Nelson Environment Centre started a programme called "Fresh Food for Life" last year. It aims to help kids to learn about preparing, cooking and sharing the produce they harvest from their nearest garden.
Fresh Food for Life ties in with our other food-related programme "Kids Edible Gardens", which supports primary schools to teach students about edible gardening and how this relates to minimising waste, healthy eating, physical activity and environmental awareness.
Both programmes bring together the elements of sustainability, gardening and food education for our kids. In light of the current situation of declining child health, it's the sort of programme we need to see more of.
According to the Ministry of Health, 11 per cent of children (aged 2 to 14) are now obese, and a further 22 per cent are overweight. Disturbingly, the increased childhood obesity rate increased from 8 per cent in 2006 to the current level.
The Healthy Food in Schools programme was introduced as a way of tackling the problem and stipulated that schools could only provide healthy food options in their tuck-shops.
With the change in government in late 2008, Healthy Food in Schools was one of the first policies to be abolished; unfortunately, it got caught up in the "Nanny State" hysteria of the time and was a victim of its own success. In term one 2009, pies and fizzy drinks were back on the menu and the health of the nation was dealt a great blow.
Teaching our kids healthy eating habits is essential for the long term health of the country. Even better, teaching kids to eat healthy food they have grown themselves is absolutely empowering.
Nelson Environment Centre has partnered with, Luke Macann, a top local chef who has volunteered his time to teach local kids how to turn our garden produce into culinary delights.
"Fresh Food for Life has been a rewarding project that we hope will gain momentum with the support of other chefs and community members, all of whom stand to gain mana and satisfaction by introducing children and young adults to the simple pleasures of cooking and the importance of a healthy diet" he says.
Kids who had previously turned up their noses at fresh vegetables and other "yucky" ingredients such as garden herbs get to watch a first-class chef demonstrate how to make power-packed meals from ingredients out of the garden and, better still, to sample them.
I watched as the kids in one workshop were spellbound as "Chef Luke" turned what seemed like some pretty rugged kale into a mouth-watering appetiser with a bit of soy sauce and ginger. You could see he was opening up a new world of food possibilities for them.
According to Chef Luke "we have more resources and technologies available to us than ever before. Finding recipes and watching YouTube links are at our fingertips, yet too many young people know nothing of seeking out ingredients, preparing food together as a family or community and the importance of these things".
Teaching kids how to grow food at school or in their own backyards balances their lives in times when so much of it is spent looking at screens. Teaching them how to turn the fruits of their labour into food they can share with friends and family also builds personal connections and community. It's more likely to get them back into the garden too!
Giving our kids the ability to garden and feed themselves healthy, fresh food will help society in the long run and is surely part of the solution to the growing problem of obesity in New Zealand.
- Aaryn Barlow has various roles with the Nelson Environment Centre, which contributes 50 Shades of Green.