Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden (SAKG)

Westgarth Primary has been one of the Victorian leaders in the establishment of a kitchen garden program under the guidance of renowned food expert Stephanie Alexander. The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden (SAKG) program has been running at Westgarth Primary School since 2007.


In 2017, a working part made up of Westgarth staff and parents undertook an extensive review of the program in terms of curriculum provision, finances and volunteerism. The SAKG Working Party report and recommendations were presented to School and the Education sub-committee in 2018.

 


 

From a research perspective, the program increases student engagement and confidence and provides greater opportunities for experiential and integrated learning. It also builds teamwork and develops students’ capacity for building social skills and connections. Further, it increases students’ willingness to try new foods, improves healthy eating choices and advances students’ kitchen skills, such that they are more likely to be preparing food independently at home. The acquisition of food preparation skills, in particular, correlates with ongoing healthy eating and low incidence of adult obesity.

 

Other benefits of school-based cooking and gardening programs, not specific to the SAKG program, include positive effects in the areas of science achievement and social and environmental behaviours. Participating in school garden programs has been shown to enhance psychosocial wellbeing, specifically with regard to self-confidence and esteem. There is emerging research that suggests that contact with nature improves students’ attention span and self-discipline, and may improve the behaviour of disruptive students. More generally, time spent outside has been shown to reduce feelings of anger, fatigue, anxiety and sadness. Research has demonstrated that community gardening has a particularly beneficial impact on self-restoration because it combines time in nature with positive social connections and physical activity.

 

The SAKG program is a community program in that it relies upon adult volunteers. This provides additional community benefits such as promoting connections between children and adults and between schools and communities. Westgarth’s SAKG program provides our children with invaluable opportunities to learn and grow, both intellectually and emotionally.


Program philosophy

  • We stress pleasure, flavour and texture by encouraging talk and thinking that uses all of the senses.
  • We do not describe food to children using the word 'healthy' as the main descriptor.
  • We reinforce techniques over and over so that the children are actually able to cook simple dishes or plant seeds at home.
  • Menus are planned around seasonal availability.
  • We seek to expand the culinary horizons for children and present cultural differences as fascinating rather than strange.
  • We seek to expand the children's vocabulary for describing flavours and textures and plant families and names.
  • We use fresh ingredients at their peak – for example, herbs should not be past their season, beans should not be overgrown and tough.
  • The cooking of raw fruit and vegetables should be timed with great care – we don't want to present children with food that is unpalatable.
  • The garden crops underpin kitchen planning - lots of basil is likely to lead to a pesto-making session; lots of green tomatoes to chutney or pickles. Menu planning will take account of growing timelines.
  • Everyone comes together around a table at the end of the cooking to share the meal.


There are two unique factors about the kitchen garden program. The first is the intrinsic link between the garden, the kitchen and the table. The emphasis is on learning about food and about eating it. No part of the Program can exist without the other. The second is the project is embedded in the curriculum. It is a compulsory part of the school's program for four years of a child's life.


In both the kitchen and the garden the children work in small groups with the support of a volunteer under the supervision of the specialist and the classroom teacher (the average class sizes range from 20 to 25 students; there are usually 4 – 5 volunteers per class).


Kitchen Garden Resources

We publish a range of kitchen garden recipes on this site.


Read more about kitchen gardens at the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation website including A day in the life of a kitchen garden.


Credits

Our thanks to Stephanie Alexander for her involvement. Kitchen garden images courtesy Randy Larcombe.