their hard work with the school's 4000sqm garden, and so that Priestley could finally meet the children she helps to feed.

"Every child needs to be given this experience and this should not just be for low-decile areas," Milne says.

"I think that having some basic ideas around local food production is important.

"It's teaching them how to live in a functional community, and I think when you are grounded in food systems and cycles and you're connected to where your food comes from, it connects you to the earth and the people around you.

from to break the cycle of thinking it food just comes from the supermarket and she is very proud of her little 'farmers'.

"I watched a boy recently battle with the wheelbarrow full of mulch and it was so windy it blew it over, and he just dusted himself off and got back up.

"They are putting in so much effort and I hope the Christmas lunch will make them feel shiny on the inside."

With help from mothers and local suppliers, the pair have peeled 25 kilograms of potatoes, prepared 10 kilograms of pork, 16 chickens, buckets of coleslaw, cakes, custard and icecream to give to the children for their festive feast.

As well as running the school's garden, Milne runs other projects such as Community Soup Pot days, where people can bring a vegetable, add it to the huge pot, and take some soup home.

Epuni School principal Bunnie Willing says Milne may not be formally trained as a teacher, but she is incredible at passing on knowledge to the children.

"It's absolutely amazing, she is giving the kids life skills."

Milne says the best thing about her work with the school is simply getting to spend time with the children.

"Taking what they have grown in the garden into the kitchen and making good food with them, that's magic to me.

"We don't regard ourselves as poor because we are helping ourselves by helping others."

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- The Dominion Post

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