Growing, harvesting, sharing, preparing and learning

Bev Laing

Focus on sustainability

Students sit at table with Stephanie Alexander

Students from the Kitchen Garden Program sit down with Stephanie Alexander to enjoy a meal they prepared.
Used with permission of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

It's the start of a kitchen class, and the kitchen teacher is at the front of the Year 3 class explaining how to make bread. She says, "Show me your food processors!" and on cue, 24 sets of fingers wiggle in the air.

Is this about sustainability? Well, yes it is. In the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program, students learn to grow their own garden, harvest and prepare the produce, share fresh seasonal food with their peers and have fun along the way. They know how to make flatbread just as well as they know how to grow a huge variety of plants and to look after the living web of creatures in healthy soil.

The Kitchen Garden Program is a powerful medium for health behavioural change in the fight against obesity. Independent university research shows that it increases students' willingness to eat fruit and vegetables.

It is also an authentic and persuasive context for education for sustainability.

The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation provides teaching resources that link all subjects of the Australian Curriculum for Years 3-6 and provide frameworks for sustainability education in the kitchen, the garden and the classroom, for all types of learners.

Chart showing sustainability curriculum coverage as featured in Tools for Teachers

Sustainability curriculum coverage as featured in Tools for Teachers. Used with permission of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

A curriculum matrix listing every activity in the Foundation's Tools for Teachers series against the relevant learning area and strand of the Australian Curriculum is available at

Again and again, teachers tell us that the hands-on nature of the program and its curriculum-linked activities motivate students who are not engaged by school.

In an organic school garden, students see cause and effect at work. They observe the natural world and take part in an ecosystem in action. The garden is not grown for them, it's built and grown entirely by them, so they take charge and make change. How can we best capture water for the hot months? When do the rains usually come, so how much capacity do we need? If the vegetables aren't growing well, students might test the soil pH, look for pests and build habitat for their predators. They become resilient – if something fails they look for reasons, replant and move on with the seasons.

The garden is a system: nutrients cycle around through soil, plants, worms and sometimes chickens. In the kitchen, students return food scraps to the compost and the worm farm. At the table students try new tastes and learn to appreciate the connections - biological, environmental, community and cultural – between food and the natural world.

In their first classes they often say things like:
"I didn't know pumpkins could be made into more than just soup" or "The ingredients look quite gross really but they always taste great". As the Kitchen Garden Program continues over several seasons they start to say things like: "I think all schools should have edible gardens because it teaches you how to look after a garden. If you don't know how to look after a garden at school then when you grow up you won't know how to look after your own garden."

Did you notice that she didn't even question that she would have a garden when she grows up?

Because that is the attitude her love of the garden has created: I will be an adult, and my part in this world will involve looking after the natural world.

Making connections

 Students tasting and describing different vegetables
Students devise adjectives to compare and contrast different colours and varieties of
the same vegetable, in a literacy activity from Tools for Teachers 4 – Years 5-6.
Used with permission of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

Students are learning implicit and explicit knowledge in the garden. They observe the complex web of connections, discuss and consider these connections before deciding whether to take action. They check and adjust and try again. They develop responsibility, resilience and a connection to a place.

Many schools start with a garden and habitats are created as the students decide what comes next: a frog bog, an insect hotel, a wild strip on the edge of the school.

These kids are aware of food security and food miles. We can teach curriculum outcomes for sustainability but we are pitching them to those who are already invested in the natural world and their own small patch. They're learning to ask questions like "Why does our food have to come from so far away" These are exactly the kinds of questions environmental educators want students to ask, and they happen after a season or two of participation, observation, and – let's face it – delicious persuasion at the table.

Gardeners constantly monitor their gardens and adjust their inputs to achieve a hoped-for outcome. It requires observation, data collection and judicious change towards a predicted or hoped-for outcome. It's more organic than controlled science, but the skill of a gardener is not dissimilar to that of a scientist.

From the Australian Curriculum Science Rationale (2014): "Science is a dynamic, collaborative and creative human endeavour arising from our desire to make sense of our world through exploring the unknown, investigating universal mysteries, making predictions and solving problems".

Does that sound like your garden? Kitchen Garden Program students know it's true. And if you get it right, you get tomatoes.

Growing together

Students explore their garden
Students explore their garden in the Window on the World activity from Tools for
Teachers 3 - Years 3 and 4
. Used with permission of the
Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation

National Program is open to all Australian schools with a primary curriculum and runs in 561 schools, teaching students the joys of growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing their own food.

It supports schools at every stage: some schools already have gardens while others start small, grow gently, let the momentum of the students and community grow so that more hands are working together. Changes to the program have made it affordable, accessible and flexible, and schools running the program range from the Top End to the bottom of Tasmania.

And as for the 70,000 students in the Kitchen Garden Program? You can find them outside. They're actively building the framework for a sustainable world view.

They know that all living energy comes from the sun. Their hands remember how to gently tie back a plant, what the soil feels like when it is adequately hydrated. They know what a good harvest smells like. They know resilience – things fail and it can't always be explained. They try again.

Most importantly, they are proud to be capable, to know that good food comes from the earth, to have grown the snapping fresh produce themselves. The kitchen and the garden knit us to the natural world that provided the produce, and our outlook for the future – it's fresh and green.

Recipe for red lentils with tomatoes and pumpkin

For more information on teaching resources related to sustainability and the Kitchen Garden National Program go to:

Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation logo


ACARA. (2014) The Australian Curriculum v6.0 Science: Rationale.

The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. Curriculum


Photograph of Bev Laing

Bev Laing

Bev is the Curriculum Officer at the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and the author of the Tools for Teachers book series.